Black Sea grain deal slow to get moving after extension
By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -A deal allowing the safe wartime export of grain and fertilizer from Ukrainian Black Sea ports has not yet resumed full operations, the United Nations said on Friday, having come to a halt before Russia's decision last week to extend it.
The pact called the Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last July with Russia and Ukraine to try to ease a global food crisis aggravated by Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, covers three ports, but no ships have been authorized to travel to Pivdennyi (Yuzhny) port since April 29, the U.N. said.
The United Nations and Turkey "are working closely with the rest of the parties with the aim to resume full operations ... and lift all impediments that obstruct operations and limit the scope of the Initiative," the U.N. said in a statement.
Ukraine accused Russia on Tuesday of effectively cutting Pivdennyi port out of the Black Sea deal as Russia complained that it had been unable to export ammonia via a pipeline to Pivdennyi under the agreement.
The U.N. said on Friday that the Black Sea deal also provides for the exports of fertilizer, including ammonia, but "there have been no such exports so far."
"Russia is ready without delay, in a matter of days, to launch the Togliatti-Odesa ammonia pipeline, while Kyiv has been stalling it for almost a year, imposing new conditions," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Friday.
A Ukrainian government source told Reuters last week that Kyiv would consider allowing Russian ammonia to transit its territory for export if the Black Sea grain deal was expanded to include more Ukrainian ports and a wider range of commodities.
Under the Black Sea grain export agreement a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) in Istanbul - made up of officials from the Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the U.N. - authorizes ships and conducts inbound and outbound inspections of the vessels.
"According to information shared by the Ukrainian delegation with the parties at the JCC, there are 54 vessels waiting to move to Ukrainian ports. Out of these, 11 applications have been shared with the JCC for registration," the U.N. said.
No new ships were registered on Thursday by the JCC, but two were agreed on Friday, the U.N. said, adding that there are currently 13 vessels loading in Ukrainian ports - six in Chornomorsk and seven in Odesa.
It also said that the average number of daily inbound and outbound inspections had dropped to 3.2 during May - the lowest level since operations began in August.
Russia signaled on Thursday that if demands to improve its grain and fertilizer exports are not met then it will not extend the deal beyond July 17. It made the same threat and demands in March, before agreeing last week to renew it for 60 days.
Russia appears to have prioritized two specific demands: restarting the pipeline to transport Russian ammonia to the Ukraine's Pivdennyi port for export to global markets; and reconnecting Russia's agricultural bank, known as Rosselkhozbank, to the SWIFT international payment network.
To help convince Russia to allow Ukraine to resume Black Sea grain exports, a three-year pact was also struck last July in which the U.N. agreed to help Moscow carry out its food and fertilizer shipments.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; additional reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Grant McCool)