Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin’s interview with Rossiya Segodnya, November 17, 2022

Question: Does Russia consider it necessary to make any changes to the Black Sea initiative for the export of Ukrainian food after the recent massive air and sea strikes using unmanned vehicles against the Russian Black Sea Fleet ships and infrastructure at its naval base in Sevastopol? Is Moscow ready to extend the deal for a year, as Turkey proposes, or will the automatic renewal for 120 days be enough? Is it possible to increase the number of Russian inspectors at the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul?

Sergey Vershinin: As you know, the Black Sea initiative, a deal to facilitate the export of Ukrainian food products, was signed on July 22 in Istanbul for a period of 120 days. It expires on November 18. In turn, the Russia-UN Memorandum facilitating the access of Russian food and fertiliser to world markets, which is the second part of the package deal, was concluded for three years. The possibility of a technical extension for another 120 days without any changes and additions is included in the original agreement text, provided there are no objections from any of the parties – Russia, Turkey or Ukraine. The decision to extend the Black Sea initiative depends on the bona fide fulfilment of this agreement, including the non-use of the respective humanitarian sea-transit corridor for military purposes, and the achievement of an effective outcome for Russia’s agricultural exports in accordance with the Russia-UN Memorandum.

Question: How satisfied is Russia with the general trade licenses issued by a number of EU countries that cover the provision of financial services and financing the export of certain types of fertilisers from Russia to third countries? Do they work? Has any progress been made to reconnect Russian Agricultural Bank to SWIFT?

Sergey Vershinin: Although the US and the EU have verbally announced the exemption of Russian agricultural products, including fertilisers, from the unilateral sanctions, in reality, our producers and suppliers continue to face obstacles caused by their partners’ overcompliance and effectively prohibitive terms of insurance, freighting and bank payments, including transactions through the Russian Agricultural Bank, which is still removed from the SWIFT system.

Specifically, from March to September 2022, Russian fertiliser supplies to world markets decreased by 38 percent compared to last year, and importing countries suffered a shortfall of 8 million tonnes of products. This amount is enough to produce 25 million tonnes of food to feed 105 million people. Another eloquent example of the Western sanctions’ disruptive effect is that they are even preventing a free transfer of some 280,000 tonnes of Russian fertilisers to the poorest countries. The products are now stranded in the ports of Latvia, Estonia, Belgium and the Netherlands. It must be emphasised that these Russian products are intended as a donation to those in need, while all the transit costs are being covered by Russia. It took more than two months to agree on the shipment of 20,000 tonnes of fertiliser from the Netherlands to Malawi scheduled for November 21. However, most of the products are still being held in Latvia. That country’s authorities are refusing to give our fertilisers to the poorest countries, for purely political reasons.

Question: Is there any progress in resuming the export of Russian ammonia and ammonia fertilisers to global markets? Has the UN approved guarantees to reopen the ammonia pipeline running from Togliatti to Odessa? Is the UN negotiating with Kiev to prevent the seizure of Russian ammonia and to unblock its export without Vladimir Zelensky’s preconditions?

Sergey Vershinin: The unimpeded delivery of fertilisers and raw materials for their production, including ammonia, is stipulated in the two agreements signed in Istanbul on July 22. It is a vital element of global food security. In other words, there is a written basis for ammonia exports, including via the Black Sea. This also concerns the Togliatti-Odessa ammonia pipeline, via which some 2.5 million tonnes of raw materials were transported annually. This is enough for the production of 12 million tonnes of fertilisers and hence food for some 100 million people. According to available information, the pipeline is in working order and can be reopened. It should be noted, however, that we are talking about an exclusively commercial project, which must not be hampered by any preconditions.

Question: Is there any substance behind Western countries’ allegations of Russia violating UN Security Council Resolution 2231 in light of Tehran’s recent statements on the supply of a small number of drones to Moscow before the special military operation?

Sergey Vershinin: Those who inspire and orchestrate politically biased allegations of the supply of Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to Russia know deep down that all their efforts are in vain. By doing this, they have completely discredited themselves as reliable participants of the JCPOA.

I would like to remind you that it all began with the Ukrainian allegations at the UN Security Council based on information from public sources. It turned out that the public sources in question were Western media outlets. Our Western colleagues adopted this thimblerigging technique long ago, but it should not deceive anyone.

This information attack against Russia was obviously prepared long ago. Washington and their ilk first harped on this subject back in July, planting fake news about an alleged visit by unidentified Russian officials to certain facilities in Iran to inspect and buy UAVs, which the West allegedly knows for a fact. It was a trial balloon launched to test the reaction of the international community. The main phase of that multimove game began three months later.

In fact, this is only a smokescreen created in the West to camouflage their inability to ensure the full-fledged implementation of the JCPOA and resume their obligations under the nuclear deal.

We share Iran’s opinion expressed by Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani on November 11 that the allegations of Iran’s arms sales to Russia were untrue and aimed at legitimising the illegal shipment of weapons to Ukraine.

We pointed this out before, and we continue saying this, including at the UN Security Council, that the United States and our European colleagues must return to the legal framework of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 and stop violating it. The concrete details of how this can be done have been included in the draft agreement on reviving the JCPOA and concern both the United States and the European participants. These hysterics over the alleged Iranian supplies are evidence of the painful thought process going on in Washington and European capitals over the future of the JCPOA.

Russia does not see any reasonable alternative to the revival of the JCPOA. Any other option will only lead to an escalation with grave and possibly irreversible consequences for international security and global markets. The UN should be aware of this. We hope UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will take a balanced and unbiased stance and will work with Western countries proactively, without responding to their provocations and attempts to rock the boat.

Question: Have the sides reached any agreement on who will monitor compliance with the ceasefire in the security zone around the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant? What options are they discussing? Will Russia agree to having a limited mission of UN experts monitor the situation in the security zone around the Zaporozhye NPP?

Sergey Vershinin: Talks are underway on establishing a security zone around the Zaporozhye NPP to monitor its operational and physical nuclear safety. We are maintaining close contacts with the IAEA Secretariat and IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi on this issue. We share his opinion that this must be done as soon as possible. To the best of our knowledge, senior IAEA Secretariat officials are in dialogue with Kiev. We are doing our best to reach an agreement.

Regarding specific parameters of the future zone, we are reviewing several options, but it would be premature to discuss them. The creation of this zone mostly aims to prevent threats caused by never-ceasing attacks on the NPP and its infrastructure by the Zelensky regime; this could cause an industrial accident with unpredictable consequences. 

The issue of deploying UN experts at the Zaporozhye NPP was never raised. IAEA representatives are to monitor all agreements, if any, in the security zone. By the way, they are already doing this today because they have been stationed at the NPP since early September. Four specialists from the IAEA Secretariat are present at the Zaporozhye NPP. They can access all facilities on its territory, and they can promptly report all developments at the Zaporozhye NPP.

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