Officials in the Biden administration and Ukraine welcomed Friday’s deal to allow the export of Ukrainian grain, but expressed skepticism that Russia would deliver on its commitments.
“The United States welcomes this positive move,” John Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, told reporters. “We fully expect the implementation of this scheme to start quickly to prevent the world’s most vulnerable from sliding deeper into food insecurity and malnutrition, as well as extreme hunger.”
But Mr Kirby repeatedly made a cautionary note, saying that the success of the deal “will depend on Russia’s compliance with this arrangement and the actual fulfillment of its obligations, and of course ending the blockade of Ukrainian ports.”
“Russia’s word is never good enough on his face. It really comes down to a willingness to actually implement it,” he added. “We are keen on this and we will be watching very closely.”
Also Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, told France 24 that he wasn’t celebrating yet.
“If the ships are already moving and if they reach, say, Turkish territorial waters, then we can say that Africa will get the amount of grain it wants,” Podolyak said in comments translated by the French. news broadcast. “So let’s give it some time and see how this system works. I say this because today the Russian Federation is not a partner whose word can be taken as a legal commitment. Russia can violate any agreement at any time.”
In his late-night address, President Volodymyr Zelensky offered a more muted skepticism, saying that there could be “some provocations on the part of Russia” but that Ukraine trusted the United Nations and Turkey – crucial partners in the grain regime – to ensure compliance by guarantee to Russia. He also used the deal to paint his picture of Ukraine’s ability to withstand the war, noting that grain sales would bring in $10 billion, bringing revenue to farmers, the agricultural sector, the state budget and next’s sowing season. year.
Victoria J. Nuland, the US secretary of state for political affairs, said on Friday that Russia had felt political pressure from abroad to release Ukraine’s agricultural exports.
“This came together because, I think, Russia finally felt the hot breath of global disgrace, and it lost the global South, which had become convinced that this was really NATO’s fault, etc.” said Ms. Nuland at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
Ms Nuland said a growing awareness that, on the contrary, “Russia is blocking the food” had prompted Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin to intervene. “It is now up to Russia to actually implement this deal,” she said. “But it’s very well structured in terms of monitoring and in terms of, you know, channels that the grain should be able to come out of.”
She added that Russia may have had a direct financial interest in reaching a deal.
“Russia also complained to the world that its own fertilizer and grain could not get out,” said Ms Nuland. She noted that the US had not imposed any sanctions on Russian food or fertilizer, and that Washington had issued “letters of consolation” to make that clear.
“So it may also have been related to the fact that it was difficult for them to get shippers and insurers and others to transport their grains,” she said. “So they need the money too, given what else we’re doing with them.”
Maggie Astor contributed reporting.