Last ship leaves Ukraine as Black Sea grain deal expires

Last ship leaves Ukraine as Black Sea grain deal expires

The last ship to sail under a key wartime deal that allows the safe Black Sea export of Ukrainian grain left the port of Odessa early on Sunday, ahead of a deadline to extend the agreement, according to Azerbaijan in Focus, reporting Daily Sabah, citing Reuters witness and

The key accord that the United Nations and Türkiye brokered with Ukraine and Russia in July 2022 sought to ease concerns over global food security and allowed food and fertilizer to get from Ukraine to parts of the world where millions are going hungry.

Russia has not agreed to register any new ships since June 27 and the initiative will expire on Monday unless Moscow agrees to extend it. Russia has repeatedly said it won’t extend the deal unless its demands are met, including ensuring its own agricultural shipments don’t face hurdles.

A U.N. spokesperson said on Friday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was waiting for a response from Russian President Vladimir Putin on a proposal to extend the deal. In a letter to Putin, Guterres said he supports removing hurdles to Russia exporting its fertilizers.

Putin told South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in a phone call on Saturday that commitments to remove obstacles to Russian food and fertilizer exports had yet to be fulfilled, the Kremlin said.

Meant to be extended every four months, the deal was hailed as a beacon of hope amid war and has been renewed three times – the last two for only two months as Russia insisted its exports were being held up.

The deal provides assurances that ships won’t be attacked entering and leaving Ukrainian ports. Vessels are checked by Russian, Ukrainian, U.N. and Turkish officials to ensure they carry only food and not weapons that could help either side.

The deal helped bring down global prices of food commodities like wheat that hit record highs after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment on whether the ship, the Turkish-flagged TQ Samsun, had left Odessa.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed confidence Friday on the prospects of an extension to the deal.

“We are preparing to welcome Putin in August. We are on the same page with him on the issue of extending the Black Sea grain corridor,” Erdoğan told reporters.

He also said he hoped that with Gutter’s letter to Putin, “we will ensure the extension of the grain corridor with our joint efforts and those of Russia.”

The U.N. said they were still waiting for a reply to Guterres’s letter.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov neither confirmed nor denied Erdoğan’s statement. “There is no statement about this from the Russian side,” he said.

On Thursday, Putin had argued that none of Moscow’s conditions for the deal to function had been met.

“I want to emphasize that nothing was done, nothing at all. It’s all one-sided,” Putin said in a televised interview. “We will think about what to do, we have a few more days,” he added.

To convince Russia to agree to the Black Sea deal, a three-year memorandum of understanding was also struck in July 2022, under which U.N. officials agreed to help Russia get its food and fertilizer exports to foreign markets.

While Russian exports of food and fertilizer are not subject to Western sanctions. Moscow has said restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance have amounted to a barrier to shipments.

A key demand by Russia is the reconnection of Russia’s Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to the international payment system SWIFT. It was cut off by the EU in June 2022 over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The EU is considering connecting a Rosselkhozbank subsidiary to SWIFT to allow for grain and fertilizer transactions, reports said on Wednesday.

Ukraine and Russia are major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products that Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on. Ukraine is also a huge exporter of corn, and Russia of fertilizer – other critical parts of the food chain.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative has allowed 32.8 million metric tons (36.2 million tons) of food to be exported from Ukraine since last August, more than half to developing countries, including those getting relief from the World Food Programme (WFP).