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UK warns Putin ‘is using food supplies as weapon’ after Russia quits grain deal

The unprecedented deal allows grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia – where hunger is a growing threat and high food prices have pushed more people into poverty.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Russia’s President Putin was using food supplies “as a weapon” by suspending the agreement.

And he will raise the issue at the UN in New York at a UK-chaired session of the Security Council.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would return to the deal after its demands were met.

Peskov said: “When the part of the Black Sea deal related to Russia is implemented, Russia will immediately return to the implementation of the deal.”

It’s the end of a breakthrough accord that the United Nations and Turkey brokered last July to allow food to leave the Black Sea region after Russia invaded its neighbour nearly a year and a half ago.

A parallel agreement facilitated the movement of Russian food and fertiliser amid Western sanctions.

Russia has complained that sanctions continue to hold up that part of the deal. But Mr Cleverly said its food exports were higher than before it invaded Ukraine.

The warring nations are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other affordable food products developing nations rely on.

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Mr Cleverly has urged Putin to return to the deal allowing cargo ships to pass safely through the Black Sea from the ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi.

He said: “Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine has obstructed the free flow of grain and other foodstuffs through the Black Sea, causing worldwide suffering. We urge Russia to re-join the initiative…and allow the unimpeded export of grain.”

Mr Cleverly also accused the Kremlin of interfering with the vital export of sunflower, maize, wheat and barley, and “serving its own interests and disregarding the needs of all those around the world”.

He added: “Since its inception, the initiative has played a significant role in lowering and stabilising global food prices, delivering over 32 million tons of food products to world markets.

“Russia has obstructed the proper operation of the deal for several months.

“In doing so, Russia is serving its own interests and disregarding the needs of all those around the world, including in the poorest countries.

“The UN estimates that without the grain provided by the initiative, the number of undernourished people worldwide could increase by millions.

“While exports of grain from Ukraine are restricted, Russian exports of food are at higher levels than before the invasion.

“We have always been clear that the target of our sanctions is Russia’s war machine and not the food and fertiliser sectors. Contrary to Russian claims, the UN and other partners have taken significant steps to ensure that Russian food is able to access world markets.

“The best way for Russia to address concerns around global food security would be for it to withdraw its forces from Ukraine and end the war.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the country’s foreign minister was contacting his Russian counterpart – and that he was hopeful the deal would be extended.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he wanted to keep the initiative going even without Russia’s safety assurances.

“We are not afraid,” he said. “We were approached by companies that own ships. They said that they are ready, if Ukraine gives it [grain], and Turkey continues to let it through, then everyone is ready to continue supplying grain.”

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Russian navy vessels blockaded Ukrainian ports following its invasion in February 2022, sending global food prices skyrocketing.

That contributed to a global food crisis also tied to conflict, the lingering effects of the pandemic, droughts and other climate factors.

High costs for grain needed for food staples in places like Egypt, Lebanon and Nigeria exacerbated economic challenges and helped push millions more into poverty or food insecurity.

Poorer nations that depend on imported food priced in dollars are also spending more as their currencies weaken and they are forced to import more due to climate issues.

Places like Somalia, Kenya, Morocco and Tunisia are struggling with drought. Simon Evenett, a professor of international trade and economic development, said: “The Black Sea deal is absolutely critical for the food security of a number of countries.”

He believes its loss would compound the problems for those facing high debt levels and climate fallout.

While analysts do not expect more than a temporary bump to food commodity prices because places like Russia and Brazil have ratcheted up wheat and corn exports, food insecurity is growing.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said this month that 45 countries need outside food assistance, with high local food prices “a driver of worrying levels of hunger” in those locations.

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