A combine harvests wheat in a field in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict near the settlement of Nikolske in the Donetsk Region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, July 19, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko/File Photo
By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) — Ukraine is on track to export all grain from its 2023 harvest despite Russian attacks on Ukrainian ports and infrastructure, according to Britain’s foreign office, but the United Nations warns that the Black Sea export situation remains fragile.
Ukraine harvested about 80 million tons of grain and oilseeds in 2023, including an exportable surplus of about 50 million tons in the 2023/24 July-June season, the country’s government has said.
Ukrainian grain exports reached 25.2 million metric tons as of Feb. 9, analyst APK-Inform said last week. Ukraine’s agriculture ministry did not provide export data as its website was hacked last month and is now unavailable.
British government officials said that if Ukraine continues to ship 6 million tonnes a month by land and sea it would be on track to export all of its 2023-24 harvest by May.
«Despite repeated Russian attacks on Ukrainian ports and infrastructure, Ukraine has succeeded in pushing back much of the Russian navy from Crimea, securing a globally important export route in the Black Sea,» British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in a statement to Reuters.
Cameron described the export forecast as «great news» for Ukraine. It comes as Kyiv faces ammunition shortages and uncertainty over the future of U.S. military aid, which has been on hold for months due to Republican opposition, even as Russian forces begin to gain the upper hand on the battlefield.
Ukraine launched a shipping corridor hugging its western Black Sea coast near Romania and Bulgaria in August, a month after Russia quit a year-long landmark deal — brokered by the United Nations and Turkey — that had allowed the safe Black Sea export of nearly 33 million metric tons of Ukraine grain.
«Exports through the Ukrainian maritime corridor from the Odesa ports have been steadily increasing, which is good news not only for the Ukrainian economy but for global food security. The situation though remains fragile,» a U.N. spokesperson told Reuters.
UN, TURKEY ‘ACTIVELY’ ENGAGED
Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February 2022, quit the Black Sea grain deal over complaints that its own food and fertilizer exports faced obstacles and that not enough Ukrainian grain was going to countries in need.
Since then the U.N. says there have been dozens of attacks on Ukraine’s grain production and export facilities. Russia says it targets military infrastructure, not civilian infrastructure.
«We strongly support Ukraine’s right to export its goods and will work with all our international partners to support freedom of commercial shipping in the Black Sea. Russia must respect Ukraine’s right to export its goods,» Cameron said.
The United Nations blamed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for worsening a global food crisis. Ukraine and Russia are both major grain exporters.
The United Nations said that while volumes of exports from both Russia and Ukraine «remain strong, security concerns continue to affect port operations, costs and private sector engagement.» Security incidents involving commercial ships have caused sudden price spikes, said the U.N. spokesperson.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in November that it would be difficult to revive the Black Sea grain deal.
«The secretary-general continues his efforts to ensure that safe navigation in the Black Sea allows food exports to reach safely and efficiently global supply chains,» said the U.N. spokesperson. The U.N. and Turkey are «actively engaging» with Ukraine and Russia to discuss ways to achieve that goal.
«The disruption of other sea routes key to food transportation such as the Red Sea and the Panama Canal make those efforts even more pertinent,» the U.N. spokesperson said.
Passage through the Red Sea is also very important for Ukraine, as almost a third of its exports via the alternative Black Sea corridor are sent to China. Attacks by Iran-allied Houthi militia in Yemen on vessels in the region since November have slowed trade between Asia and Europe.