US envoy heads to Africa to address Russia's grain deal exit


A grain warehouse destroyed by a Russian drone strike is seen in a sea port, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Odesa Region, Ukraine, July 24, 2023. [Reuters]

During a visit to Kenya and Somalia, a top U.S. Treasury official will address how Moscow's exit from the Black Sea grain deal will hurt African states.

U.S. Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson will travel to Africa this week and will also argue that Russia abandoned the grain deal despite Washington’s efforts to facilitate the flow of Russian grain and fertilizer exports, according to a Treasury spokesperson.

"He will highlight the exemptions in U.S. sanctions that have always allowed the continued flow of food and agriculture transactions," the spokesperson said of Nelson's trip.

Russia withdrew from the grain deal last week, arguing that it was not benefiting enough from a parallel initiative that allowed for Moscow to ship food and fertilizer throughout the world despite Western sanctions.

Nelson’s visit comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to host African leaders in St. Petersburg on Thursday and Friday promising them free Russian grain "to replace Ukrainian grain."

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to Russia to revive the U.N. brokered Black Sea grain deal to allow the flow of grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

During his speech at the opening of a three-day food summit in Rome, Guterres lamented that the world's hungry will be the most adversely affected if the deal is not renewed.

"The most vulnerable will pay the highest price,” he said.

The grain deal had been keeping grain exports flowing to developing countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Wheat prices have risen more than 14% since Monday, when Russia pulled out of the grain deal, and corn prices are up more than 10%.

Russia refuses to renew the accord until sanctions on Russian exports of food and fertilizer are lifted.

Earlier Monday, Russian airstrikes hit Ukrainian grain warehouses on the Danube River impairing the alternative shipping route of Ukrainian grain there and wounding seven people. Almost 30 ships are stranded near Ukraine’s crucial Izmail port terminal.

"Russia is trying to fully block the export of our grain and make the world starve," Odesa Governor Oleh Kiper said on Ukrainian television.

The Danube has been a key alternative export route for Kyiv since Russia pulled out of the Black Sea grain deal.

On Monday, the Ukrainian grain traders’ union, known as UGA, urged the European Union to increase the capacity of so-called solidarity lanes to allow the flow of Ukraine grain exports and other agricultural products by providing alternative transit routes via rail, road and inland waterways after the collapse of the Black Sea grain deal.

“This will lead to a significant reduction in the cost of grain transportation and will enable Ukrainian farmers to export surplus grain without losses to countries that need Ukrainian grain and stabilize global food security," the UGA said.

Five central European countries want the EU to extend the ban of Ukraine imports after its expiration on September 15, claiming that such imports are hurting their local farmers. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called such a request "unacceptable."

Last week, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal urged Kyiv’s partners and the executive European Commission to ensure the unimpeded export of all Ukrainian agricultural products to the EU.

Drones over Moscow

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said in a news briefing Monday that the White House does not support attacks inside Russia. She was responding to questions about two drones from Ukraine that hit buildings in Moscow early Monday.

Russia said it will take harsh retaliatory measures against Ukraine’s attack on the Russian city calling it a brazen act of terror. Russia’s military said it downed the two drones while Moscow mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said two nonresidential buildings were damaged, but that there were no reports of casualties. According to Russian news agencies, one of the drones hit close to the Defense Ministry's headquarters.