Officials in the Biden administration and in Ukraine welcomed Friday’s deal to allow for the export of Ukrainian grain, but expressed skepticism that Russia would follow through on its commitments.
“The United States welcomes this positive step,” John Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, told reporters. “We fully expect the implementation of this arrangement to commence swiftly to prevent the world’s most vulnerable from sliding deeper into food insecurity and malnutrition, as well as extreme hunger.”
But Mr. Kirby repeatedly struck a cautionary note, saying the deal’s success was “going to depend on Russia’s compliance with this arrangement and actually implementing its commitments, and of course ending its blockade of Ukrainian ports.”
“Russia’s word is never good enough on its face. It really comes down to the willingness to actually implement,” he added. “We’re cleareyed about this, and we’re going to be watching very closely.”
Similarly, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, told France 24 that he was not celebrating just yet.
“When the ships are already moving and when they reach, let’s say, Turkish territorial waters, then we’ll be able to say that Africa will be getting the amount of grain it wants,” Mr. Podolyak said in remarks translated by the French news outlet. “So let’s give it some time and wait and see how this system works. I say this because the Russian Federation is today not a partner whose word can be taken as a legal commitment. Russia may violate any agreement at any moment.”
In his nightly speech, President Volodymyr Zelensky offered more muted skepticism, saying that there might be “some provocations on the part of Russia,” but that Ukraine trusted the United Nations and Turkey — crucial partners in the grain arrangement — to ensure Russia’s compliance. He also used the deal to add to his portrayal of Ukraine’s ability to withstand the war, noting that the grain sales would bring in $10 billion, providing incomes for farmers, the agricultural sector, the state budget and next year’s sowing season.
Victoria J. Nuland, the U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs, said on Friday that Russia had felt political pressure from abroad to free Ukraine’s agricultural exports.
“This came together because, I think, Russia ultimately felt the hot breath of global opprobrium, and it was losing the global South, who had become convinced that this was really NATO’s fault, etc.” Ms. Nuland said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
Ms. Nuland said a growing understanding that, to the contrary, “it is Russia that is blocking the food” had moved President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to act. “It’s now incumbent on Russia to actually implement this deal,” she said. “But it is very well-structured in terms of monitoring and in terms of, you know, channels that the grain ought to be able to get out of.”
She added that Russia may have had a direct financial interest in reaching a deal.
“Russia also was out there complaining to the world that its own fertilizer and grain couldn’t get out,” Ms. Nuland said. She noted that the U.S. had not imposed sanctions on Russian food or fertilizer, and that Washington had provided “comfort letters” to make that clear.
“So it may also have had to do with the fact that it was hard for them to get shippers and insurers and others to move their grains,” she said. “So they also need the money, given what else we’re doing to them.”
Maggie Astor contributed reporting.