Russia’s Lavrov Blames West for Deadlock over Future of Black Sea Grain Deal
11:25 JST, April 26, 2023
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Moscow has seen “practically no results” from a pact with the United Nations that aimed to help Russia’s grain and fertilizer exports and blamed Western countries for creating a deadlock, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.
Russia has signaled that unless a list of demands is met to remove obstacles to those exports, it will not agree to extend a related deal beyond May 18 that allows the safe wartime export of grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
Lavrov, at a news conference at the United Nations in New York, praised the work of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths in their bid “to reach agreement with countries that have announced illegitimate and lateral sanctions against the Russian Federation.”
“But there has been practically no result,” Lavrov said.
Russia signed a three-year deal last July in which the United Nations agreed to help try and remove any obstacles to its grain and fertilizer exports. While those exports are not subject to Western sanctions imposed following the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Moscow says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance are a barrier to shipments.
U.S. BANK TRANSACTION
One of Russia’s demands is for the Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to return to the SWIFT banking system. Lavrov said that there were no plans for that to happen and as an alternative Guterres had proposed that U.S. banks could help the Russian Agricultural Bank with transactions.
Lavrov said one bank “kindly consented to finance one operation,” but that this was not a long-term solution.
“If you want every time for us and the U.N. Secretary-General to run back and forth and to plead with any given U.S. financial structure for them to be so magnanimous, then you understand that cannot work and it will not work,” he said.
A source familiar with the transaction said the U.S. State Department and U.S. Treasury had asked JPMorgan Chase & Co to carry out the “very limited and highly monitored” transaction in relation to the export of agricultural materials, which occurred this month. The source said there could be further transactions.
A JPMorgan Chase & Co spokesperson declined comment. U.S. Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
‘NOT THE DEAL WE REACHED’
The pact with the United Nations helped convince Russia to allow Ukrainian Black Sea grain exports under a deal – also brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in July last year – intended to tackle a global food crisis that U.N. officials said was worsened by the invasion.
Guterres met with Lavrov on Monday and gave him a letter to deliver to Russian President Vladimir Putin that outlines a way forward aimed at the improvement, extension and expansion of the Ukraine Black Sea grain deal, a U.N. spokesperson said.
“The reaction to this correspondence will arise after the recipient reads it,” Lavrov said at Tuesday’s news conference.
In return for extending that agreement beyond May 18, Russia has also demanded that the supply of agricultural machinery to Russia be allowed, restrictions on insurance be lifted and for Russian ships and cargo to be allowed port access.
It also wants a pipeline that delivers Russian ammonia to a Ukrainian Black Sea port to be restarted, and financial activities of Russian fertilizer companies to be unblocked.
Unless Russia could export grain and fertilizer globally without hindrance, Moscow could not accept the alternative of having to “each time manually take the effort and plead” with American and European ports, banks and insurance companies for help, Lavrov said.
“That’s not the deal we reached on 22 July last year,” he said.
He said Russia has not discussed the Ukraine grain Black Sea export deal with Moscow’s strategic partner China, which is the biggest recipient of grain under the agreement.
Nearly 29 million tonnes of grain has been exported under the Black Sea grain deal with 6.7 million tonnes going to China, according to data from the Joint Coordination Centre, which is made up of officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the U.N. and oversees implementation of the agreement.
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