UN Awaits Russian Reply On Black Sea Grain Deal


U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is still waiting for a response from Russian President Vladimir Putin on a proposal to extend a deal allowing Ukraine grain exports safe passage through the Black Sea corridor, a U.N. spokesperson said Friday.

Guterres wrote to Putin on Tuesday asking him to extend the Black Sea deal in return for connecting a subsidiary of Russia’s Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to the international payment system, SWIFT, sources told Reuters, but still there’s been no reply.

“Discussions are being had, WhatsApp messages are being sent, Signal messages are being sent and exchanged. We’re also waiting for a response to the letter,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters when asked about the negotiations.

Earlier Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Russia to extend the Black Sea grain deal, which is set to expire on Monday.

“If Moscow follows through on its threat, developing countries including in the region will pay the price, including quite literally with higher food prices, as well as greater food scarcity,” Blinken told reporters after the Southeast Asian talks ended in Jakarta. Top diplomats from China, the United States and Russia were among those who gathered for diplomatic discussions.

So far, Russia has not made any statements regarding an extension of the Black Sea grain deal, the Interfax news agency reported Friday, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly said Friday that he agreed with Putin that the grain export deal should be extended. However, Reuters reported that Erdogan’s comments had been misconstrued as suggesting an extension deal was reached when there was no confirmation of that. 

Russia has said it would agree to extend the deal only if its conditions are met regarding its implementation.

During the news conference Friday at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Jakarta, Blinken also said Russia is showing no indication of backpedaling on the course of its war on Ukraine.

The U.S. secretary of state said there was no indication that Russia was willing to engage in meaningful diplomacy on the war it launched on its neighbor in February 2022.

“I didn’t hear anything from Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov that suggested any change in direction when it comes to what Russia is doing in Ukraine.” He noted that instead, Russia was focused on blaming the U.S. for the world’s problems.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said separately that Lavrov had “aggressively” rejected a call to withdraw troops from Ukraine.

Earlier this week, Lavrov said the war would not end until the West “gives up its plans to preserve its domination,” including its “obsessive desire” to defeat Russia strategically.

Wagner Group

Belarus said Friday that fighters from the Wagner mercenary group were training Belarusian soldiers at a military range southeast of Minsk. 

Two sources close to the fighters told Reuters the mercenaries have been stationed near the Belarusian capital since Tuesday. This is the first indication that at least part of a deal to end a mutiny in Russia may be in effect.

To secure Wagner fighters’ loyalty after their aborted revolt against the Kremlin’s brass, Putin offered the military company the option of continuing to serve as a single unit under a commander, Andrei Troshev.

He is a retired military officer who has played a leading role in Wagner since its creation in 2014 and has faced European Union sanctions over his role in Syria as the group’s executive director. Troshev goes by the call sign “Gray Hair.” Putin made these comments Friday in an interview with top Russian newspaper Kommersant.

Putin previously said Wagner troops had to choose whether to sign contracts with the Defense Ministry, move to neighboring Belarus, or retire from service.

There has been no news about Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin’s whereabouts since the short-lived revolt on June 24, though a private jet linked to him has moved between Belarus, Moscow and St. Petersburg.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday said the United States was unsure where Prigozhin was but joked that the mercenary chief should be cautious.

“If I were him, I’d be careful what I ate. I’d be keeping my eye on my menu,” Biden said, according to White House. “But all kidding aside … I don’t think any of us know for sure what the future of Prigozhin is in Russia.”

Ukrainian counteroffensive 

Russia is doing all it can to stop Ukrainian forces from advancing in the east and south of the country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during his nightly video address.

“We must all understand very clearly, as clearly as possible, that Russian forces in our southern and eastern lands are doing everything they can in order to stop our soldiers,” Zelenskyy said after chairing a meeting with top commanders. 

“And every thousand meters we advance, every success of every combat brigade deserves gratitude. Everyone who goes on the offensive, everyone who repels enemy attacks, are doing a great job, and I am grateful to each of our warriors!” said the Ukrainian president.

Russian strikes

Russian attacks killed at least three Ukrainian civilians and wounded another 38, Ukraine’s presidential office reported Thursday.

The government in Kyiv said Russian forces targeted 13 cities and villages under Russian control in the partially occupied eastern Donetsk region with airstrikes, missiles and heavy artillery.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said their air defenses shot down 20 Iranian-made drones fired by Russia that targeted the Kyiv region. But they said wreckage from the drones fell on four districts of the capital early Thursday, hospitalizing two people with shrapnel wounds and destroying several homes.

The latest wave was the third consecutive night in which the drones were used in attacks on Kyiv.


The VOA is the Voice of America

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