Ukraine official sees two possible scenarios for future Black Sea grain deal

15 May 2023 | Masha Belikova

While there has been no official agreement yet on the future of the Black Sea grain corridor, in the worst-case scenario whereby Russia does not agree to extend the deal beyond May 18, there are two possible scenarios, Olha Trofimtseva, Ukrainian foreign ministry ambassador at large said during a media briefing Monday.

There are only two days left until the 60-day period agreed by the Russian side for the current extension comes to an end on May 18, and despite much talk and speculation, there is still no official comment on what will happen after that.

Trofimtseva said she was almost confident that Russia would extend the grain corridor agreement for at least another 60 days and would use that time to negotiate with the UN the list of demands it has put forward in return for its agreement to extend the deal.

But given the “illogical” movements seen previously from Russian authorities, Trofimtseva said one cannot rule out the worst-case scenario whereby Russia will not agree to extend the deal on time, and will retreat for a few days before returning to the table, as happened back in November 2022.

However, if Russia does decide to withdraw from the deal, it would mean they do not officially guarantee the safety of commercial vessels entering the Ukrainian Black Sea.

This could mean some provocative shelling of port infrastructure, which was also seen just a day after the initial agreement was signed on July 22, 2022, which could of course affect operations and increase the tensions.

Trofimtseva said she did not think Russia would be ready to attack the commercial fleet itself, however, as “most of the fleet is not Ukrainian, but international, including Turkish, Chinese, and it can be a very serious precedent that can close a lot of diplomatic talks for the country.”

Meanwhile, the foreign ministry ambassador also indicated that the current presidential elections in Turkey could be aligned with the grain deal and prove particularly important for current President Tayyip Erdogan.

“The grain deal was shown as an achievement of the current president of Turkey on the domestic market, thus for him, it would be very important to get the deal extension, especially just prior to the second round of the elections [on May 28],” she said.

Russia understands this and does not hide the fact it would prefer Erdogan to stay in power seeing him as a better candidate to continue relations as they are now.

There is an understanding that Russia has already put a lot into supporting the current ruling political party.

Meanwhile, as the talks to extend the deal re-started last week, mixed signs began to appear, with the Turkish foreign ministry saying there was a high chance the deal would be extended, while at the same time, the Russian side said it was not going to extend until their demands were met.

At the same time, corridor operations have slowed considerably, and since May 7 no inbound vessels have been inspected by the Joint Coordination Centre nor planned for inspection, while just 29 outbound vessels were inspected out of a total 52 planned.