LONDON (AP) — Ships loaded with grain departed Ukraine on Tuesday despite Russia suspending its participation in a U.N.-brokered deal that ensures safe wartime passage of critical food supplies meant for parts of the world struggling with hunger.
The U.N. said three ships carrying 84,490 metric tons of corn, wheat and sunflower meal left through a humanitarian sea corridor set up in July. The corridor, brokered by Turkey and U.N., was seen as a breakthrough that would ensure Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia would receive grain and other food from the Black Sea region during Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russia cited an alleged Ukrainian drone attack against its Black Sea fleet in announcing the suspension of its part of the grain deal over the weekend. The Russian Defense Ministry said Monday that ship traffic from ports in southern Ukraine was halted, calling the movement “unacceptable.”
But a total of 14 ships sailed Monday, including one chartered by the U.N. World Food Program to bring wheat to Ethiopia, which along with neighboring Somalia and Kenya, is badly affected by the worst drought in decades.
Analysts say that because Russia is bound by the conditions of the grain deal it signed with Turkey and the U.N., which include a commitment not to target civilian vessels traveling under the agreement. Such an attack also would violate international law.
“Although it is not currently participating in that deal, it is still a signatory to it. Russia’s interests are not going to be served in any way, shape or form by attacking vessels and groups in the international community,” said Munro Anderson, head of intelligence of the risk consultancy company Dryad Global.
Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized to reporters Monday night that Moscow was “not saying that we are ending our participation” in the grain deal but “we are talking about the fact that we are suspending” it. The move drew an outcry from Ukraine, the U.S. and other allies.
Anderson said Russia was “unlikely to mount any overt action against any vessels operating within the parameters of the original deal,” though the risks were as high as ever of Russia attacking Ukrainian grain silos, other agricultural infrastructure or targets at sea.
The interruption in the deal nonetheless is likely to have lasting consequences, according to Joseph Glauber, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. In terms of insuring cargo ships to travel from Ukraine, “rates are going to go up and likely be prohibitive,” he said.
Russia’s primary concern is likely that vessels would go unchecked and could be used to bring in weapons, which is why a Joint Coordination Center was established in Istanbul to coordinate checks between the warring nations, Turkey and the U.N.
After suspending its part of the grain deal, “it is likely that Russia will use this as a tool of negotiation to secure what it needs from the deal,” Anderson said. “We know that Russia has been looking to export fertilizer products and to seek a sanctions reprieve on those so it can do so effectively.”
While Western sanctions on Russia don’t affect its grain exports and a parallel wartime deal was meant to clear the way for Moscow’s food and fertilizer shipments, some businesses have been wary of running afoul of sanctions.
Anderson said the U.N. operation was prioritizing a backlog of ships waiting for inspections off Istanbul, but the future of the initiative is unclear.
“I think at the moment, the situation is such that no vessels inbound or currently signed up to initiatives that are not already in the processing are going to proceed until there’s further clarity on the Russian position on continued participation,” he said.