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Putin’s Next Ukraine War Weapon: Food?

Following talks with United Nations officials, Russia announced this week that the Black Sea Initiative – a grain export deal brokered by the UN and China – would be extended, but only for 60 days. 

In a statement, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin confirmed that another round of consultations had taken place between UN and Russian representatives. The statement also criticized the nature of the deal, suggesting that it unfairly benefits Kyiv. 

“The detailed and frank conversation once again confirmed that if the commercial export of Ukrainian products is carried out at a steady pace, bringing considerable profit to Kiev, then barriers still remain in the way of Russian agricultural exporters. The sanctions exemptions for food and fertilizer announced by Washington, Brussels and London do not actually work,” the statement reads.

The statement commits to extending the deal for a third term on March 18 for an additional 60 days, and states that Russia’s future position on the deal will be determined based on Russia’s progress in “normalizing” agricultural exports, making bank payments, and the “unfreezing” of financial activities in Russia.

Kyiv Isn’t Happy

Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov criticized Russia’s plan, but didn’t reject the proposal entirely. Writing on Twitter, Kubrakov noted that Russia had agreed to extend the deal twice as long as proposed this week.

“[The grain] agreement involves at least 120 days of extension, therefore Russia’s position to extend the deal only for 60 days contradicts the document signed by Turkey and the UN,” Kubrakov said, adding that Ukraine will wait for the official positions of the United Nations and Turkey as the guarantors of the plan. 

Russia agreed to a 120-day extension that allows the free movement of grain out of Ukrainian ports in July of last year. The deal was then renewed in November and expires once again on Saturday. Ukraine had expected that Russia would agree to another 120-day extension.

What Is Russia Doing: Food for Leverage? 

The simple explanation for Russia’s proposal to extend the deal for only 60 days is that it is designed to be a bargaining chip. Failing in Bakhmut, struggling to replenish its forces in Ukraine with modern tanks and weapons, and now facing pressure from China to bring the war to a close, the Kremlin is likely using grain exports as a bargaining chip. 

A 60-day extension gives Russia two months to analyze progress made in the conflict, if any, and leverage its power to stop the export of grain if Russian forces are still struggling on the frontlines. The statement issued by the Russian deputy foreign minister also makes it clear that Russia is looking for some sanction relief from the West in exchange for allowing the deal to continue. 

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Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive’s Breaking News Editor. He is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.



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