The UN chief calls on Russia to free Ukrainian grain exports

Fearing food shortages, Antonio Guterres called on Russia to free Ukrainian grain exports and the West to open Russian fertilizer access to world markets.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday called on Russia to free Ukrainian grain exports and the West to open access to world Russian fertilizer markets so they can effectively address the global food crisis. “Russia must allow the safe and secure export of the grain stored in Ukrainian ports,” he said at a ministerial meeting hosted by the United States in New York.

“Alternative transport routes” to the sea exit of these cereals, in particular the filling silos in Odessa, “can be explored, although we know that this will not be enough to solve the problem,” he added. At the same time, “Russian food and fertilizers must have full and unrestricted access to world markets,” said the head of the United Nations.

Sanctions against Moscow

These fertilizers are not subject to Western sanctions against Moscow after the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, but Russia has decided to stop exporting them. Their purchase from abroad could also be blocked by measures taken against the Russian financial system, according to diplomats. On these two issues, Antonio Guterres has been negotiating for several weeks with Russia, Ukraine, the United States, the European Union and Turkey, which can help with demining near Ukrainian ports and ensure the movement of ships.

“I am confident, but there is still a long way to go. The complex security, economic and financial implications require the goodwill of all parties,” he said, refusing to say more so as not to jeopardize the chances of a deal. According to him, “there is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production into world markets, despite the war, as well as food and fertilizers produced by Russia and Belarus”.

Opening the meeting, the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, denouncing once again the Russian invasion of Ukraine, specified that “22 million tons” of grain were in silos in Ukraine, waiting to be exported. The United States has decided to release “an additional $ 215 million” to fight food insecurity, he said.

Risk of “food shortage”

Warning of the “specter of global food shortage in the coming months”, Antonio Guterres said the war in Ukraine has amplified and accelerated the factors contributing to the global food crisis: climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic and growing inequalities between rich and poor countries. “If you have a heart, open these ports of Ukraine (…) to feed the poor,” pleaded the head of the World Food Program (WFP), David Beasley, turning to Russia, not invited to attend a meeting.

Among other speakers, Senegal called for “freeing the world’s wheat stocks” while Germany, the current president of the G7, accused Russia of having “triggered a wheat war”. According to Antonio Guterres, “in just two years the number of people suffering from severe food insecurity has doubled, from 135 million before the pandemic to 276 million today”.

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