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Record volumes of grain leaving Ukraine ports despite Russia’s withdrawal from export agreement

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine, visits Moffett Air National Guard Base, California, Sept. 2, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Duane Ramos)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A record 354,500 tons of agricultural products left Ukrainian ports on October 31 as part of the Black Sea grain deal, a spokesman for Odesa’s military administration said, despite Russia’s withdrawal from the UN-brokered agreement that allowed Ukraine to export grain after accusing Kyiv of staging a drone attack against its Black Sea Fleet.

Ukraine has rejected the accusations, saying Russia was making an excuse for a prepared exit from the accord and Washington said Moscow was weaponizing food.

The UN has said it agreed with Ukraine and Turkey on a movement plan for 16 vessels on October 31 — 12 outbound from Ukrainian ports and four inbound — and the first of 40 planned ship inspections had been completed in Istanbul waters on October 31.

The inspection was done by a team of just UN and Turkish members, rather than the previous four-member teams including Russians and Ukrainians before Moscow’s suspension, a UN spokesman said.

Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov confirmed 12 vessels left Ukrainian ports under the deal.

“Today 12 ships left Ukrainian ports. @UN & Turkish delegations provide 10 inspection teams to inspect 40 ships aiming to fulfil the #BlackSeaGrainInitiative. This inspection plan has been accepted by the Ukrainian delegation. The Russian delegation has been informed,” Kubrakov wrote on Twitter.

Russia halted its participation in the deal on October 29 for an “indefinite term” claiming it could no longer “guarantee safety of civilian ships” traveling under the pact after the alleged drone attack on its fleet.

Grain exports are a key revenue source for Ukraine, whose economy has been devastated by Russia’s eight-month war.

The deal, which was agreed in July, played a crucial role in driving down the prices of wheat and other commodities globally. Although it was due to expire on November 19, efforts were already under way to extend the agreement.

An end to Ukrainian exports would drive up food prices, stoking already high global inflation.

Moscow’s move prompted the Chicago wheat futures to jump almost 6 percent on October 31 and corn rose more than 2 percent.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of the main architects of the agreement, said on October 31 that Turkey is “determined” to continue efforts to keep the Ukraine grain deal in force despite Russia suspending its participation.

“Although Russia acts hesitantly…we will resolutely continue our efforts to serve humanity,” Erdogan said in a televised address.

The Kremlin said on October 31 that the grain deal was now “hardly feasible” because Russia was unable to guarantee the security of such shipments.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov again blamed Ukraine for undermining the deal and declined to comment when asked under what circumstances Russia might rejoin.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “deeply concerned” and wants to save the deal, conducting intensive contacts with the aim of reversing the suspension of the agreement, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on October 30 without going into detail.

Meanwhile, the United States accused the Kremlin of “weaponizing food” to gain leverage in its failing invasion of Ukraine, with U.S. President Joe Biden calling Moscow’s decision “purely outrageous.”