Ukraine seeks to extend special deal to continue exporting grain

The Ukrainian government is seeking to extend a wartime deal that allows the country’s grain to get to nations in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where hunger is a growing threat, a top Ukrainian official said on Thursday after the latest talks on prolonging the agreement.

The two-talks in Istanbul involved Turkish, Russian, Ukrainian and United Nations officials but yielded no decisions for an extension. The deal is due to expire next Wednesday.

Additional discussions are expected in an online format, Ukrainian deputy prime minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said.

He said in a statement released after the talks that the grain deal “should be extended for a longer period of time and expanded”.

However, Russia opposes both broadening the agreement and its “indefinite expansion”, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Vershinin said after the talks.

Moscow is considering proposals made by UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres and “the work, the contacts continue”, Mr Vershinin said.

If there is no consensus by May 18, the deal “will cease to exist,” the Russian diplomat said.

Ukraine and Russia are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products that developing nations depend on.

In July 2022, Moscow and Kyiv signed an agreement with the United Nations and Turkey that outlined a process for shipments from three of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to resume amid Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.

It has since been renewed twice, most recently in March. According to the UN, the agreement establishing a safe shipping corridor from the Ukrainian ports to Turkey has allowed more 30 million tonnes of grain and foodstuffs to leave the country.

Russia has repeatedly complained that a separate agreement with the UN to overcome obstacles to shipments of its fertilizers that was part of the July package has not produced results.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York on Thursday that contacts would continue during what he called “a delicate phase”.

UN officials are “trying to do whatever we can to ensure that this very important initiative continues and that, as well, we see progress on our efforts of facilitation of Russian grain and fertiliser,” he said.

According to a UN statement, proposals discussed at the Thursday meeting included resuming operation of the Togliatti-Odesa ammonia pipeline from Russia to Ukraine, a longer extension of the deal and the running of the Istanbul-based Joint Co-ordination Centre that oversees the deal’s day-to-day implementation.

Mr Vershinin reiterated on Thursday that Moscow “first and foremost” is defending “Russia’s national interests, its agriculture producers, producers of fertilisers”.

“An initiative that brings unilateral benefits can hardly be recognised and confirmed by all,” he said.

The Turkish defence ministry said in a statement after the talks that the sides displayed “constructive approaches”.

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