Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
July 17, 2023
QUESTION: And I’m Adrian Florido in Culver City, California. Russia has backed out of the Black Sea grain deal, an agreement that allowed Ukraine to safely export wheat, barley, and other grains to the rest of the world despite Russia’s blockade of its ports. Russia says its decision has nothing to do with today’s attack on a bridge that’s critical for its war strategy. The Kremlin has long felt it gets less from the deal than Ukraine does. Regardless, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said today that this will, quote, “strike a blow to people in need everywhere.”
We’re joined now by the U.S.’s Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Welcome.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.
QUESTION: Ambassador, since the UN negotiated this deal last year, it has been seen as critical to keeping global food prices stable because Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain producers. So now that Russia has backed out of this deal, who is going to be the most affected, and how quickly?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, the Global South is going to be the most affected, and we’ve seen the effects almost immediately as the Secretary-General noted that it’s impacting the market already. And it is clear that Russia – Putin – is using food as a weapon of war in Ukraine and as well in Syria, where they voted down the Syria cross-border mechanism that provided vital humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people just last week.
QUESTION: Well, practically, what did the Black Sea grain deal accomplish? What has it accomplished since it was negotiated last year?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, simply what it did was bring food to the markets. So since this initiative started, more than 32 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain went into the market, and it decreased the prices but it also provided a significant amount of assistance to developing countries, and the World Food Program also used food from Ukraine to provide assistance to Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, and other places around the world.
QUESTION: Well, Russia has been calling for an end to sanctions on some of its agricultural products and to be reconnected to the SWIFT payment system, the technology behind most international financial transactions from which Russia was banned after it invaded Ukraine. Are those demands that the U.S. could support if it meant bringing Russia back to the table?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, Russia is exporting its grain. Sanctions have not applied to any Russian agricultural products. This is simply another excuse that they are making. They have shipped more grain this year than they have shipped in the past. They are the largest grain exporter through the Black Sea. So this is just another one of their excuses to sabotage what is truly working: the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
QUESTION: And what about its demand to be reconnected to the SWIFT payment system?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: They are under sanctions for that, but they also know that the Secretary-General was making efforts to find a way to assist their agricultural bank to get access to SWIFT. But this is the price they pay for attacking their neighbor. This is the price they’re paying for their unprovoked war on Ukraine.
QUESTION: What’s the next move here, Ambassador? Türkiye, which helped broker this original deal, today its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he seemed hopeful that Russia would come back to the table. I imagine that diplomatic channels are buzzing to try to make that happen.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah, I’m pleased to hear that the Türkiye president has made that statement. I mean, simply, Russia should return to the initiative and they should do it immediately. I know that the Secretary-General is still working around the clock to see that actually happens, but Russia is the key.
QUESTION: I have been speaking with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Thanks for joining us.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you so much, Adrian.