The European Union on Monday called on Russia to resume the implementation of a landmark UN-backed agreement to guarantee Ukrainian exports via the Black Sea, two days after Moscow said it was withdrawing from the deal following a drone attack on its fleet.
“We urge of course Russia to revert its decisions and to resume the implementation of the Black Sea grain initiative,” said the EU Commission’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Nabila Massrali during a press briefing.
Russia’s decision to indefinitely suspend its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative “puts at risk the main export route of much needed grains and fertilisers to address the global food crisis caused by its war against Ukraine,” Ms Massrali said.
Exports under the initiative — which is aimed at lowering food prices by ensuring the delivery of Ukrainian grain to the world — have surpassed 9 million tonnes since it was implemented in July, according to the UN. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain exporters.
But exports continued on Monday despite Russia’s announcement, prompting a war of words between those who back the deal and Moscow. In parallel, Russian missiles rained down on Kyiv and Ukrainian energy facilities.
A record volume of 354,500 tonnes of agricultural products was carried on vessels leaving Ukrainian ports on Monday as part of the Black Sea grain deal, a representative of Odesa's military administration said.
Amir Abdullah, the UN official who co-ordinates the programme, on Monday tweeted that “civilian cargo ships can never be a military target or held hostage. The food must flow.”
Turkey, which helped broker the initiative, remained committed to the deal which involves the inspection of cargoes at a Joint Co-ordination Centre in Istanbul.
“Even if Russia behaves hesitantly because it didn't receive the same benefits, we will continue decisively our efforts to serve humanity,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
The German foreign ministry said on Monday: “The most important thing is that transport by sea continues, and we are doing all we can to ensure that this happens.”
But Russia warned that it would be risky for Ukraine to continue exporting via the Black Sea.
“In conditions when Russia is talking about the impossibility of guaranteeing the safety of shipping in these areas, such a deal is hardly feasible, and it takes on a different character — much more risky, dangerous and unguaranteed,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said in a tweet that he had discussed the Black Sea deal with the UN's Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Ms Massrali said that Black Sea Grain Initiative had made a “significant difference” for “those most in need”.
She also highlighted the role of the EU's so-called “solidarity lanes” in helping Ukraine export its crops.
The solidarity lanes are a mechanism set up in May by Brussels to help Ukraine export its products through its land borders with Poland and Romania.
European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski in September said that most of Ukraine’s grain exports in August had gone through these solidarity lanes.
The EU Commission’s public health and food safety spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker told reporters that between May and October 20 more than 14 million tonnes of agricultural products and an additional 15 million tonnes of other kinds of products such as steel and oil had been exported via those land routes.
Responding to a question from The National, Mr de Keersmaecker said the overland solidarity lanes were “here to stay”.
“We must continue to improve the capacity of these routes, of these solidarity lanes, to make them more efficient and attractive on both sides,” he added.
French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau said his country backed enhancing land export routes for Ukrainian crops.
“We will continue to work towards a system which does not put us in the hands … of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin,” he said on French radio.
The Commission’s deputy chief spokeswoman Dana Spinant said that Brussels works closely with member states on such measures.
“We have the same aim which is to step up support, to enlarge and to diversify the ways in which we can get grain out of Ukraine and other products.”
Russian missiles targeted Kyiv on Sunday, hitting essential civilian infrastructure, leaving parts of the city without water and electricity. Explosions were also reported in regions including Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Kremenchuk and Vinnytsia. Russia’s military struck the Dnipropetrovsk region with artillery and drones overnight, hitting residential buildings and other facilities as well as energy infrastructure, local authorities said on Telegram.
Britain's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the latest round of strikes were evidence that Mr Putin was “exacting vengeance” on civilians after a string of losses for his troops on the battlefield.
Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons on Monday, he also accused Moscow of deliberately causing distant lands to suffer for its setbacks by stopping grain exports from Ukraine.
“At the weekend, Russia suspended its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which has allowed the exportation of 100,000 tonnes of food every day, including to some of the least developed countries in the world,” he said.
“Putin is exacting vengeance for his military failures on the civilians of Ukraine by cutting off their power and their water supply, and on the poorest people in the world by threatening their food supplies.
“Over 60 per cent of the wheat exported under the Black Sea Grain Initiative has gone to low and middle-income countries, including Ethiopia, Yemen and Afghanistan. It would be unconscionable for those lands to be made to suffer because of Putin’s setbacks on the battlefield in Ukraine.
“I urge Russia to stop impeding this vital initiative that is helping feed the hungry across the world and agree to its extension.”
Mr Cleverly condemned Russia's use of drones in Ukraine, saying they are “killing Ukrainian civilians, obliterating their homes and even destroying a children’s playground”.
“A third of the country’s power stations were put out of action in a single week. None of this achieves any military purpose,” he said.