Vladimir Putin visits Crimea as Black Sea grain deal is extended

Initiative vital to alleviating a global food crisis was due to expire just before midnight on Saturday

The Black Sea Grain initiative was aimed at addressing a food crisis fuelled in part by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and its Black Sea blockade. AP
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Turkey has announced the renewal of a deal with Russia allowing the export of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports, hours before it was due to expire.

Russian President Vladimir Putin travelled to Crimea on Saturday as the deal was agreed to mark the ninth anniversary of the peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine.

The visit came one day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader, accusing him of war crimes.

Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said that the grain extension had been agreed for 120 days.

However, the RBC media outlet quoted Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharov as saying Russia has notified all parties to the Black Sea grain deal that it has been extended for 60.

The pact, which was brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey in July, was renewed for 120 days in November.

It was aimed at addressing a global food crisis, which was partly fuelled by Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and Black Sea blockade.

Speaking in the western city of Canakkale, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that an extension had been won through talks with the two sides. However, he did not specify the length of the agreed extension.

While Russia had previously called for renewing the deal for 60 days, half the term of the previous renewal period, Ukraine insisted on a 120-day renewal.

In a Twitter post, Mr Kubrakov expressed his gratitude to UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres, the UN, Mr Erdogan, Minister Hulusi Akar, and all their partners for sticking to the agreements.

Putin in Crimea

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that much of the world criticised.

Mr Putin visited the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol with the Moscow-appointed local governor Mikhail Razvozhayev, images broadcast by Russian state TV showed.

He visited an art school and a children’s centre that are part of a project to develop a historical park on the site of an ancient Greek colony, Russian state news agencies said.

Russia has shown no intention of giving up the region. On Friday, Mr Putin stressed the importance of holding Crimea.

“Security issues take top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now,” Mr Putin said, referring to Crimea’s largest city. “We will do everything needed to fend off any threats.”

Ukraine has demanded that Russia withdraw from the peninsula and the areas it has occupied since last year.

Grain deal eased crisis

The extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative agreement is expected to ease concerns about food shortages and the rising cost of food caused by supply disruptions.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February last year meant Ukraine's Black Sea ports were blocked by warships.

But a deal brokered by Turkey and the UN in July 2022, signed by both Kyiv and Moscow, has allowed for the safe passage of exports of grain shipments.

Ukraine was one of the world's leading grain producers.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative has helped to ease the crisis triggered by the conflict.

The original terms referred to by Mr Akar, according to the deal, were for the 120-day extensions to be automatically renewed for the same period unless one of the parties says otherwise.

The initial agreement was extended in November until March 18. It should in theory be extended another 120 days after it expires at 11.59pm Istanbul time on Saturday (12.59am UAE).

UN hopes 'ships will flow'

“We very much hope that the initiative will continue and the ships will continue to flow,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Mr Guterres.

“Our further stance will be determined upon the tangible progress on normalisation of our agricultural exports, not (in) words, but in deeds,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin, who led the Russian delegation during Monday's talks with UN officials

Mr Kubrakov said that “Russia's position to extend the deal only for 60 (days) contradicts the document signed by Turkey and the UN”.

“We're waiting for the official position of (the UN and Turkey) as the guarantors of the initiative,” he said on Twitter.

More than 29.1 million tonnes of grain have left Ukraine's ports since the original deal was signed last July, while only a fraction of the 260,000 tonnes of Russian fertiliser stored in European ports has been released.

In the meantime, wheat and corn prices have returned to their prewar levels, although some oilseeds such as rapeseed and sunflower are much lower.

Updated: March 18, 2023, 7:06 PM