The United Nations is conducting intense and discreet negotiations to release tens of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain and prevent a global food crisis, confirmed the UN coordinator in Ukraine, expressing very cautious optimism.
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Russia, which invaded its neighbor on February 24, is blocking Ukrainian Black Sea ports and therefore preventing the export of these grains, which fed 400 million people last year. A situation all the more urgent as the next harvest will soon arrive.
These negotiations are led in particular by the Briton Martin Griffith, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and the Costa Rican Rebeca Grynspan, head of UNCTAD, the United Nations body responsible for trade and development, revealed Amin Awad , to journalists in Geneva, during a regular online press briefing.
The UN has so far remained extremely tight-lipped about these efforts.
“There are a lot of shuttles between Moscow and other countries that are worried, but I don't think there is a solution that is emerging very clearly at the moment,” he said.
Senegalese President Macky Sall also traveled to Russia on Friday to urge Vladimir Putin to "be aware" that African countries are "victims" of the conflict.
The Russian president will give “a full explanation of his vision regarding the cereals” blocked in Ukrainian ports, the Kremlin said.
The conflict involving Russia and Ukraine, two agricultural superpowers that accounted for 30% of world wheat exports, immediately led to soaring prices, which already exceed those that triggered the Arab Springs of 2011 and the riots in hunger of 2008.
The UN fears “a hurricane of famines”, mainly in African countries which imported more than half of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia.
Ukraine was the world's fourth largest exporter of maize, on the way to becoming the third largest exporter of wheat, and alone accounted for 50% of the world trade in sunflower seeds and oil before the conflict.
Russia is a crucial fertilizer exporter, but Moscow is blocking them in response to international sanctions.
"Russia has alliances in the South," said Amin Awad, recalling that some of the countries that could suffer the most from the situation are allies of Moscow.
He therefore says he is “optimistic” that calls from these developing countries could push Moscow to let go. There could be “a breakthrough at some point”.
"But these negotiations are very complex, they are taking place on several fronts," he said.
Moscow claims that the blockage is not its fault, nor the result of the presence of its war fleet off Ukraine, but that of the mining of Ukrainian ports by Kyiv.
According to the UN, 1.4 billion people worldwide could be affected by the shortage of wheat and other cereals.
"So the Black Sea ports are, so to speak, the magic bullet to avert global famine, world hunger," Matthew Hollingworth, emergency coordinator for the World Food Program (WFP) told reporters. in Ukraine.
But, he said, without this miracle solution, the United Nations will have to find other solutions to maintain Ukrainian exports.
“The solution to this impasse requires urgent support and requires political will. Unblocking the Black Sea trade routes must remain the priority. The impossibility of opening these ports will lead to famine, destabilization and mass migrations all over the world”, added Mr. Awad.
He explained that the development of alternative solutions by rail or road can be useful, but will never be able to reach the volumes of maritime transport.