Ukraine says Black Sea grain deal at risk of being shut down


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By Pavel Polityuk

KYIV - Kyiv said on Monday a U.N.-brokered initiative allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukrainian grain was in danger of "shutdown" after Russia blocked inspections of participating ships in Turkish waters.

Ukrainian Black Sea ports were blockaded after Russia's invasion last year, but access to three of them was cleared last July under a deal between Moscow and Kyiv that was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.

The agreement - intended to help ease a global food crisis - was extended last month, but Ukraine said the number of cargo ships passing through the Bosporus carrying Ukrainian agricultural products was critically low.

"For the second time in 9 months of operation of the Grain Initiative, an inspection plan (for participating vessels) has not been drawn up, and not a single vessel has been inspected," Ukraine's restoration ministry said on Facebook under the headline "Grain initiative under threat of shutdown."

Russia did not immediately respond to the ministry's comments, but the Kremlin said prospects for a renewal of the grain deal were "not so bright".

Moscow says a separate deal, under which the U.N. agreed to help Russia with its food and fertilizer exports, is not working.

Ukraine's restoration ministry said Russian representatives in a Joint Coordination Center (SCC) were operating an "unacceptable" plan for the inspection of vessels which "completely contradicts" the terms of the initiative.

The ministry said Russian representatives were trying to interfere in the activities of Ukrainian ports by imposing their own criteria for deciding which vessels can be part of the initiative.

In the last three days, Russian inspectors had refused to register three vessels without any explanation, it said.

"Ukraine categorically rejects Russia's latest demands and opposes its interference in the operation of Ukrainian ports," the ministry said.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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