Ukraine special envoy to Middle East warns Arab League against Russian intervention

Maksym Subkh accuses Moscow of hindering much-needed grain exports and of manipulating regional politics

The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship 'Razoni', carrying Ukrainian grain, is seen in the Black Sea off Kilyos, near Istanbul, Turkey. Reuters
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Ukraine’s special envoy to the Middle East addressed the Arab League in Cairo on Thursday and accused Moscow of preventing much-needed wheat deliveries to the region, less than a month after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Egypt.

Maksym Subkh told the Arab League that Ukraine has 20 million tonnes of grain ready to be exported to the Middle East, but that deliveries had been hindered by “the siege of our ports by the Russian invaders”.

Several Arab League member states, including Egypt, rely heavily on Ukrainian wheat, which has been in short supply following the country’s invasion by Russia in February.

Mr Subkh said that the global food crisis is a “direct result of Russian aggression”.

State-owned Russian news outlet Sputnik said that Thursday's emergency meeting of the Arab League was requested by Ukraine, which is seeking to cut Russia’s ties with the Arab world. These ties, Sputnik said, have remained intact despite the severe sanctions that many other nations have imposed on Russia.

The Ukraine war has grievously affected grain supplies worldwide, as the country is one of the largest producers and exporters of wheat. But a deal signed in Istanbul between the two warring nations, brokered by Turkey and the UN, has allowed some Ukrainian ships to carry grain out of the country.

However, Mr Subkh said that Russia continues to hinder the departure of more ships. Ukraine has continuously accused Russia of publicly agreeing to co-operate and then defaulting on its promises.

Mr Subkh urged members of the Arab League to join in the sanctions that other countries have imposed on Russia to put pressure on the Kremlin to halt its aggression in Ukraine, Egyptian news outlet Cairo 24 said. He also reportedly stressed the importance of halting oil imports from Russia.

However, despite pressure from the US, several Arab states have been reluctant to cut ties with Moscow. Reuters said in an exclusive report on July 15 that Saudi Arabia, an Arab League member whose representative was at Thursday’s meeting, significantly increased its imports of Russian oil during the second quarter of this year.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks with Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit during a meeting in Cairo, Egypt. Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service / AP

When Mr Lavrov was in Cairo in July, he hailed the moderate way in which the Arab world has reacted to the war in Ukraine, praising the Arab League’s “balanced, fair, responsible position” in the conflict.

Mr Subkh, on the other hand, warned of Russian intervention in the region’s politics and accused the Kremlin of sending soldiers of fortune to the region to directly manipulate Arab nations’ affairs and exploit their wealth.

Following Thursday’s address, the Arab League issued a short statement on Facebook saying that it was “invested in solving the Ukrainian crisis through peaceful means”.

The statement added that Mr Subkh had stressed Ukraine’s desire to increase its co-operation with the Arab world in a number of sectors.

Updated: August 11, 2022, 5:34 PM