Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on Wednesday for the extension of a deal with Moscow that has allowed Kyiv to export grain via Black Sea ports during the war with Russia,
Mr Zelenskyy said after talks with Mr Guterres in Kyiv that the Black Sea Grain Initiative was necessary for the world. Mr Guterres underlined the importance of the deal for global food security and food prices.
The 120-day deal, initially brokered by the UN and Turkey in July and extended in November, will be renewed on March 18 if no party objects. But Russia has signalled that obstacles to its own agricultural exports need to be removed before it will let the deal continue.
“I want to underscore the critical importance of rolling over the Black Sea Grain Initiative on March 18 and working to create the conditions to enable the greatest possible use of export infrastructure through the Black Sea in line with the objectives of the initiative”, Mr Guterres told reporters.
Mr Zelenskyy said he and Mr Guterres had agreed that rolling over the deal on March 18 was “critically necessary for the world”.
To help convince Russia to allow Ukraine to resume Black Sea grain exports in July, a three-year deal was also struck in which the UN agreed to enable Russian food and fertiliser exports.
There are no western sanctions on such exports, but Moscow says restrictions on its payments, logistics and insurance industries constitute a “barrier”.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, said on Sunday that “if this agreement is equal, then we have always fulfilled our part and are going to fulfil it in all the agreements”.
She added that Russia would be against “goading and machinations”, news agency TASS reported.
Ukraine and Russia are both major global suppliers of grains and fertilisers.
Mr Guterres is travelling with UN aid chief Martin Griffiths and senior UN trade official Rebeca Grynspan. Mr Griffiths led negotiations on the Ukraine Black Sea deal, while Ms Grynspan is working to facilitate Russia's food and fertiliser exports.
Mr Guterres is due back in New York on Thursday. It is his third visit to Ukraine in the past year.
Ukraine has so far exported more than 23 million tons of mainly corn and wheat under the deal, according to the UN. The primary destinations for shipments have been China, Spain, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday that Ankara was “working hard for the smooth implementation and further extension of the Black Sea grain deal”.
Mr Cavusoglu's remarks pushed US and wheat futures down sharply on Monday on expectations serious efforts were being made to renew the deal, which in turn would mean higher volumes of grains could be available on world markets soon.