Focused Arab diplomacy seeks solution for Ukraine grain exports

The food crisis is real and safe corridors or passages are needed to secure the grain supplies

A bulk carrier, left, and tankers moored at docks in the Port of Constanta in Constanta, Romania, on Saturday, May 7, 2022.  Russia’s blockade of sea ports around Odesa is forcing trade to reroute through the Romanian port and Ukraine’s smaller Danube river ports, while trucks now have to drive through Moldova to get from one part of the country to the other, or to and from the Romanian border. Photographer: Andrei Pungovschi / Bloomberg
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Arab diplomacy has a role in addressing the global food crisis that has welled up since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine, according to a senior regional official.

Efforts to engage with Russia and Ukraine by regional diplomats have been a feature of the nearly four-month conflict. One official at the heart of that engagement has described how it has played out in light of the urgent need to prevent hunger and inflation around the world.

"The food crisis is real and needs to be tackled," the official said. "We are a voice and we hope this voice can be heard.

"We have to get those safe corridors or passages to supply the grain," he said. "The Russians claim that the territorial waters of Ukraine are mined and they also claim their ships that are ready to ship the grains are not allowed in some European ports."

The sanctions on Russia also cast a shadow on the export of grains as Russian shipping is barred from ports or cannot any longer access European insurance markets.

"We need there to be technical and efficient solutions for the entire world," the Arab official said. "And that's why we are calling for involvement of Europe as well to look at the issue in a wider light.

"We need to achieve a sustainable, comprehensive peace in Europe. We should not only leave this to be between Ukraine and Russia. It is a challenge for Europe but it is also a challenge for the entire world.

"Our position is for a political solution that opens and sustains humanitarian support corridors, saves and protects civilians and works to solve the food crisis."

Finding structures to ensure the warring parties can narrow differences on this issue alone is one big challenge facing the mediators.

"[The Russian] reply is we want dialogue," he said "We also talked with the Ukrainians but they won't. Let's see what happens.

"We've contacted the Ukrainians, we've established a GCC-Ukraine strategic dialogue and our message is for a diplomatic effort for the stability of Europe which is necessary for the world."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that discussions on food supplies were ongoing, including with Turkey on how to de-mine channels approaching Ukraine's Odesa port. He said that a safe sea corridor could be established in areas without mines under a UN proposal. Russia said it had offered "safe passage" for Ukrainian grain shipments from Black Sea ports but was not responsible for establishing the corridors.

Russia said on Thursday it was facilitating the export of grain and oilseeds from Ukraine through Russian-held transit points on the Azov Sea, without explaining who was providing the foodstuffs for export.

President Emmanuel Macron of France expressed doubts the Odessa would be restored any time soon. "We have to talk with Russia on food security and it (discussions) can be justified by liaising directly with the UN secretary general to get grains out of Odesa," Mr Macron said. "But I don't believe a lot in this path, because I already had talks a few weeks ago with President Putin but he didn't want to accept a UN resolution on this subject."

After holding discussions with his Ukrainian, German, Italian and Romanian counterparts in Kyiv on Thursday, Mr Macron suggested that options were being looked at to revamp a rail route from Odesa to the Danube river in Romania.

Updated: June 17, 2022, 1:47 PM