The United Nations, Nato, European Union and US have all urged Russia to reverse its decision to pull out of a deal that allowed Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea, amid fears of a global food crisis.
Moscow announced it was suspending the UN-brokered arrangement in response to a dramatic attack in the early hours of Saturday by Ukrainian airborne and underwater drones on its naval base of Sevastopol in Crimea.
It had allowed Ukraine to transport more than 9m tonnes of grain and oilseed commodities, while Russia was allowed to export food and fertiliser, helping to bring down food prices by 15% from their March peak after the war made the route treacherous.
Wheat futures are now forecast to leap when markets open on Monday. “The start of the week is very likely to see prices climb, simply because less grain is going to come out of Ukraine,” Arthur Portier of consultancy Agritel said.
Kyiv’s infrastructure ministry said on Sunday that 218 vessels were now “effectively blocked” in its ports – 22 loaded and stuck at ports, 95 loaded and departed from ports, and 101 awaiting inspections.
Nato accused Vladimir Putin of “weaponising food” and urged him to do a U-turn. “We call on Russia to reconsider its decision and renew the deal urgently, enabling food to reach those who need it most,” spokesperson Oana Lungescu said.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said he was “deeply concerned” by Russia’s suspension of the deal for an “indefinite term” and had delayed his departure to attend the Arab League summit in Algiers for a day to try to revive it. Russia requested a meeting on Monday of the UN’s security council to discuss the issue.
The EU also urged Moscow to reverse course. Its foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, tweeted that Russia’s decision “puts at risk the main export route of much needed grain and fertilisers to address the global food crisis caused by its war against Ukraine”.
Turkey said its minister of defence, Hulusi Akar, was in talks with Russian and Ukrainian counterparts to resolve the impasse and had asked parties to avoid any “provocation”.
On Saturday Joe Biden called the move “purely outrageous” saying it would increase starvation, while his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said the suspension was regrettable and urged “all parties to keep this essential, life-saving initiative functioning”.
Russia’s ambassador to Washington, hit back on Sunday saying the US response was itself “outrageous” and made false assertions about Moscow’s move.
Russia’s defence ministry said Ukraine attacked its fleet near Sevastopol with 16 drones early on Saturday, claiming British navy “specialists” had helped coordinate what it called a terrorist attack. The UK denied the accusation.
Russia’s Black Sea flagship vessel, the Admiral Makarov, was damaged and possibly disabled in the attack.
The Kremlin claimed the ships targeted were involved in policing the grain corridor, but Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said Moscow used the explosions 137 miles away from the corridor as a “false pretext” for a long-intended move.
“Russia took the decision to resume its hunger games long ago and now tries to justify it,” Kuleba tweeted.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has called for a strong response from the UN and G20 group of leading economies. “This is a completely transparent attempt by Russia to return to the threat of large-scale famine for Africa, for Asia,” Zelenskiy said in a video address on Saturday, adding that Russia should be kicked out of the G20.
The grain deal had been due to expire on 19 November and Russia had already repeatedly said that there were serious problems with it. Ukraine had accused Moscow of blocking almost 200 ships from picking up grain cargoes.
When the agreement was signed ensuring safe passage out of three Ukrainian ports, the UN World Food Programme said about 47 million people were suffering “acute hunger” amid global food shortages and high prices caused in part by the war.
In the absence of the grain corridor, some traders and analysts said Russia does not have extra logistics capacity to fill the gap. This raises the risk of persistently high prices, which could be pushed up further if upcoming harvests in the southern hemisphere are poor after drought in Argentina and torrential rain in eastern Australia.