Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Representative to the United Nations, at a UN Security Council Briefing on Russia’s Withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative

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July 21, 2023

Thank you, Madam President. And thank you, to Under-Secretary-General Griffiths and DiCarlo, for your sobering briefing. And I want to express our appreciation to Ecuador and France for calling this important meeting.

Colleagues, it seems every single week, Russia stoops to a new low. Last week, Russia unilaterally blocked the compromise resolution that would have extended cross-border assistance to Syrians in dire need. And this week, Russia suspended its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, an arrangement that has helped feed the world’s most vulnerable, particularly people in the Middle East and Africa. We heard from one of our briefers that this is trivial, but ask the people who are receiving this aid if they think it’s trivial.

This Wednesday, the Kremlin unleashed missiles and drones on Ukrainian ports killing and wounding civilians, and destroying 60,000 tons of grain – 60,000 tons of grain. According to the World Food Program, that is enough to feed more than 270,000 people for a year.

This week, Russia also announced that all ships proceeding to Ukrainian ports in Black Sea waters will be considered potential carriers of military cargo, which could have been avoided with the inspections that were provided under the Initiative. And just last night, reports indicate that Russia carried out yet another round of attacks in the Odesa region.

Russia is waging war on the world’s food supply. It is waging war on the poor at a time when needs are so dire. And you’ve heard that people are angry. And people will die.

And the United States has information that the Russian military may expand its targeting of Ukrainian grain facilities to include attacks against civilian shipping in the Black Sea.

Our information also indicates that Russia laid additional sea mines in the approaches to Ukrainian ports. We believe this is a coordinated effort to justify any attacks against civilian ships in the Black Sea, and lay blame on Ukraine for these attacks.

After more than 500 days of President Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it’s easy to become numb – numb to Russia’s campaign of cruelty. But we cannot become numb. This is not normal. This is not the behavior of a responsible country, of a permanent member of this Council.

This Council is charged with maintaining international peace and security. But Russia has upended peace and security around the world. Its actions fly in the face of everything this Council stands for.

From the earliest days of its unprovoked, illegal war against Ukraine, Russia has weaponized food. Russian forces have turned Ukraine’s rolling wheat fields into battlefields. They have spoiled fields with mines and bombs, and they have stolen and destroyed vital agricultural equipment and infrastructure.

Moscow must cease its attacks on Ukraine’s agricultural land and infrastructure. Even when Russia was party to the Black Sea Grain Initiative, it refused to fully implement the arrangement, and so often obstructed ships full of food from leaving port.

Despite this, the Black Sea Grain Initiative was making a real difference. It was helping feed the world. This is not trivial, as we have been made to believe.

This arrangement has brought stability to global food markets and lowered food prices for all. It has bolstered the World Food Program’s humanitarian work in places like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen. And it has facilitated the export of 32 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain and foodstuffs. That’s the equivalent of 18 billion loaves of bread.

And we know that more than two-thirds of food exports through this arrangement went to developing countries. The first ship that left the Black Sea under this arrangement brought grain to Lebanon. And since then, thanks to the Black Sea Grain Initiative, ships have brought food into ports across Africa and the Middle East, from Sudan to Ethiopia to Libya.

But the very day Russia suspended its participation in the Initiative, global grain prices rose sharply. Russian exporters are already benefitting, while millions who cannot afford higher-priced grain suffer – especially people in the Middle East and Africa.

Let’s be clear: Russia has zero – zero – legitimate reason to suspend its participation in this arrangement. They would have you believe that sanctions have blocked their exports. That couldn’t be further from the truth. They are exporting more grains than ever before, and at higher prices. Russia is simply using the Black Sea as blackmail. It’s playing political games. It’s holding humanity hostage.

Colleagues, the United Nations and Türkiye have said publicly they want this arrangement to continue. Ukraine has said publicly it wants this arrangement to continue. The world clearly wants this arrangement to continue.

Now, the eyes of the world are on you, Russia. It is not too late for Moscow to reverse its decision – and extend, expand, and fully implement the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the United Nations and Türkiye for all they have done to try to keep this arrangement alive. This Council – and all Member States – must come together and urge Russia to resume negotiations in good faith. And end this atrocious war in Ukraine for the good of the world’s most hungry, for the good of humanity.

Thank you, Madam President.

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