This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russia and the United States separately discussed alternatives to the UN-brokered Black Sea grain deal, which fell apart last month after Moscow backed out of the arrangement aimed at allowing the safe passage of Ukrainian exports to world markets.
Citing a senior U.S. State Department official who briefed journalists, Reuters reported on August 30 that the United States and Romania are working to increase Ukraine’s grain exports by way of the Danube River as one alternative to the failed Black Sea initiative.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington and Bucharest were studying the possibility of “potentially trying to double” grain exports that currently go through the Danube route.
“We are looking to support alternative routes: that is most prominently the Danube route. That route…stays within NATO territorial waters. So it’s one that’s very attractive for us because it keeps it into a more secure corridor,” the official told reporters.
The official added that a meeting will be held in the next few weeks with Romanian and Moldovan officials to discuss how to maximize the Danube route.
Even as it discusses alternatives, the United States has also been supporting Ankara’s efforts to bring Moscow back into the original grain deal, the U.S. official added.
“We’re not directly involved in the negotiations, but our teams are working closely with the UN and the Turks in support of trying to see it [the original deal] restart.”
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on August 30 said he and his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan plan to discuss a proposal by Moscow for an alternative to the Black Sea deal when they meet this week. Turkey also helped broker the original deal.
Under Moscow’s plan, Russia would send 1 million tons of grain to Turkey at a discounted rate – bolstered by financial support from Qatar — to be processed in Turkey and sent to countries most in need.
Russia also said it would continue to view ships traveling to Ukraine in the region as potential military targets.
“We will again communicate to the Turkish side the Russian position…according to which following the completion of the [grain] deal, all ships going to Ukraine are considered to be potential carriers of military cargoes and involved in the conflict on the side of Kyiv,” a Russian statement said.
Fidan in the past has said there was “no alternative” to the Black Sea grain deal.
“We know alternative routes are being sought [for grain shipments], but we see no alternative to the original initiative because they carry risks,” Fidan told reporters on August 25 after meeting with Ukrainian leaders in Kyiv.
Russia’s withdrawal from the grain has worried many global leaders, saying the move would increase food insecurity in most vulnerable nations — including many in Africa — and raise prices worldwide.
The European Commission said Russia’s efforts to block the shipping of Ukrainian grain in the Black Sea were creating difficulties among developing countries. Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis charged that Moscow was using “grain as a weapon.”
Moscow quit the deal after accusing Western nations of blocking the exports of Russia’s own grain and fertilizer products.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to travel to Russia soon to discussed the collapsed deal with the Kremlin.