Question: I was in Russia in April and in Ukraine in May when the two sides exchanged accusations concerning the food crisis. Now, a grain agreement has been signed under the patronage of Türkiye and with the involvement of the UN. Are there any obstacles to implementing this agreement? Will this agreement become a foundation for an expanded dialogue on the lifting of sanctions on Russian gas and Western sanctions against Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: The food crisis did not start yesterday or in February. It started with the pandemic and the serious mistakes that the Western countries have made in the context of the food and energy situation. I’m talking about the issuance of trillions of unsecured dollars and euros and ill-calculated, hasty and artificial transition to a green economy and much more, including the recent imposition of illegitimate sanctions. We are not asking anyone to lift the restrictions. This issue should be discussed separately. We will now grow our economy as a team with our reliable partners rather than those who once again proved their complete inability to negotiate.
With regard to food, if our Western colleagues take the current situation so close to heart, they must remove the obstacles they have created. The Westerners have been saying for many months now that Russia was “prevaricating” and no restrictions had been imposed on food or fertilisers. True, no sanctions have been imposed on food as such, but they were instantly imposed on the companies that provide insurance for food deliveries and ensure the corresponding payments. In Russia, they are carried out through Rosselkhozbank, which was among the first banks to be put on the sanctions list. Restrictions prohibit Russian ships from entering Western European ports and foreign ships from entering Russian ports in order to take cargo from there, including grain. Judge for yourselves how things really are.
The document signed in Istanbul is the outcome of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ “package initiative” with which he came to Moscow and received our support. The package consisted of two parts. The first is the opening of Ukrainian ports that had been mined by Ukraine, and not by us. The second is the lifting of the blockade on Russian grain supplies caused by the artificial restrictions I listed and which were thought up by the European Union and the United States.
With regard to Ukrainian grain, for more than two months now, the Russian Federation has been encouraging everyone willing to do so to use the humanitarian corridors that we have created in the Black Sea that went from the territorial waters of Ukraine to the Bosphorus Strait. It was understood that this would guarantee the unhindered free passage of ships carrying grain, food and other cargoes with the understanding that the Ukrainian side would clear its territorial waters from mines and let these ships sail. Until now, 70 foreign ships from 16 countries are just about being held hostage there, including a ship which was supposed to bring food specifically to Egypt and which is blocked in Ukrainian ports due to mine danger.
No one has been paying attention to it for many months. Ukraine stated that it would not clear the mines for fear of an “attack.” We guaranteed that we would not let any provocation happen during food shipments and proposed cooperating with our Turkish colleagues in this regard. As a result, a corresponding document was signed in Istanbul a few days ago, but when it came to finishing the work, some of our Western colleagues tried to do everything to resolve only the issue of Ukrainian grain and to postpone issues related to grain supplies from Russia to international markets, the volumes of which are much larger than the Ukrainian carryover, to a “later date.” We sensed that the UN delegation working in Istanbul was tempted to follow this particular path and to put off Russian grain-related matters. This ran counter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ idea. In the end, we insisted that the two issues be resolved as a package.
Problems with the Ukrainian grain will be resolved through the coordination centre in Istanbul. It will be guaranteed that the Ukrainians clear their territorial waters from mines and allow the ships to sail from there. Throughout the itinerary on the high seas, Russia and Türkiye will ensure the ships’ safety with their naval forces. When the ships sail back to Ukrainian ports for new batches of food, they will be inspected to make sure no weapons are brought in. This document is publicly available. You can read it.
On matters related to Russian grain exports, UN Secretary-General Guterres took upon himself the obligation to push for removing unlawful restrictions on logistics and financial chains that had been introduced by the United States and the European Union. Let’s see how things unfold with him delivering on his obligation. Now, it rather depends on the Secretary-General.
With regard to the connection between this agreement and other aspects of the situation in Ukraine, we do not have any biases regarding the resumption of talks on a wider range of issues, but this matter does not depend on us. The Ukrainian authorities, from President Zelensky to his innumerable advisers, keep saying that there will be no talks until Ukraine defeats Russia on the “battlefield.” Their Western curators, London, Washington or Berlin, or many other capitals of the European Union and NATO are actively playing along with them in this regard. It’s up to them to decide, but the longer they demand that Ukraine fight “to the bitter end” (everyone knows whose “end” that will be and what it will be like), the more people will die, and the longer the current situation will persist, which is not good for the Ukrainian people or the Ukrainian state.