© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A grain ship carrying Ukrainian grain is seen in the Black Sea, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, near Ukrainian port of Odesa, Ukraine November 2, 2022. REUTERS/Serhii Smolientsev
By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – A deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine grain could start winding down next week after Russia said it will not approve any new vessels unless their operators guarantee the transits will be done by May 18 – “the expected date of … closure.”
Russia has strongly signaled that it will not allow the Ukraine Black Sea export deal – agreed in July last year – to continue beyond May 18 because a list of demands to facilitate its own grain and fertilizer exports has not been met.
According to an excerpt of a letter, seen by Reuters, Russia said that “based on the expected date of the initiative’s closure (May 18)” any further registration of new vessels will only be “carried out after receiving guarantees from shipowners to complete their participation in the initiative” by May 18.
“It will make possible to avoid commercial losses and prevent possible safety risks,” warned Russia in the letter.
Under the deal a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) in Istanbul – made up of officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations – agrees on the ships to take part in the deal.
Those ships are then inspected by the JCC officials near Turkey before traveling to a Ukrainian Black Sea port via a maritime humanitarian corridor to collect their cargo and return to Turkish waters for a final inspection.
Based on public data from the JCC, on average in April the outbound inspection was 21 days after the inbound inspection.
It is not clear if Russia’s interpretation of “participation in the initiative” is that a ship needs to have completed its final inspection by May 18 or if it simply needs to have exited the maritime humanitarian corridor by May 18.
If a ship has to complete its final inspection by that date, it means Russia may not approve any new ships for transit under the deal from as early as next week.
Russia’s U.N. mission in New York referred a request for comment to Moscow. The letter was sent to the United Nations by Russia’s JCC officials on Wednesday.
The United Nations declined to comment on the Russian letter.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York on Monday and will discuss the future of the Ukraine grain export deal.
The deal was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to help tackle a global food crisis that U.N. officials said had been worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the deadliest war in Europe since World War Two.
To help persuade Russia to allow Ukraine to resume Black Sea grain exports, a separate three-year pact was also struck in July in which the U.N. agreed to help Russia export food and fertilizer.