Consultations to prolong a vital Ukrainian grain exports deal are continuing, the UN said Tuesday, after a Russian proposal for just a 60-day extension cast doubt over its fate.

"The United Nations will do everything possible to preserve the integrity of the agreement and ensure its continuity," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA, told reporters.

"The consultations... with all parties and various levels continue."

His comments came after a one-day meeting in Geneva between top Russian and UN officials, which ended in Moscow announcing it would not oppose prolonging the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative, as had been feared.

But it only agreed to extending the deal aimed at easing the global food crisis, which is due to expire on Saturday, for half of the 120-day period of the original accord.

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Ukraine said that "contradicts" the original agreement but did not reject the proposal.

Laerke meanwhile stressed the importance of renewing the agreement.

- 'Good agreement' -

"It is a good agreement... It has a very good impact on global food prices, bringing them down, getting food out on the market and to the right places," he said.

"So that is the prize that we keep our eyes on, and consultations continue with that in mind."

Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 saw Ukraine's Black Sea ports blocked by warships until the deal, signed in July, allowed for the safe passage of exports of critical grain supplies.

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Ukraine was one of the world's top producers and the Black Sea Grain Initiative has helped soothe the global food crunch triggered by the conflict.

Nearly 24.3 million tonnes have been exported so far under the agreement, according to the UN.

The initial 120-day agreement struck with the UN and Turkey last July was extended for a further 120 days in November, until March 18.

The Kremlin had cast doubt on whether it would agree to any fresh extension, citing concerns that a twin deal on unhindered Russian food and fertiliser exports was not being respected.

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- Sanctions exemptions -

It charged Monday that Western sanctions exemptions on such exports were "essentially inactive".

Following the talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin said Moscow would agree to an extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, "but only for 60 days."

"Our further stance will be determined upon the tangible progress on normalisation of our agricultural exports, not (in) words, but in deeds," he said.

When asked about the proposal for a shorter extension, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that "it is basically clear... that the second part of the deal which regards us has so far not been applied."

It remained unclear where the continued consultations would lead.

Asked if he could say what would happen on March 18, Laerke acknowledged: "I cannot".

"We'll see what happens on Saturday, Saturday."

 

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