The United Nations has said it is in intensive talks with Russia to unblock Ukrainian ports and release tens of millions of tonnes of grain to prevent a global food crisis.
One hundred days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, UN coordinator for the war-torn country, Amin Auad, emphasized the high stakes in the “very, very complicated” negotiations to break the deadlock.
Ships loaded with grain remain stranded in Ukraine, which before February was considered the world’s granary as a leading exporter of corn, wheat and sunflower seeds, feeding 400 million people worldwide last year.
The talks are being led by the head of the UN aid service, Martin Griffith, and Rebecca Ginspan, who heads the UN agency for trade and development, Awad told Geneva.
The UN has warned that especially African countries, which import more than half of their wheat consumption from Ukraine and Russia, are facing an “unprecedented” crisis caused by the conflict.
Food prices in Africa have already surpassed those after the 2011 Arab Spring and the 2008 food riots.
Putin said Moscow was ready to look for ways to transport grain stranded in Ukrainian ports, but called on the West to lift sanctions.
Awad stressed that Russia is also under pressure from some of its allies, who are experiencing difficulties.
“There are many contacts between Moscow and other countries that are concerned,” he said.
Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin met at his Black Sea residence in Sochi with African Union President and Senegalese President Maki Sal.
Opening the talks, Sal called on Putin to “realize” that African countries are “victims” of the conflict in Ukraine.
Awad stressed that Russia “has allies in the south”, stressing that some of the countries affected could help change the situation.
“I am optimistic that on some topics we can give in, something can be done,” he said, expressing hope that we could “see a breakthrough”.
But he stressed that the negotiations are “very complicated” and “conducted through many channels”.
The UN World Food Program has said that unblocking ports will have a huge impact.
“Black Sea ports seem to be the silver bullet when it comes to avoiding global shortages, global hunger,” Matthew Hollingworth, coordinator of the World Food Emergency Program in Ukraine, told reporters.
He said that while efforts are being made to reopen ports, the UN and other organizations are considering other options for exporting much-needed grain from Ukraine, including by truck, train or through ports to neighboring countries.
However, such options would mean “exporting 1-1.5 million tonnes”, he said, stressing that while this may sound like a lot, “it is nothing when before the war the country exported 5 million tonnes per month”. .
Auad agreed, citing a number of challenges in transporting grain by truck or rail.
“In order to export 50-60 million tons of food, sea transport must really be used,” he said.
European Mediterranean countries, through which major migrant routes to Europe pass, are expecting more than 150,000 new arrivals this year after food shortages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threaten a new wave of migrants from Africa and the Middle East.
“This year, the Member States of the European Union at the forefront are expected to receive more than 150,000 migrants, as we discussed,” Cypriot Interior Minister Nikos Nuris said today after meeting with colleagues from the so-called MED5 group. in Venice.
Nearly 36,400 asylum seekers and migrants have already arrived in Italy, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Malta this year, up from a total of 123,318 newly arrived migrants last year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
However, their total number remains significantly lower than in 2015, when more than one million migrants arrived in the five countries to escape poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East.
Deficiencies in wheat and other cereals could affect 1.4 billion people, UN Crisis Coordinator Amin Awad said yesterday, adding that further talks were needed to unblock Ukrainian ports to avoid famine and mass migration around the world.
Russia and Ukraine account for almost a third of global wheat supplies, with Russia also a key exporter of fertilizers and Ukraine an important supplier of corn and sunflower oil.
“If wheat remains stranded in Black Sea ports, we should expect a greater (migrant) flow,” Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese told Sky-TV 24 yesterday, adding: “We are concerned, like all frontline countries.” .