The success or failure of the Istanbul agreement to allow Ukrainian grain exports from Odesa ports is in the hands of Russia, and the stakes are high as food insecurity continues to rise in the neediest parts of the world, Biden administration officials and lawmakers said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.
Lawmakers appeared pessimistic about Russia’s future actions, considering it endangered the agreement by hitting Odesa with missiles Saturday – just a day after the pact was signed.
Ukraine has already decided not to allow the Russian missile attack on the Odesa port scuttle the agreement. Preparations are being made to get the first grain-laden ships out, but that has done little to convince Chairman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and Ranking Republican Michael McCaul, R-Texas, that the deal is safe.
“I don’t trust them,” McCaul said of the Russians. “I’m very skeptical we can trust (Russian President Vladimir) Putin with any form of agreement."
But Sarah Charles, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, stressed that it will be up to Russia whether the agreement survives.
“Clearly it’s necessary to get the grain out of Ukraine, but whether or not this deal is successful will depend on Russia’s compliance with the terms of the deal,” she told lawmakers at the hearing.
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Maura Barry, acting head of USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security and another witness at the hearing, noted that the world food supply has already been severely damaged by the Russian invasion.
Spiraling food prices in countries that depend on imports from Ukraine have already added to rising levels of food insecurity and the Russian war continues to diminish Ukrainian farmers' ability to produce wheat and corn.
“Whether or not grain starts to move (out of Odesa), the damage already inflicted on Ukrainian farmers and agricultural production … is already there,” Barry said.
Still, Charles stressed the importance of opening up Ukraine’s major ports in Odesa. USAID and other agencies are working to help Ukraine build up new grain storage and develop alternate routes of export, but admitted that there really isn’t any adequate substitute for the port openings.
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