Russia’s Lavrov pessimistic about renewal of grain deal

By Javier Otazu

United Nations, Apr 25 (EFE).- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday expressed pessimism about renewing the so-called “grain deal” between Moscow and Kyiv, sponsored by the United Nations and Turkey and which allows Ukraine to export grain and other agricultural products through a safe corridor in the Black Sea despite the ongoing war with Russia.

In a press conference at UN headquarters in New York at the close of his two-day visit to the international body, Lavrov several times referred very critically to the functioning of the agreement – signed in July 2022 and which is due to expire on May 18 – upon being asked whether he had any hope that it would be renewed.

Lavrov responded ironically to the reporter posing the question, saying: “Well, you seem to be a psychologist.”

The Russian official told reporters that continued implementation of the grain deal has not been agreed upon and, in fact, has been “brought to a dead end by Western colleagues.”

Moscow’s has several complaints. First, Lavrov recalled that the deal is known formally as the Black Sea Initiative and has two elements, one dealing with Ukrainian grain and another for facilitating the sale of Russian fertilizer, but the second element is not operating and there are dozens of Russian cargo vessels carrying, he said, some 200 million kilograms (some 220,000 tons) of fertilizers, being blockaded in European ports.

Russia’s top diplomat acknowledged that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is making “honest efforts” to help facilitate Moscow’s exports, which are suffering mainly due to the sanctions imposed by Western countries on Russian companies and their veto of Russian access to the SWIFT international payment system.

But in addition, Lavrov said that the grain accord, which was crafted to alleviate hunger and food scarcity in Third World countries, is being used in a self-serving manner and just 3 percent of the Ukrainian grain that has been shipped abroad under the agreement has gotten to poor countries while the rest has just been purchased on the free market by whoever has the cash.

With the exception of their effect on fertilizers, Lavrov downplayed the importance of the extensive package of sanctions imposed on Russia by Western governments and said that his country is able to “develop its own economy and use its own sources” without “artificial dependence on the (US) dollar.”

He also said he was convinced that the war in Ukraine has brought about another significant economic consequence, namely the loss of the importance of the dollar as a benchmark currency, to the benefit of other nations’ currencies or digital currencies, and something which he called “an irreversible transition.”

The Russian official said that the world is witnessing “the end of globalization” and the emergence of “fragmentation and regionalization,” and he mentioned in support of this thesis the recent meeting he held with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – although he provided no details about their discussion – and the eventual reform of the International Monetary Fund.

In contrast to what he said was Lula’s and his own view, he said that Europe’s top diplomat, Spain’s Josep Borrell, had said last October that Europe was like a “garden” surrounded by the “jungle” consisting of other nations.

In his quite lengthy press conference, Lavrov also mentioned the arrest of US journalist Evan Gershkovich and others, saying that “discussions” are under way regarding an eventual prisoner exchange – and there are some 60 Russian prisoners who are potentially exchangeable – but these talks must continue “without publicity, since (otherwise) that will only complicate things.”

He went on to say, with irony, that what would least benefit Gershkovich would be to have some kind of “Hollywood-esque” situation develop.

Lavrov also took advantage of the press conference to complain about the difficulty Russian journalists are having securing visas to work in the United States, a policy that he said was being implemented by Washington to “silence alternative points of view.”

EFE jo/bp

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