The UN said Friday it is conducting intensive negotiations with Russia to unblock Ukrainian ports and release tens of millions of tons of grain to avert a global food crisis.
One hundred days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, UN crisis coordinator for the war-torn country, Amin Awad, emphasized the high stakes of the “very, very complex” talks to try to end the deadlock.
Ships loaded with grain remain blocked in Ukraine, which before February was considered a global granary as a leading exporter of corn, wheat and sunflower seeds, feeding 400 million people around the world last year.
The talks are led by UN deputy chief Martin Griffith and Rebeca Gynspan, head of the UN’s trade and development agency, Awad said via video link to reporters in Geneva.
The UN has warned that African countries in particular, which imported more than half of their wheat consumption from Ukraine and Russia, are facing an “unprecedented” crisis caused by the conflict.
Food prices in Africa are already higher than those of the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Springs and the 2008 food riots.
Putin has said Moscow is ready to look for ways to ship grain stuck in Ukrainian ports, but has demanded the West lift sanctions.
But Awad stressed that pressure is also being put on Russia by some of its allies who are in a tight spot.
“There is a lot of commuting between Moscow and other countries of concern,” he said.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met the head of the African Union, Senegalese President Macky Sall, at his Black Sea residence in Sochi.
Opening those talks, Sall told Putin he needed to “become aware” that African countries are “victims” in the conflict in Ukraine.
Awad stressed that Russia “has alliances in the south”, stressing that some of the affected countries could help influence the situation.
“I’m optimistic that something could admit, something could be made,” he said, expressing hope that we “could see a breakthrough.”
But, he stressed, the negotiations are “very complex” and “happen on many tracks”.
The UN’s World Food Program said unblocking the ports would have a huge impact.
“The ports on the Black Sea are like the silver bullet when it comes to avoiding global famines, global hunger,” Matthew Hollingworth, WFP’s emergency coordinator in Ukraine, told reporters.
He said that while efforts are underway to reopen ports, the UN and others are also looking at other options to get much-needed grain from Ukraine, including by truck, train or ports in neighboring countries.
However, such options would mean “draining 1-1.5 million tons,” he said, stressing that while that may sound like a lot, “it’s nothing when this country sends five million tons to a month prior to this war. pushed outside.”
Awa agreed, pointing out a series of challenges in transporting grain by truck or rail.
“It really has to be a maritime movement to support 50 to 60 million tons of food,” he said.
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