Russian missiles hit grain terminals in southern Ukraine's Odesa region Russian missiles hit grain terminals in southern Ukraine's Odesa region  (ANSA)

Five EU nations extend Ukraine import ban

Five European Union nations say they will extend their ban on Ukrainian grain imports despite the collapse of a grain deal between Russia and Ukraine. However, Hungary says it is willing to mediate between Russia and Ukraine to extend the grain deal between the two nations.

By Stefan J. Bos 

Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia have agreed to continue their local sales bans on Ukrainian grain “to protect local farmers.”

Their governments made clear they want to extend the import ban beyond the European Union imposed deadline of September 15 until at least the end of the year.

Except for Bulgaria, all the countries border Ukraine, which faced a setback Monday when Russia withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative that allowed Ukrainian grain to be shipped through the Black Sea safely. 

The collapse of the deal and subsequent Russian missile and drone strikes at Ukrainian port cities led to international concerns that hundreds of millions of people would face hunger. Ukraine is a significant wheat, barley, vegetable oil, and corn exporter. 

Hungary's Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said he realized that without a Black Sea grain deal, "central Europe plays an even greater role" in transporting grains from Ukraine, one of the world's breadbaskets. 

But he argued that the transit routes set up as solidarity lanes shouldn't be used for "profit-making." 

Hungarian mediation 

He and other ministers noticed that many products destined for people in need in Africa or the Middle East end up in Central and Eastern Europe, threatening the livelihoods of local farmers. 

However, when asked, Szijjártó said Hungary is prepared to mediate between Kyiv and Moscow on resuming the Black Sea grain deal. “If we are asked to mediate, we are happy to do so,” he told India’s World is One News (WION) television network. 

“But we are not strong enough to step up as a mediator by our own will. Whst what I can tell you is that we consider the continuation of the grain deal extremely important. Why? Because these volumes of grains are missing from countries and regions which can be destabilized very easily,” Szijjártó warned. 

“And once these countries and regions are destabilized, further migratory waves break out. And if further migratory waves break out, then we Europeans are under pressure again. And coping with two security-related challenges in the meantime that will be well beyond our capacities, I think,” the Hungarian minister added. 

Yet Hungary has been criticized by Brussels and Ukraine for its perceived cosy relationship with Russia. 

This week Hungary also refused to support an EU plan to spend 20 billion euros (about $22.3 billion) on weapons for Ukraine over the next four years after already blocking a tranche of 500 million euros ($557 million) for this purpose. 

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos

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21 July 2023, 17:48