By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths “had frank and constructive discussions” with Russian officials in Moscow on facilitating exports of Ukraine grain from Black Sea ports, a U.N. spokesman said on Friday.
Griffiths met with Russian foreign affairs and defense officials on Thursday and Friday, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian grain shipments from its Black Sea ports have stalled and more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos.
“We’ve said clearly what we can do and what we cannot do,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told Reuters on Friday. “We have not installed the mines in the coastal area, that was the Ukrainians. If they demine the area we are prepared to provide the safe passage for the ships carrying grain.”
When asked if a security arrangement could be reached to allow for the demining, Nebenzia said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov planned to discuss the issue when he visits Turkey next week.
Griffiths’ visit to Russia came days after another senior U.N. official, Rebeca Grynspan, had “constructive” talks in Moscow on expediting Russian grain and fertilizer exports. Russia says those exports have been hurt by the chilling effect of Western sanctions.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is trying to broker what he calls a “package deal” to resume both Ukrainian food exports and Russian food and fertilizer exports. He said on Wednesday that any agreement to unblock shipments of commodities such as grain was still some way off.
“There are a lot of moving pieces in this puzzle,” Dujarric said on Friday. “We have seen a lot of positive comments come from various capitals, which is heartening.”
Russia’s war in Ukraine has fuelled a global food crisis with prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer soaring. Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies. Russia is also a fertilizer exporter and Ukraine is a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.
Guterres also spoke with Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko on Friday. “Broadly, they discussed the ongoing situation relating to grain and fertilizer and trying to get those things onto the global markets,” Dujarric said.
The Belta news agency quoted Lukashenko as telling Guterres that Belarus is ready to allow the transit of Ukraine’s grain to Baltic Sea ports via Belarus if it is allowed to ship Belarusian goods from these ports.
Belarus – which has backed Russia in its war on Ukraine – is also a key global exporter of fertilizer, but the United States sanctioned the exporting arm of Belarusian state potash producer in December to punish Lukashenko for alleged election rigging and cracking down on the opposition.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Sandra Maler)