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UN chief ‘deeply concerned’ by stalled Black Sea Grain Initiative

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Wheat harvest near the Krasne village, Ukraine. © FAO/Anatolii Stepanov

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has expressed deep concern at Russia’s decision to suspend its involvement in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal set up to reintroduce vital food and fertilizer exports from Ukraine to the rest of the world.On Sunday, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said, in a statement for the Secretary-General, that Mr. Guterres has decided to delay his departure for the Arab League Summit in Algiers by a day to focus on the issue.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022, mountains of grains built up in silos, with ships unable to secure safe passage to and from Ukrainian ports, and land routes were unable to compensate.

This contributed to vertiginous rises in the price of staple foods around the world. Combined with increases in the cost of energy, developing countries were pushed to the brink of debt default and increasing numbers of people found themselves on the brink of famine.

The Initiative was due to run out in the second half of November, but there was an option to extend it, if all parties, including Russian and Ukraine, agree.

Millions saved from extreme poverty

The deal was demonstrably successful in bringing down prices, allowing millions of tonnes of grain to be safely transported from Ukrainian ports. By September, Rebecca Grynspan, the head of the UN trade body, UNCTAD, and Amir Abdulla, the UN Coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, could proudly announced that prices had come down five months in a row, and that the Food Price Index, which measures the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities, had decreased nearly 14 per cent from its March peak.

According to UN estimates, the Initiative has indirectly prevented some 100 million people from falling into extreme poverty.

However, on Saturday Russia announced that it was suspending its involvement in the deal, citing an attack the same day on ships in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol in the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

The move reportedly took traders by surprise, and raised fears of another steep rise in food prices. Arif Husain, Chief Economist at the World Food Programme (WFP), reportedly warned that Russia’s decision poses a danger to a large number of countries, and should be resolved as soon as possible.

Mr. Dujarric said that the Secretary-General is continuing to engage in intense contacts aimed at ending the Russian suspension of its participation in the Initiative.

This engagement, he explained, also aims at the renewal and full implementation of the initiative to facilitate exports of food and fertilizer from Ukraine, as well as removing the remaining obstacles to the exports of Russian food and fertilizer.

Joint Coordination Committee meets to consider next steps

The Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) of the Black Sea Grain Initiative – which comprises senior representatives from the Russian Federation, Türkiye, Ukraine, and the United Nations, and was set up to implement the deal – met  in Istanbul on Sunday, where the Russian delegation confirmed the country’s decision to indefinitely suspend its participation in the implementation of the activities of the Initiative, including in inspections.

The delegation announced that it will continue the dialogue with the United Nations and the Turkish delegation on pressing issues, and expressed its readiness to cooperate remotely on issues that require immediate decision by the JCC. 

In an information note released on Sunday, the United Nations Secretariat, in close cooperation with the Turkish delegation at the JCC, declared that it will continue to engage all representatives, to offer options on next steps regarding the JCC operations in accordance with the goals and provisions stated in the Initiative.

During the session, it was proposed that, In order to continue fulfilling the Initiative, the Turkish and United Nations delegations will provide 10 inspection teams on Monday, aiming to inspect 40 outbound vessels. This inspection plan has been accepted by the delegation of Ukraine; the Russian Federation delegation has been informed. 

Currently, there are 97 loaded vessels and 15 inbound vessels registered for JCC inspection around Istanbul. There are an additional 89 that have applied to join the Initiative. 

In addition, the Ukrainian, Turkish and United Nations delegations agreed on a movement plan for Monday, 31 October, for the maritime humanitarian corridor of 14 vessels, 12 outbound and two inbound.

The UN delegation, in its capacity as JCC Secretariat, informed the delegation of the Russian Federation on the movements in accordance with the JCC established procedures. As per JCC procedures, all participants coordinate with their respective military and other relevant authorities to ensure the safe passage of commercial vessels under the Black Sea Grain Initiative. 

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Former CIA analyst: ‘A costly and prolonged cold war now seems a certainty’

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‘No one knows how the war in Ukraine will end, but there is one post-war certainty: there will be a prolonged and costly Cold War between the United States and Russia,’ – predicts Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA analyst, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.

He writes: In an interview with David Ignatius of the Washington Post, who has been doing the bidding of the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency for several decades, Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized the importance of a “long-term goal of deterrence.” Ignatius took this to mean that the Biden administration will make sure that Russia “should not be able to rest, regroup and reattack.”

In addition to this year’s record defense budget that found the Congress providing $45 billion more than the Pentagon requested, a so-called “emergency” provision will lay the foundation for adding scarce resources to defense spending in the coming year. This provision will allow multiyear, noncompetitive agreements to produce such ordinary weaponry as rockets and munitions.

According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon will now have a way to replenish its stockpiles that will provide a “new golden age” for military contractors.

The Biden administration’s gift to the military-industrial complex rivals what the Reagan administration provided in the 1980s and ensures the country’s rich market for weapons sales. Nearly half of the record defense spending of $858 billion goes to military contractors.

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees made sure that these spending spigots remain open by naming individuals with ties to the weapons industry to a commission that will review the Biden National Defense Strategy. The chairwoman of the commission, former Representative Jane Harman, protected Lockheed-Martin when she served on the Hill and currently is on the board of a military contractor that recently received a seven-year $800 million contract from the Pentagon.

The increased defense spending and the new emergency provision coincide with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s creation of a new committee — the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. In view of the recent rise in anti-Asian violence in the United States, it can only be hoped that Democrats appoint members to the committee who understand the domestic consequences of hyping the threat from China at this particular time.

Our China policy is not working, and the exaggeration of the China threat comes just in time for the hawks in the political aviary who fear that the severe deficiencies of the Russian military in Ukraine is making it more difficult to exaggerate the Russia threat. I’ve been calling attention to the exaggeration of the Russian threat for the past 50 years.

But the policy community, the bipartisan congressional community, and the pundit community can’t let go of the idea that the Soviet Union and Russia present a ‘threat to the national security of the United States’.

The Biden policy ensures a robust military presence on the Russian border that will worsen Cold War 2.0. There will be prolonged and unnecessary increases in defense spending, and the absence of a diplomatic dialogue in those important areas where there is Russian-American agreement.

These areas include a variety of arms control and disarmament issues, such as stopping the proliferation of nuclear weaponry and limiting the use of space in the military competition as well as dealing with insurgencies and terrorism; environmental degradation; and future pandemics.

It is hard to imagine any Russian government willing to pursue diplomatic solutions with a United States that has sponsored a NATO with more than 30 members; a military base in Poland; a regional missile defense in Poland and Romania; and the use of Romanian military facilities close by Russian forces and the Black Sea.

This serious turning point is being ignored by the policy community as well as the pundit and academic communities.”

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NATO press South Korea to provide arms to Ukraine

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Image source: NATO

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged South Korea to provide military support to Ukraine, saying the country is in urgent need of ammunition, stresses “The Wall Street Journal”. Mr. Stoltenberg met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. After the meeting, Mr. Yoon promised to provide continued support to Ukraine, without saying whether Seoul would consider sending arms.

NATO is calling on South Korea to supply Ukraine because it is a U.S. ally with substantial capability to provide weapons, said Cha Du-hyeogn, a research fellow at Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. It means that NATO efforts are no longer enough.

While not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, South Korea is a close U.S. ally, and Mr. Yoon attended the NATO summit last year in Madrid. South Korea has sent materials such as gas masks, bulletproof vests and medical supplies to Ukraine, but has declined to provide lethal weapons, citing a law that prevents it from arming countries engaged in conflicts.

South Korea has been supplying arms to countries that have been supporting Ukraine in the war, including NATO member Poland. Seoul has signed deals to provide Poland with tanks and aircraft since the start of the war.

But, Seoul has sought to tread carefully with Russia, which is a large energy supplier to South Korea and holds sway with North Korea.

Mr. Stoltenberg in Seoul called North Korea’s nuclear-weapons development and missile tests grave threats that violate United Nations Security Council sanctions.

Pyongyang called Mr. Stoltenberg’s visit to South Korea and Japan a “prelude to confrontation and war,” saying it could bring a new Cold War to the Asia-Pacific region, according to North Korean state media.

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Russia restored Syrian air base for joint use

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Jarrah Base, Syria (Photo Credit: TASS)

Russia and Syria have restored the ‘Al-Jarrah’ military air base in Syria’s north to be jointly used, Russia’s Defence Ministry said.

“Russian and Syrian military personnel restored the destroyed al-Jarrah airfield,” the ministry said on the Telegram messaging. “The joint basing of aviation of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian Air Force at the al-Jarrah airfield makes it possible to cover the state border.”

The small base east of Aleppo was recaptured from Islamic State fighters in 2017.

Russia has been a dominant military force in Syria since launching air strikes and ground operations there in 2015. It further asserted its presence after the United States pulled out its forces in 2019.

The conflict in Syria, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions and drawn in regional and world powers, has entered into a second decade, although fighting is at a lower intensity than in earlier years, writes ‘The National’ from Abu Dhabi, UAE.

With backing from Russia and Iran, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s government has recovered most of its territory.

Turkish-backed opposition fighters still control a pocket in the north-west, and Kurdish fighters backed by the US also control territory near the Turkish border.

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