By Ateet Sharma
New Delhi, May 27: Even though Russia has committed to cooperating with the United Nations on unblocking Ukraine's Black Sea ports to facilitate export of over 20 million tonnes of grain lying unused in the conflict zone, there is no indication whatsoever of the current imbroglio being solved anytime soon.
As the world battles the food and energy crisis triggered by the Ukraine crisis, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko on Wednesday spoke about creation of some sort of a humanitarian corridor for ships carrying grains for export to leave Ukraine.
However, the restoration of the supply chains and transport and logistics systems are still a far cry from becoming a reality in the coming weeks with Moscow making it clear that the 'incessant calls' for the creation of new humanitarian coordination mechanisms with the involvement of a large number of participants to solve the problems of blocking the Black Sea ports of Ukraine are 'incomprehensible'.
At the May 19 meeting of the UN Security Council on the issue of hunger and armed conflict, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had revealed that a 'package deal' was being worked out which would allow the export of Ukrainian grain through Black Sea in exchange for the removal of restrictions on the export of Russian and Belarusian fertilizers and food to world markets.
'Any meaningful solution to global food insecurity requires reintegrating Ukraine's agricultural production and the food and fertilizer production of Russia and Belarus into world markets -- despite the war,' said the UN chief.
But Russia was left enraged with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's comment of Vladimir Putin's government 'using the hunger of civilians' to advance its objectives.
Blinken said that the food supply for millions of Ukrainians and millions more around the world 'has quite literally been held hostage by the Russian military' as prices skyrocket all over the globe.
Accused of provoking a food crisis, Russia had retaliated immediately.
'They tried to present us as almost the main enemy of mankind. Ukraine was called 'the breadbasket of the world' and they preferred to remain silent about Russia's status as the largest exporter of wheat,' the Russian Foreign Ministry had commented after the UNSC meeting.
At the same meeting, Russia's Permanent Representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya had dwelled on systemic failures in the global economy which led to the current situation. Calling Ukraine 'the real culprit', he accused Kyiv of blocking the port of Odessa, which was mined by the Ukrainian side, as well as the vast water area of the Black Sea.
'You claim that we are allegedly blocking the possibility of exporting agricultural products from Ukraine by sea. However, the truth is that it is Ukraine, and not Russia, that continues to block 75 foreign ships from 17 states in the ports of Nikolaev, Kherson, Chernomorsk, Mariupol, Ochakov, Odessa and Yuzhny, and it is Ukraine that mined the Black Sea. How can we talk about the export of grain?' Nebenzya questioned.
Russia says that its armed forces daily open a humanitarian corridor, which is a safe lane for the movement of ships in a south-western direction from the territorial waters of Ukraine. It instead accused Kyiv of evading interaction with representatives of foreign ship-owning states in resolving the issue of the safe exit of blocked ships to the assembly area.
At another UNGA meeting on Monday, Dmitry Chumakov, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the UN in New York, had argued that Russia remains a responsible supplier of both energy resources and food.
'If the 'external puppeteers' can convey to the Kyiv wards that the time for demagoguery has passed and it is time to remove their minefields, then grain exports from the ports of Odessa, Nikolaev, Kherson, Yuzhny, etc. will resume as soon as possible,' stated Chumakov.
Moscow said that it continues to fulfill its obligations under commercial contracts and sends food aid to the needy population of developing countries.
In a reception hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on the occasion of Africa Day on Wednesday, Russia urged its friends in the African Union to 'persistently demand' that the West lift 'illegal unilateral sanctions' that undermine the transport and logistics infrastructure necessary for world trade, which creates risks for vulnerable segments of the population, especially in the world's second largest continent.
The food security situation in the Horn of Africa, which is suffering the longest drought in four decades, continues to deteriorate with more than 18 million people getting affected.
Knowing well that African countries are among the most vulnerable in terms of ensuring food security - and some of them critically dependent on the import of agricultural products from Russia - Moscow highlighted that these deliveries are of great importance for maintaining social stability and achieving the milestones stipulated by the Sustainable Development Goals approved by the United Nations.
'I would like to once again firmly assure you that Russia is fulfilling and will continue to conscientiously fulfill its obligations under international contracts in terms of export deliveries of food, fertilizers, energy carriers and other goods Africa urgently needs,' Lavrov told the heads of diplomatic missions of Africa in Moscow on Wednesday.
Stating that the voice of Africa 'must be heard' and 'a more principled position' on the issue should be taken by the UN Secretary General, Lavrov said that Ukraine has become a 'bargaining chip in the global anti-Russian game' with the US congressmen now preparing a draft law to counter 'Russia's hostile activity in Africa.'
'It is important to facilitate the mutual access of Russian and African economic operators to each other's markets, to encourage their participation in large-scale infrastructure projects... Today, we are confronted with unscrupulous attempts by certain Western countries to exert a moderating influence on our engagement with Africa,' he said.
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