As Russia insists on a Putin ally’s fertilizer pipeline being reopened, no agreement was reached yesterday about extending the Black Sea Grain and the new head of the World Food Programme (WFP), Cindy McCain, has warned that it will be difficult to feed the world if Russia pulls out of the deal.

In an interview with BBC, McCain said that the deal, which is due to expire on May 18, must be renewed. "They must renew the deal. We can't possibly be able to feed the region let alone the world unless they do.

"As you know, Ukraine used to be pretty much the breadbasket of Europe, and now that's not happening. And, we need to get the grain out because it's affecting other countries," she told the BBC.

The comments by McCain, the widow of US Senator John McCain, come after talks in Istanbul, between Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and the UN, to extend the grain deal broke up on Thursday without agreement being reached.

Asked whether she thought Russia would sign an extension to the deal, McCain said: "I'm not confident that they will. The things I've been hearing is that ... it's 50/50 right now. It worries me very much. And it should worry everybody else too."

After yesterday’s negotiations, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, “reiterated the importance of the initiative for global food security, but also recognized the important contribution of food and fertilizer exports from the Russian Federation.”

EXPLAINED: How Ukraine Could Soon Achieve a ‘Significant Breakthrough’ in the South
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EXPLAINED: How Ukraine Could Soon Achieve a ‘Significant Breakthrough’ in the South

Western analysts have outlined three factors that need to hold true for Ukraine’s troops to make further progress in the south. Meanwhile, Russian sources sound more than a bit flustered.

Backed by the UN, it is understood that Russia is insisting on the resumption of the Togliatti-Odesa ammonia pipeline, the world’s longest which runs through Ukraine.

It ships products from TogliattiAzot, one of Russia’s largest ammonia and fertiliser producers which claims to serve 11% of the global market for ammonia, with its primary markets being in Turkey, India and Brazil.

The company was recently taken over by Dmitry Mazepin, through a contentious corporate raid, which has been before the Irish courts. Mazepin, described as a close ally of Vladimir Putin is, according to Forbes, one of Russia’s wealthiest 100 people with a personal fortune over $900 million. He is currently subject to EU and UK sanctions and is being pursued by Italian authorities in relation to the disappearance of two yachts prior to their confiscation under sanctions.

At a Kremlin meeting between Putin and Russian business, Mazepin can be seen wearing a maroon tie, with his arms in his lap, and in front of the cameraman in a grey blazer. He is also known to have had one-on-one's with Putin.

Russia’s lack of agreement yesterday follows suspensions and slow-downs earlier this month in Black Sea inspections of bulk grain vessels under the deal. The inspections are part of the agreed procedures that allow grain to flow from three Ukrainian ports.

At around three per day, inspections, which are jointly carried out by all four parties through the UN’s Joint Coordination Center, are currently at an all-time low since the grain deal was brokered by the UN and Turkey in July 2022.

It was agreed to help tackle a global food crisis after access to Ukraine's ports in the Black Sea was blocked by Russian warships following the full-scale invasion in February 2022.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative was initially agreed to run for 120 days, starting from July 22, 2022, it was then renewed in November for another 120 days and again on March 19, 2023.

A Kyiv Post analysis earlier this week showed that May grain exports under the deal are down by 46% and, at the current rate, are unlikely to reach the predicted 2 million tonnes per month.

As of May 9, more than 60 international ships were waiting in Turkish waters to be inspected ahead of being loaded in Ukrainian ports. The total carrying capacity of those ships alone is around 3 million tonnes of grain.

Ukraine is a major global exporter of sunflower, maize, wheat and barley. Over the course of the deal, some 30 million metric tons of grain and food products were exported, including more than 480,000 metric tons of wheat shipped under the auspices of WFP to support its humanitarian operations in hunger-stricken spots, such as eastern Africa.

According to the BBC, the Kremlin said that Russian President Vladimir Putin could speak to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at short notice if needed regarding an extension of the deal, but no such plans have been announced as yet.

McCain, who took office last month, also said she believed it would be difficult for Ukrainian farmers to be able to bring in a harvest this year.

"I know that there are some farms that are still operating. But you have to remember, a large majority of the land where the crops were grown before are now mined, with land mines," she told BBC.

 "The equipment that they use to work the farms are mined. This is a tragic situation. And if the conflict were to end today, we'd be years being able to clear the land and clear the properties to make sure that it was safe to plant and safe to put livestock on," McCain said.

The BBC reported that Turkey's Defence Ministry said on Thursday that progress had been made in the talks and that the parties had agreed to continue four-way technical meetings.

 Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said after the talks that the grain deal should be extended for a longer period and expanded. He confirmed that the talks would continue online.

Russian demands for resumption of the ammonia pipeline to Odesa, come in the context of the Russian government’s announced plan that TogliattiAzot will build a new, alternative pipeline to Tamar in Krasnodar province by the end of 2023. It is anticipated that the project’s investment cost will be recouped in two years and that the new pipeline will make $1 billion per year in profits.

Prior to Mazepin’s hostile takeover, a former Board Chair and majority shareholder of TogliattiAzot was Serhiy Maklai, who was recently sentenced by a Russian court to nine years in prison for theft of $1.5 billion from the company.

Maklai, who obtained US citizenship in the 1990s after studying there, lives there under the name George Mack. He took the company over from his father in 2011 who accuses him of “stealing” it; Mazepin’s father acquired the facility after having run it during the Soviet era.

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Comments ( 1)
Lars Fossum
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

It is about time to send the worlds navies into the Black Sea, to escort ships to and from Odesa and keep them safe from Russian attacks. Much of the Black Sea is still international waters! and much of the rest are territorial waters of NATO nations. Russia's territorial waters (under international law) only cover a small area along the NE shore. Crimea is still Ukraina's territory!
It is time to enforce the laws of the sea, that I believe even Russia/USSR has been a signatory to.

Time for Erdogan to put up! Is he a world citizen or just one of Putin's lapdog. If he will not open Bosporus to "policing neutral navies, ..... Kick him out of NATO and let Sweden in!"

If he looses the Election he can take page from Trump: IT WAS RIGGED