With the clock ticking on the Black Sea Grain Initiative deal’s extension this month, the U.S. envoy to Ukraine appealed to India on Wednesday to use its influence with Russia to ensure that grain exported from Ukraine isn’t blocked. The initiative, which was mediated by Turkey last year, after Ukrainian and Russian ships were stopped from carrying wheat exports out of the Black Sea due to the war, is set to expire on July 17. The urgency of renewing the deal is also likely to come up as Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to Europe next week, to attend France’s national day parade.
“India’s leaders have a unique voice to stand up for developing countries and encourage the continuation and the expansion of the Black Sea Grain Initiative to ensure people around the world can access food they desperately need,” said U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink, taking questions in an online press conference organised for Indian journalists, adding that the deal could collapse just as the new harvest was being prepared in war-torn Ukraine.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation, prior to the war, Russia and Ukraine together ranked among the top global exporters of wheat, barley, maize and vegetable oils.
Last year, Turkey brokered a deal facilitated by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that agreed to allow both countries to continue to export the grains. However, Russia has consistently complained that its ship exports are still being blocked, and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned on Tuesday that it has “no grounds” for a further extension after it agreed to one extension for two months in May 2023.
“The situation around normalising Russian food and fertilizer supplies to world markets, which is stipulated by the Russia-United Nations Memorandum, has continued to deteriorate,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Under these conditions, it is clear that there are no grounds for a further extension of the Black Sea Initiative, which expires on July 17,” it said, adding that it will try to ensure that all ships under the initiative leave the Black Sea before July 17.
Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the U.S., Ms. Brink said that India and the U.S. shared belief in principles of “sovereignty and territorial integrity”, and that the U.S. “hoped” to find commonality on their policies towards the war in Ukraine.
Since the Russian invasion in February 2022, India has refused to criticise Russia’s actions in U.N. votes, and has, in a break from U.S. and EU sanctions, increased its intake of Russian oil fifty-fold. India is among 50 countries providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and Mr. Modi met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the sidelines of the G-7 plus summit in Japan in May, but has not so far acceded to the Ukrainian President’s request to be allowed to address the G-20 summit in Delhi. In the India-U.S. joint statement issued in Washington, the Ukraine conflict is mentioned, but there is no reference to Russia, believed to be at New Delhi’s insistence.
When asked about whether the U.S. feels India’s position has changed in the past year, Ms. Brink suggested that all countries must empathise with Ukraine’s situation, in a possible reference to China’s transgressions at the LAC.
“The threat posed by a neighbouring country with rising ambitions and no respect for territorial integrity is not only felt by Ukraine, in the case of Ukraine. While the war in Ukraine is happening in Europe, the global implications of the war should inspire leaders everywhere to look for solutions to bring the war to an end,” she said in response to a question from The Hindu on what the U.S. is asking for specifically from India. She also said that the U.S. could build a common policy with India on assisting Ukraine with critical civilian infrastructure that has been destroyed in Russian bombing.
When asked about the possibility of “diplomacy and dialogue” to resolve the conflict, as suggested by Mr. Modi, Ms. Brink said that the U.S. would support Ukraine’s decision on when to go for talks, adding that at present, Ukraine’s counter-offensive is “going as planned”, and that Russia would have to “leave Ukraine” for peace to be restored.