Russia’s repeated claims that the Black Sea Grain Initiative only helps wealthy nations have kept Ukraine on the defensive for months. Now, Ukraine is trying to flip the script on Moscow, with support from the U.S., United Nations, Japan, France, Norway and other countries.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy unveiled the Grain from Ukraine campaign in November to show that some of the poorest countries in the world are benefiting from grain shipped out of Odesa and the U.S. was the first to announce its support with $20 million.
The vessel Neva, chartered by the UN’s World Food Program, departed the Port of Odesa on Dec. 8 with 25,000 metric tons of Ukrainian wheat and delivered the payload on Thursday to Somalia, where more than 7 million people face acute food insecurity and 200,000 are struggling with catastrophic levels of hunger.
Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi said the Neva is just one of three ships that will be delivering a total of 80,000 tons of wheat to Ethiopia and Somalia. Beyond that, the WFP is now holding a tender for donors to buy 75,000 tons of Ukrainian grain that will be delivered to Yemen and Ethiopia.
The goal, said Ukraine’s embassy in the UK Tuesday, is to make Grain from Ukraine “an essential part of the world’s food security.”
“We are becoming … the leader of global efforts for food security,” Zelenskyy said last Wednesday. “This year has shown that without a Ukrainian farmer, without Ukrainian agricultural exports, it is impossible to guarantee not only food, but also social security for dozens of countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. Our two initiatives — the (Black Sea Grain Initiative) and the Grain from Ukraine program have returned the world to vital stability.”
The WFP and U.S. Agency for International Development have been purchasing Ukrainian grain for donation since the Black Sea Grain Initiative was agreed upon in July, but that aid has been overshadowed by the massive amounts of Ukrainian corn, wheat and vegetable oil flowing to Europe, China and other wealthy importing nations.
U.N. officials have been steadfast in the defense that exports to wealthy countries also helped the poorest regions in the world by lowering overall commodity prices. It’s an argument born out in monthly U.N. reports on food prices, but hunger persists in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and Moscow continues to contrast that with the massive amounts of Ukrainian grain flowing to European countries like Spain.
Spanish buyers are by far the largest importers of Ukrainian grain, taking nearly 3 million tons of it since the Black Sea Grain Initiative began. Russian critics have not mentioned China, but the Chinese aren’t far behind the Spanish in imports. Turkey — a country that played a critical role in negotiating the Initiative — has imported nearly 2 million tons. Italy is in fourth place with about 1.5 million tons.
On Dec. 28 alone, six ships departed Odesa ports with 70,080 tons of corn, 50,272 tons of wheat and 5,500 tons of sunflower meal, according to U.N. data. All six ships are destined for Spain. In a span of three days — from Dec. 25 through Dec. 28 — five ships heading to China left Odesa’s ports with 367,040 tons of corn.
The totals for low-income, developing countries, are much smaller, but they are growing. U.N. data shows that a total of 473,575 tons of wheat has been sent to Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen and Somalia.
With more and more Ukrainian grain reaching needy countries, the United Nations is waging its own war on Russian criticism and international perception of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
“Ukraine is fulfilling its commitment to guarantee global food security,” said Andriy Yermak, Zelenskyy’s top administrator. “Despite constant Russian hindering, Ukrainian agricultural products go to African, Asian, and European countries. In two days, 11 vessels exported 422,000 tons from Odesa ports.”
And it’s not just the United Nations financing the donations. Key to the latest delivery of 25,000 tons of wheat to Somalia was funding provided by Finland, France and Japan, according to Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov.
USAID began buying Ukrainian wheat for donation in August, when it sent 23,000 tons to the Horn of Africa and committed to buying another 150,000 tons.
The U.S. spent $173 million to purchase Ukrainian grain for donation in the first few months of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and then announced another $20 million in November, when Zelenskyy unveiled the Grain from Ukraine campaign.
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Zelenskyy bragged last week that more than 30 nations have contributed about $200 million to donating and shipping commodities under the Grain from Ukraine program.
“The European Union and Qatar, Turkey and Japan, Norway and (South) Korea, Canada and the USA are just the beginning of the global humanitarian corridor for countries facing the threat of famine,” Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy stressed that it’s Russia’s war that disrupted the global supply chain.
Russia continues to hamper those supplies despite the operation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, according to the Ukrainian Infrastructure Ministry.
All of the vessels entering and leaving the Black Sea must go through inspection in the Bosporus Strait by the Joint Coordination Center and that means Russian officials are involved.
The U.N., Ukraine, Turkey and Russia are all represented at the JCC, but Ukrainian officials are accusing Russian officials of slowing the inspection process down.
“It is deliberate actions of Russian inspectors, who slow down the process,” Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said in a quote reported by the consulting firm APK Inform. “They reduced a number of inspection groups … then they started to extend the time of the inspections. Russian representatives started to check even those parameters that were not required by the JCC and were not related to the subject of the inspection.”
The Infrastructure Ministry, in a tweet Tuesday, complained that 95 grain-laden vessels are waiting for inspection in the Bosporus Strait because Russian officials in the JCC “systematically slow the process down,” causing some of the ships to be delayed for months.