Russia comes under pressure at UN to avoid global food crisis and revive Ukrainian grain shipments

The UN Security Council meets to discuss the maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine, Friday, July 21, 2023, at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)(AP/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia came under pressure at the United Nations Security Council on Friday from its ally China and developing countries as well as Western nations to avert a global food crisis and quickly revive Ukrainian grain shipments.

Moscow was also criticized by the U.N. and council members for attacking Ukrainian ports after pulling out of the year-old grain deal and destroying port infrastructure — a violation of international humanitarian law banning attacks on civilian infrastructure.

In response to Russia declaring wide areas in the Black Sea dangerous for shipping, the U.N. warned that a military incident in the sea could have “catastrophic consequences.”

Russia said it suspended the Black Sea Grain Initiative because the U.N. had failed to overcome obstacles to shipping its food and fertilizer to global markets, the other half of the Ukraine grain deal. The Kremlin said it would consider resuming Ukrainian shipments if progress is made in overcoming the obstacles, including in banking arrangements.

China’s deputy U.N. ambassador Geng Shuang noted U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ commitment to make every effort to ensure that both Ukrainian grain and Russian food and fertilizer get to world markets. He expressed hope that Russia and the U.N. will work together to resume exports from both countries “at an early date” in the interest of “maintaining international food security and alleviating the food crisis in developing countries in particular.”

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of using the Black Sea as “blackmail” and playing political games, pointing to Moscow’s export of more grain than ever before at higher prices. She called on the Security Council and all 193 U.N. member nations to come together and urge Russia to resume negotiations in good faith.

Several developing countries warned of the impact of the cutoff in Ukrainian grain shipments, which has already led to a rise in wheat prices.

Gabon’s U.N. Ambassador Michel Biang said the grain deal had avoided a spark in grain prices and calmed the risk of food insecurity in the drought-affected Horn of Africa and other regions. He urged talks “to break the current deadlock” and avoid a humanitarian crisis.

Mozambique’s U.N. Ambassador Pedro Afonso said Russia’s action is certain “to amplify global socio-economic stresses in a world already grappling with a perfect storm of conflict, climate change” and a loss of confidence in multilateral solutions.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky said Russia stands ready to consider rejoining the deal if seven principles from the Russia-U.N. memorandum are implemented. He listed them as “the real not theoretical” lifting of Western sanctions on Russian grain and fertilizer exports, and the lifting of obstacles to Russian banks that service exports, including the immediate connection to the SWIFT global banking system.

Russia also wants the delivery of spare parts for agricultural production to resume, a resolution to issues related to chartering vessels for Russian exports including insurance, the war-damaged ammonia pipeline from Russia to Ukraine to be fixed and other fertilizer issues resolved, Russian assets linked to agricultural production unfrozen, and “the resumption of the initial humanitarian nature of the grain deal,” he said.

Under the deal, Ukraine was given a green light to ship grain from three Black Sea ports, but following Monday’s withdrawal Russia said it will consider a ship traveling to Ukrainian ports as being laden with weapons and will treat the country of its flag as a participant in the conflict on Kyiv’s side. Ukraine announced that it will also treat ships traveling to Russian Black Sea ports as military targets.

Thomas-Greenfield told the council the United States has information that Russia laid additional sea mines in the approaches to Ukrainian ports and that Russia’s military may attack civilian shipping in the Black Sea “and lay blame on Ukraine for these attacks.”

U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo strongly condemned Russian attacks on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and urged Moscow to stop them immediately. She said threats to target civilian vessels “are unacceptable” and warned that sea mines can endanger civilian navigation.

“We strongly urge restraint from any further rhetoric or action that could deteriorate the already dangerous situation,” she said. “Any risk of conflict spillover as a result of a military incident in the Black Sea – whether intentional or by accident – must be avoided at all costs, as this could result in potentially catastrophic consequences to us all.”

China’s Geng called on the parties “to remain calm and exercise restraint,” abide by international humanitarian law and refrain from attacking civilian infrastructure, “and make every effort to curb the expansion of the conflict to prevent a larger scale humanitarian crisis.”

U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told the council that a record 362 million people in 69 countries need assistance, “a number that has never been reached anywhere before,” requiring an unprecedented $55 billion. He said the cutoff of Ukrainian grain shipments has already brought not only killings and injuries to civilians and damage to port infrastructure but a 9% spike in wheat prices on Wednesday, the largest since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The “humanitarian catastrophe” in Ukraine continues to reverberate around the world, Griffiths said, and for many of the 362 million people who need help, a cutoff in critical Ukrainian and Russian grain threatens the future of their families. “Some will go hungry, some will starve, many may die as a result of these decisions,” he said.

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