(CNSNews.com) – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “threat to discontinue” a fragile agreement enabling the shipping of Ukrainian grain to feed people around the world “will deeply anger and upset” countries benefiting from the deal, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.
Speaking during an unannounced visit to Kyiv, Blinken also implicitly rejected Putin’s claim that the vast majority of the grain shipped under the painstakingly-negotiated agreement was going to wealthy European countries.
“The agreement that was reached, that lifted the blockade by Russia on Odesa, has already resulted in 100 ships bringing grain and food products to the world,” Blinken said, “And most of that has gone to what we call the Global South – countries in Africa and elsewhere who are the most in need.”
The U.N.-brokered agreement between Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey, reached in July, aimed to unblock the export to world markets of Ukrainian cereals, stuck in Odesa and other ports as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the presence of Russian warships in the Black Sea.
Seen as critical to helping tackle a global food supply and price crisis, the deal has been the single piece of successful diplomacy involving Russia and Ukraine since the invasion began.
President Biden’s decision this week not to accede to congressional calls to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism was attributed by the administration in large part to a desire not to put the grain deal in jeopardy.
But on Wednesday, Putin appeared himself to be doing just that.
In a belligerent speech in Vladivostok, he claimed that only two out of 87 ships leaving Ukraine with grain cargoes had gone to developing countries, saying their cargoes accounted for only three percent of the total amount that has left Ukraine.
“Almost all the grain exported from Ukraine is sent not to the poorest developing countries, but to European Union countries,” Putin charged, accusing European countries of acting like the colonial powers they once were.
“Many European countries today continue to act as colonizers, exactly as they have been doing in previous decades and centuries,” he said. “Developing countries have simply been cheated yet again and continue to be cheated.”
Putin said he planned to speak to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government is facilitating the “Black Sea Grain Initiative,” about the possibility of amending the deal to limit the destinations for the grain exports.
Putin was evidently referring to ships that had been chartered by the U.N. World Food Program. The WFP has in fact chartered three ships since the initiative began, according to U.N. political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo.
More importantly, many ships not chartered by the WFP have also carried grain to developing nations under the initiative. DiCarlo told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that out of more than 2.3 million metric tons of grain exported in 110 ships to three continents, 30 percent has gone to “low and lower-middle income countries” – ten times more than the three percent claimed by Putin.
The U.N.’s records of ship movements since the beginning of August show Putin’s claims to have been misleading.
Out of 102 ships listed as of Thursday, 32 went to E.U. member states. Of the rest, 42 went to Turkey (not an E.U. member), eight to Egypt, three each to South Korea and India, with the remaining 14 going to Iran, China, Djibouti, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Sudan, Somalia, and Kenya.
Moreover, of the eight biggest grain shipments – each comprising 58,000 metric tons or more – three went to E.U. countries (two to Spain and one to Germany), two to South Korea, two to Iran, and one to Sudan.
According to the U.N., shipping movements under the grain initiative are decided upon by the shipping companies themselves, based on commercial activity and procedures.
It also says that, in addition to the need to get the unblocked grain to countries in desperate need, grain going to foreign markets anywhere helps to alleviate the crisis in world food prices exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.
“Some of the food exported under the initiative will go to countries experiencing food insecurity. Any shipment purchased by the World Food Program will go directly to people in need,” the U.N. says. “Exports to any country, however, can help to calm markets and limit food price inflation.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization reported last week that international wheat prices fell by 5.1 percent in August, as a result of improved production prospects in Canada, the U.S., and Russia, “as well as the resumption of exports from the Black Sea ports in Ukraine for the first time in over five months of interruption.”
Even so, global wheat prices remain 10.6 percent higher than in August last year, it said.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative agreement runs for 120 days, and will currently expire shortly before Thanksgiving – unless Russia and Ukraine agree to extend it.