US and Russia trade barbs over halted Ukraine grain deal

The United States and Russia traded accusations over the weekend after Moscow announced it was suspending a deal to allow safe passage for grain leaving Ukraine’s ports. 

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres canceled a trip on Sunday to engage in intense negotiations in an attempt to revive the deal, the collapse of which could fuel global hunger in the coming months. 

Ukrainian and U.S. officials accused Russia of bad faith over the suspension, which comes as Russia’s forces continue to lose ground to Ukraine’s military. 

“Any act by Russia to disrupt these critical grain exports is essentially a statement that people and families around the world should pay more for food or go hungry,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Saturday. 

“In suspending this arrangement, Russia is again weaponizing food in the war it started.”

President Biden on Saturday told reporters the decision was “purely outrageous” and would “increase starvation.”

The Kremlin announced on Saturday it was halting the agreement after what it called a terrorist attack on its Black Sea fleet near Sevastapol. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it repelled the attack by 16 drones, which it alleged the British Navy had helped coordinate. 

Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, hit back at the U.S. skepticism on Sunday. 

“Washington’s reaction to the terrorist attack on the port of Sevastopol is truly outrageous,” he wrote on Telegram. “We have not seen any signs of condemnation of the reckless actions by the Kyiv regime.”

The United Nations, Turkey and Ukraine agreed on Sunday to unblock 16 grain ships in Turkish waters, despite Russia pulling out of the deal.

However, Ukraine has said 218 vessels are “effectively blocked,” unable to obtain permits from the scheme’s Joint Coordination Center to pass through the safe corridor. 

NATO also urged Russia to reverse its decision on Sunday. 

“President Putin must stop weaponising food and end his illegal war on Ukraine,” NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said. “We call on Russia to reconsider its decision and renew the deal urgently, enabling food to reach those who need it most”.

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of inventing the attacks as a pretext to back out of the deal. 

President Volodymy Zelensky said Moscow suspending the agreement showed “an absolutely transparent intention of Russia to return the threat of large-scale famine to Africa and Asia.” 

The grain initiative — an example of rare wartime cooperation between Ukraine and Russia — has allowed more than 9 million tons of grain in 397 ships to safely leave Ukrainian ports since it was signed in July, according to the Associated Press. 

Guterres had urged Russia and Ukraine on Friday to renew the deal when it expires Nov. 19. The grain agreement has brought down global food prices about 15 percent from their peak in March, according to the U.N.

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