UN working on guarantees for Russia to restore grain deal but Moscow skeptical


By Michelle Nichols

(Reuters) – The United Nations is “actively engaged” in trying to improve Russia’s grain and fertilizer exports in a bid to convince Moscow to again allow the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine grain, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday.

“We believe that it’s necessary to create a system of mutual guarantee,” Guterres told reporters on the sidelines of the Association of South East Asian Nations summit in Jakarta.

“Guarantee that the Russian Federation is able, indeed, to overcome difficulties that still exist, even if many have been solved and, at the same time, guarantees that we that we will have the restoration of the Black Sea initiative,” he said.

Guterres last week sent Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “a set of concrete proposals” aimed at reviving the Black Sea grain deal, which Russia quit in July – a year after it was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.

Moscow had complained that its agricultural exports faced obstacles and not enough Ukrainian grain was going to countries in need under the Black Sea deal. Ukraine and Russia are both leading grain exporters.

The Black Sea grain deal aimed to combat a global food crisis worsened by Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s grain and fertilizer exports are not subject to Western sanctions but Moscow said restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance have been a barrier to shipments.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday dismissed the U.N. bid to revive the Black Sea deal as “a new dose of promises.”

It also publicly outlined the proposals made by Guterres in his letter to Lavrov: “reconnecting a subsidiary of the Russian Agricultural Bank to SWIFT, creating an insurance platform, unblocking the foreign assets of Russian fertiliser producers and enabling our ships to enter European ports.”

“In exchange, they want Russia to guarantee that the Black Sea Initiative resumes immediately and in full,” the ministry said in a statement.

A U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Russia’s description of the U.N. proposals.

Guterres on Thursday described the problems faced by the U.N. in helping Russia overcome obstacles to its exports.

“The difficulties we are facing to get the goodwill of the other partners around the world are dramatically increased when the Russian Federation bombs harbor installations and warehouses of grain,” Guterres said in Jakarta.

After withdrawing from the Black Sea pact Russia began targeting Ukrainian ports and grain infrastructure on the Black Sea and Danube River and global grain prices spiked.

Russia has also threatened to target Ukraine-bound civilian vessels, prompting Kyiv to responded by announcing similar measures against vessels bound for Russia or Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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