July 15, 2024

The opening of a humanitarian corridor by Ukraine to bypass Russia’s de facto blockade is a move in the right direction, but should not replace a larger deal to resume shipping through the Black Sea, the top United Nations trade chief said in comments to Reuters.

After Russia unilaterally backed out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July 2023, the shipment of grain through the Black Sea effectively stopped until Ukraine announced the opening of a temporary corridor on Aug. 10.

The corridor was primarily meant to allow passage for ships stuck in the Ukrainian ports of Chornomorsk, Odesa, and Pivdennyi since the start of the full-scale invasion.

Explicitly a temporary measure, and one that “is purely a humanitarian mission,” according to Oleh Chalyk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Navy, the corridor was not designed to fully replace the larger grain deal.

The route is not without risk to those who use it. The Russian Defense Ministry has said that all vessels sailing to Ukrainian ports would be considered “potential carriers of military cargo” and, therefore, legitimate targets.

Rebeca Grynspan, who leads the U.N. implementation of the grain deal with Russia, told Reuters that “the only thing that will take the risk away and stabilize … the situation is an agreement that will be backed by all partners.”

The route sticks close to the Bulgarian and Romanian coast, and so far, five ships that were stuck in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have been evacuated and another two carrying Ukrainian grain have entered and left.

On Sept. 19, the Palau-flagged Resilient Africa became the first ship to enter and leave a Black Sea port with Ukrainian grain since the corridor was announced. A second vessel carrying 18,000 tons of grain to Egypt also left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port on Sept. 22.

The original grain deal, brokered by Turkey and the UN in July 2022, had been essential in mitigating a global surge in food prices partially caused by Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine by allowing Ukraine to export its agricultural products via the Black Sea despite the ongoing invasion.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sept. 23 that renewing the grain deal was not off the table, but rejected recent proposals by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

In contrast, Grynspan stressed that the U.N. negotiating team is “convinced that we put forward real solutions to the issues that Russia has raised.”

Read also: This Week in Ukraine Ep. 17 – Black Sea grain deal is dead. What can Ukraine do?

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