Zelenskiy says Black Sea grain corridor in doubt without US aid

By Thomson Reuters Feb 26, 2024 | 9:25 PM

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday that without new U.S. military aid his country would be unable to defend a Black Sea shipping corridor that has allowed Kyiv to export millions of tons of grain to global markets.

Ukraine launched the shipping corridor hugging its western Black Sea coast near Romania and Bulgaria in August, a month after Russia quit a year-long landmark deal – brokered by the United Nations and Turkey – that had allowed the safe Black Sea export of nearly 33 million metric tons of Ukraine grain.

Ukraine is on track to export all grain from its 2023 harvest despite Russian attacks on Ukrainian ports and infrastructure, Britain’s foreign office said this month.

“We … created the new route in the Black Sea,” Zelenskiy told CNN in an interview, describing the shipping corridor as a “big success” for so far allowing the export of about 30 million tonnes of grain and other agricultural products.

But he warned that if the U.S. Congress did not approve $60 billion in new security aid then the future of the shipping corridor would be in doubt. The United Nations blamed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago for worsening a global food crisis. Ukraine and Russia are both major grain exporters.

“I think the route will be closed…because to defend it, it’s also about some ammunition, some air defense, and some other systems,” Zelenskiy said.

The U.N. says there have been dozens of attacks on Ukraine’s grain production and export facilities. Russia says it targets military infrastructure, not civilian infrastructure.

Conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives are threatening to block further military aid. Ukraine is running short of personnel and ammunition, especially heavy artillery rounds, and it has lost ground after retaking about half of the territory Russia seized when it invaded in February 2022.

Ukraine harvested about 80 million tons of grain and oilseeds in 2023, including an exportable surplus of about 50 million tons in the 2023/24 July-June season, the country’s government has said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)