Cargo Ships
Russia's unilateral withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative has threatened global grain exports. Ozan KOSE/AFP / Ozan KOSE

In recent weeks, Russia ended its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI).

Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed: "The part of these Black Sea agreements concerning Russia has not been implemented so far, so its effect is terminated."

The UN initiative was signed back in July 2022 by the Russian Federation, Türkiye, Ukraine, and was designed to allow Ukrainian grain exports to reach global food markets.

Following Russia's recent decision, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his deep regret at the end of the BSGI. In his words, the BSGI has "been a lifeline for global food security and a beacon of hope in a troubled world". Moreover, Russia's decision will cause an inevitable "rise in human suffering" across the world.

Earlier this week, a UN Summit opened in Rome to address the global food security challenges facing the international community.

The BSGI was important for the global economy because of Ukraine's position within world food markets. Ukraine is a major global exporter of staple grains. For example, the World Food Programme sources 41 per cent of its wheat from Ukraine. Moreover, in 2021, Ukraine sourced 10 per cent of global wheat exports, 15 per cent of global maize exports, and 13 per cent of global barley exports.

Given the significance of the Ukrainian economy for world food markets, Russia's decision to invade has placed global food security under significant pressure. Crucially, given the impacts of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, global food security was already under pressure before Russia attempted to invade Ukraine. Moreover, Russia's decision to invade Ukraine caused fuel and food prices to rocket, with "mountains of grain stocks stuck in silos".

Therefore, the signing of the BSGI came as a welcome agreement amongst the international community. Present at the signing of the BSGI, Guterres referred to the agreement as "a beacon of hope" in terms of global food security. The UN Secretary-General explained how the agreement gave "relief" to developing countries facing the prospect of bankruptcy with "the most vulnerable people on the edge of famine".

Speaking recently on the 17th of July following Russia's decision to end participation in the initiative, Guterres explained that the BSGI had allowed "over 32 million metric tons of food commodities" to be safely exported from Ukrainian ports. Furthermore, the BSGI contributed to a reduction in food prices "by over 23 per cent since March last year", he explained.

Speaking in solidarity with the UN Secretary-General, international leaders from Britain and the United States have also condemned Russia's decision.

The British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly condemned "in the strongest terms" Russia's decision to end participation in the BSGI. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed deep regret at Russia's decision to end participation in the BSGI. Crucially, both men urged Russia to reverse its decision and rejoin the initiative.

The EU also "unequivocally" condemned Russia's decision and urged the Kremlin to think again and "immediately resume" their participation in the BSGI. The EU claims that Russia is "further exacerbating the global food security crisis it created by its war of aggression against Ukraine".

Cleverly explained: "Without the grain provided by the BSGI, the number of undernourished people worldwide could increase by millions."

Blinken articulated a similar position, stating that Russia's "continued weaponisation of food harms millions of vulnerable people around the world".

The British Foreign Secretary also stated that the British government has "always been clear" that sanctions are targeted at "Russia's war machine and not the food and fertiliser sectors". Moreover, in contrast to Russia's stance, Cleverly stated that "the UN and other partners have taken significant steps to ensure that Russian food is able to access world markets".

Blinken also made it clear in his statement that the actions of the international community towards Russia have not prevented Russian food exports. The US Secretary of State explained that "record Russian exports of food" have been facilitated by the UN, and that "no G7 sanctions are in place on Russian food and fertilizer exports".

The response of the British Foreign Secretary was backed up by a statement made by Ambassador Barbara Woodward. Speaking at the UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine on behalf of the British government, Woodward stated: "Russia's actions have already raised prices, with immediate impact on the world's poorest and hungriest people."

Woodward claimed that "Russia's so-called reasons for ending the Deal are nonsense" and that the Kremlin's "latest demands are tantamount to holding the world's starving hostage". The Ambassador also explained to the UN Security Council that in excess of 60,000 tons of grain have been destroyed by Russian missile attacks on Odesa, Chornomorsk and Mykolaiv. A sufficient amount of grain "to feed 270,000 people for a year or to double WFP [World Food Programme] shipments under the BSGI to both Sudan and Somalia", she explained.

Furthermore, on the 25th of July British Ambassador Neil Holland made a statement to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

He claimed that since the end of the BSGI, Russia has orchestrated "days of sustained missile attacks in Odesa". Attacks on Odesa, Ukraine's third most populated city and a major seaport, possess the deliberate aim of preventing grain exports and therefore threaten global food security, Holland explained.

Moreover, Holland stated that Russia is responsible for "knowingly preventing grain reaching those in Africa and Asia who need it most".