A deal allowing Ukrainian grain exports to pass through the blockaded Black Sea has been extended for 120 days, Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov announced Saturday.
Kubrakov thanked “all our partners for sticking to the agreements,” said in a tweet Saturday afternoon.
The announcement comes after a week of wrangling following Moscow’s announcement Monday that it had agreed to extend the Black Sea grain initiative but only for 60 days — which drew immediate objections from Kyiv and reminders from the United Nations and Turkey that the original agreement foresees a minimum 120-day extension.
The deal — described by aid groups as a lifeline for food insecure countries — was due to expire on Saturday.
Initially brokered by the U.N. and Turkey last July after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 fueled a global food crisis, the pact was extended in November for 120 days.
Some 24 million tons of Ukrainian produce have been transported under the initiative so far, amid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s all-out war on Ukraine.
“We started negotiations with the idea of extending the grain corridor for another 120 days in line with the initial version of the agreement,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said in a statement on Wednesday. “The continuation of this is important. In this sense, we will continue our contacts about 120 days instead of two months.”
Although the Kremlin did not specify why it only wanted to extend the deal for 60 days, since the outset it has complained that the initiative fails to address obstacles to its own fertilizer and food exports — which the U.N. agreed to facilitate for three years under a second deal struck with Moscow last July.
The Kremlin argues that Western sanctions targeting fertilizer oligarchs and Russia’s main agricultural bank have hampered its fertilizer and food exports, arguing that these are to blame for food insecurity in the Global South.
Ukraine and Russia produce a massive chunk of the world’s grain and fertilizer, together supplying some 28 percent of globally traded wheat and 75 percent of sunflower oil during peacetime.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) called on the United Nations on Thursday to broker a renewal of the deal for a full 12 months, warning that this is necessary to “to help stave off hunger in the most food insecure countries.”
The number of people facing food insecurity rose from 282 million at the end of 2021 to a record 345 million last year, according to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). Africa is one of the hardest-hit regions, with eastern African countries like Somalia and Ethiopia in particular facing extreme hunger.
“Shipments of grain to countries most in need, including Somalia, hinge on the critical renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” the IRC said, adding that Somalia receives over 90 percent of its grain from Ukraine.