President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has accused Russia of deliberately slowing down grain exports to create a food crisis, undermining a deal the United Nations brokered earlier this year that freed millions of tons of food trapped in Ukraine’s ports by the war.
Mr. Zelensky, in his nightly address to the nation on Friday, said there was a backlog of 150 ships waiting to fulfill contracts to transport Ukrainian wheat, corn, sunflower oil and other products.
“This is an artificial queue,” he said. “It arose only because Russia is deliberately delaying the passage of ships.” He said the slowdowns had resulted in Ukraine exporting three million tons less of its agricultural products than it would have.
“The enemy is doing everything to slow down our food exports,” he said. “I believe that with these actions, Russia is deliberately inciting the food crisis so that it becomes as acute at it was in the first half of the year.”
There was no immediate public response from the Kremlin to Mr. Zelensky’s allegations.
Ismini Palla, a spokeswoman for the U.N. entity overseeing the agreement, known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative, confirmed that 150 vessels were “waiting to move,” delays she said had “the potential to cause disruptions” in the flow of goods.
She declined to comment on what was causing the delays. She said the Joint Coordination Centre — a team of officials from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Nations that monitors the ships — “has acknowledged this problem and is trying to address the backlog.”
The deal allowing Ukrainian grain exports to resume through the Black Sea was brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey in July. The agreement must be renegotiated over the next month, and its future is uncertain.
Under the pact, Ukrainian pilots guide ships through Ukrainian minefields around the ports, and are then given safe passage by the Russian Navy to Turkey, where teams involving all the parties inspect them before they head to delivery ports. Returning ships are also inspected for arms.
U.N. officials have called the deal a success. The secretary general, António Guterres, has credited the shipments with driving down world food prices and averting a global hunger crisis.
As of Oct. 19, almost 8.8 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs had been exported under the agreement, according to a report issued on Thursday by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development. Nearly 20 percent of the wheat exports have gone to developing countries, the report said, though that amounts to about 1.3 million tons less than in 2021.
The report said that Ukraine’s shipments are still about half of what they were before the war. It added that the prices of global food staples had declined since the agreement was signed, but that the prices of some commodities, including wheat and maize, had begun to rise again because of the uncertainty of the deal’s renewal.
Russia and Ukraine have yet to agree on extending the agreement, which is set to expire at the end of November.
Ukraine has said it wants the deal extended, but Russia earlier this week threatened to block its extension unless promises from the West to facilitate more shipments of Russian food and fertilizer were honored.
As part of the deal, the United States and the European Union gave assurances that banks and companies involved in trading Russian grain and fertilizer would be exempt from economic sanctions on Russia.
“The situation around the export grain initiative is becoming more and more tense these weeks,” Mr. Zelensky said on Friday.
Carly Olson contributed reporting.
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