UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about expanding a recently-brokered deal that opened Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to grain exports.
Putin has threatened to restrict what is known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative after it was signed in July to alleviate a global food crisis. Since the first vessel sailed under the deal on Aug. 1, more than 120 ships have carried over 2.5 million tons of agricultural products through the grain corridor.
The Russian president has accused Europe of taking nearly all of the foodstuffs being exported, though the UN has said about 30% has flown to low and lower-middle income countries, including two ships chartered by the World Food Program for the Horn of Africa and Yemen.
A third ship chartered by the organization is being loaded to go to Djibouti while a fourth will be arriving to go to Afghanistan.
Guterres said that during his call with Putin Wednesday morning, the leaders discussed increasing the deal’s scope, including having it cover Russian fertilizer exports via the same channel.
“In 2022, we have no lack of foods, we have a problem of distribution,” he told reporters at the UN’s New York headquarters. “If we don’t normalize the fertilizer markets, we will have a problem in 2023.”
Guterres said that there are already reports from West Africa and other parts of the world that this year’s crop cultivation is less than in 2021, saying that is “the reason why I strongly appeal to remove all obstacles to the exports of Russian fertilizers that are not, I repeat that are not, subject to sanctions.”
The US and its allies have imposed myriad sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its war against Ukraine, now in its seventh month. But Washington has repeatedly maintained that its economic penalties do not affect exports of Russian fertilizers.