Russia’s decision Monday to pull out of the year-old Black Sea Grain Initiative and its subsequent attacks on Ukrainian ports threaten to cut vulnerable regions of the world from much-needed grain and escalate the war. Now the United Nations, Turkey, and Western leaders are scrambling for a solution.
The deal, reached last July to lift Russia’s wartime blockade on Ukrainian agricultural exports from three Black Sea ports, had played a crucial role in alleviating global food shortages despite the ongoing conflict. Russian officials had long accused the West of violating the terms of the agreement, which carved out Russian food products and fertilizer exports from Western sanctions. Yet Russia exported a record-breaking 57 million tons of grain in the 2022-2023 season and rejected a European Union proposal to allow a Russian bank to make international transactions again.
Russia’s withdrawal from the initiative, which relied entirely on both sides’ mutual commitment not to attack merchant vessels, is having immediate repercussions. Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned Monday that Russia could no longer guarantee the safety of ships traversing the shipping route. To drive the message home, Russia has carried out several missile and drone attacks targeting Ukraine’s Black Sea ports of Odessa and Chornomorsk since pulling out of the initiative, striking at infrastructure used for grain shipments as well as residential areas.
“Russian terrorists deliberately targeted the infrastructure of the grain agreement,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Telegram Wednesday, “and every Russian missile is a blow not only to Ukraine, but also to everyone in the world who seeks a normal and safe life.”