Food Might Be Putin’s Next Weapon Against Ukraine 

( 19FortyFive reports that Russia said this week that the UN and China-brokered Black Sea Initiative grain export arrangement would be extended for 60 days after consultations with UN officials. 

Sergey Vershinin, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, stated that new talks had occurred between Russian and United Nations officials. The deal’s structure was also attacked in the statement, with the implication that it favored Kyiv unjustly. 

“The in-depth and open discussion reaffirmed that impediments still exist in the path of Russian agricultural exporters even if the commercial export of Ukrainian goods is carried out regularly, bringing great profit to Kyiv. Washington, Europe, and London’s declared sanctions exemptions for food and fertilizer do not function,” the statement continues. 

The statement promises to extend the pact for a third term on March 18 for another 60 days, contingent on Russia’s progress in getting back to normal levels of agricultural exports, covering bank payments, and “unfreezing” financial activity. 

Ukraine’s Minister of Infrastructure, Oleksandr Kubrakov, voiced concerns about Russia’s plan but did not outright reject it. Kubrakov tweeted that Russia has agreed to a two-year extension rather than the one suggested this week. 

Russia’s stance to prolong the accord just for 60 days violates the contract signed by the UN and by Turkey, Kubrakov said, adding that Ukraine would wait for their views as the plan’s sponsors before making any decisions. 

In July last year, Russia extended the period that Ukraine could ship grain out of its ports for another 120 days. The contract was extended in November but will end this coming Saturday again. Russia’s apparent refusal to grant Ukraine’s requested extension of 120 days surprised Kyiv. 

Russia’s proposed extension of the agreement by just 60 days is intended as a negotiating tool. The Kremlin is likely using grain shipments as a negotiation tool after failing in Bakhmut, trying to resupply its soldiers in Ukraine with new tanks and ammunition, and is now under pressure from China to end the conflict. 

If Russian troops are still having trouble on the front lines, a 60-day extension will enable them two months to assess progress (if any) and use their influence to halt grain exports. It is evident from the deputy foreign minister’s remarks that Moscow wants the West to relax certain sanctions in return for enabling the agreement to proceed.