Ukraine: Meeting under the “Threats to International Peace and Security” Agenda Item*
Tomorrow morning (31 October), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on Ukraine under the “Threats to International Peace and Security” agenda item. Russia requested the meeting, citing allegations of a 29 October attack against its ships in the Black Sea, which led it to suspend its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI). No briefer was requested.* Ukraine is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
On 29 October, Russia issued a statement accusing Ukraine of carrying out drone attacks against Russian ships and infrastructure at its naval base in Sevastopol. The statement described the incident as a terrorist attack by Ukrainian forces, which was “led by British specialists”. Claiming that Russia is no longer able to “guarantee the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the [BSGI]”, the statement said that Russia would “suspend its implementation from today for an indefinite period”. On 29 October, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova noted that Russia “is working on practical steps in connection with the involvement of British specialists” in the attacks. She also accused British security services of involvement in the 26 September explosions that caused physical damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea.
The UK has denied these allegations, with its Ministry of Defence describing Russia’s claims in a 29 October tweet as an “invented story”. Ukraine has suggested that Russia may have been responsible for the 29 October explosions. In a 29 October tweet, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Moscow of using the explosions as “a false pretext” to suspend its participation in the BSGI. Suggesting that Russia had “planned this well in advance”, Kuleba accused Russia of “deliberately delaying the functioning of the corridor and seeking to undermine the deal”.
Following months of backdoor diplomacy led by Türkiye and the UN, Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement on 22 July to facilitate the export of grain and related foodstuffs and fertilisers from Ukrainian ports. The agreement, signed separately by Russia and Ukraine, assumes that the two countries will provide maximum assurances for the safe and secure navigation of vessels transporting grain from ports in the cities of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhne. In this regard, Russia and Ukraine agreed not to undertake any attacks against relevant commercial ships, civilian vessels and port facilities.
In addition to this agreement, Russia and the UN signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the UN’s scope of engagement to facilitate unimpeded exports of Russian food products and fertilisers to global markets. In this regard, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), headed by Rebeca Grynspan, in coordination with the Permanent Mission of Russia to the UN, are tasked with engaging with relevant authorities and the private sector to remove impediments that may arise in the sectors of finance, insurance and logistics.
Since late August, Russia has been raising concerns regarding the MoU’s implementation. At a 24 August press stakeout, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia (Russia) said that the extension of the BSGI, which is set to expire on 19 November, will depend to a large extent on the MoU’s implementation, which has been lacking, according to Russia. Additionally, Moscow has been questioning whether the BSGI facilitates the delivery of food to those most in need. At a meeting of the Russian Security Council on 9 September, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that the poorest countries were not benefiting from the initiative, stressing that “of the 87 ships that left Ukrainian ports carrying grain…only two ships headed for the poorest countries under UN food programmes—for Yemen and Djibouti”. Putin requested the Russian Foreign Ministry to take this into account “when interacting with [its] partners, including the UN”.
Acknowledging Russia’s concerns during a 13 September press briefing, UN Coordinator for the BSGI Amir Abdulla clarified that the primary objective of the initiative was not to “alter the norm of what would come through those corridors”, but to ensure “that a very important trade route for food and fertiliser was reopened” to lower global food prices. He also said that the extent of grain shipments used for humanitarian purposes was “governed by the contribution levels that the World Food Programme have to procure”. At that press briefing, Grynspan confirmed that while “important progress” has been made on the MoU’s implementation, there were still issues “to be resolved in the insurance, finance and the shipping industries”.
According to a 20 October UNCTAD report, the initiative has “helped to stabilize and subsequently lower global food prices”, documenting a decline in global food prices for six straight months. It also notes that “nearly 20 percent of wheat exported has gone to least developed countries with vulnerable populations, as those served by the World Food Programme”. However, the report cautions that the price of some commodities is once again rising, “with the BSGI ending in just over a month and its renewal uncertain”. It concludes by emphasising that “without the [BSGI], there is little hope for providing food security, especially for developing and least developed countries”.
Efforts to negotiate the extension and expansion of the BSGI have been ongoing since early September. On 15 September, Spokesman for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric confirmed at a press briefing that discussions were underway between Grynspan and Russian authorities with the aim of allaying their concerns regarding the MoU’s implementation. According to media reports, the talks centred on a proposal to ensure the resumption of Russian ammonia exports through Black Sea ports. Russian ammonia used to be transferred through a pipeline running from Russia to Ukraine prior to the war. Grynspan and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths travelled to Moscow on 16 October to discuss the extension and expansion of the deal, including proposals to renew the initiative for one year and to add the port of Mykolaiv to the agreement.
Prior to the 29 October incident, there had been mixed reports on prospects for renewing the initiative. According to media reports, the Russian Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, confirmed that Moscow had submitted a letter to the Secretary-General on 12 October, presenting its concerns over the implementation of the BSGI. Nonetheless, on 26 October, Griffiths said that he was “relatively optimistic” about the prospect of a renewal. Just one day before the 29 October attack, Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement underlining the need to renew the BSGI “to avert a global food crisis and ensure food security”. He added that “the current crisis of affordability will turn into a crisis of availability” should food and fertilisers stop reaching global markets. Following Russia’s announcement suspending its participation in the BSGI, Guterres issued a statement on 30 October expressing concern over the situation regarding the BSGI and noting that he “continues to engage in intense contacts” with Russia on the matter.
At tomorrow’s briefing, many Council members are expected to urge Russia to reconsider its decision and engage in diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation. These members may welcome the engagement by the Secretary-General and Turkish authorities in this regard. Most members are also expected to highlight the importance of the BSGI for stabilising global food prices.
The US and European Council members are expected to express regret over Russia’s decision to suspend its participation in the initiative. These members are likely to warn that in doing so, Russia risks depriving millions of people in need of essential foodstuffs. On 29 October, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement accusing Russia of weaponising food and exacerbating the dire humanitarian crises by withdrawing from the initiative. Similarly, in a 30 October tweet, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles stressed that Russia’s decision threatens efforts “to address the global food crisis caused by its war against Ukraine”.
Some Council members—including China, Brazil and Kenya—are likely to highlight the need for member states to consider how to effectively implement the MoU to ensure that any impediments to Russian food and fertiliser exports are adequately removed. These members have often expressed concern over the secondary effects of sanctions on global markets.
Russia is expected to criticise Western countries for not condemning what it considers a terrorist attack by Ukrainian forces. It is also expected to outline its justifications for suspending its participation in the BSGI, while reiterating its allegations about the UK’s involvement in the drone attack.
Ukraine is likely to accuse Russia of using the 29 October explosions as a false pretext for terminating the initiative. In this regard, Ukraine may reiterate its allegations that Russia has long sought to sabotage the initiative by impeding the flow of ships participating in the BSGI and delaying inspections through the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC).
*Post-script (31 October)- In requesting the meeting, Russia did not request any briefer. However, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths and UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan eventually briefed at Monday’s session.
**Post-script (3 November) – On 2 November, Russia resumed its participation in the implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, after apparently receiving written assurances from Kyiv that Ukraine would not use the humanitarian corridor for military purposes.