US says Russia's free grain offer to 6 African nations 'laughable'

US says Russia's free grain offer to 6 African nations 'laughable'

Russian proposal 'is a drop in the bucket of what countries were getting' under Black Sea deal, says Antony Blinken

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sharply derided Russia on Tuesday for its offer to supply six African nations with free grain, saying the proposal is "laughable."

"What Russia was proposing was to get grain to a half dozen countries, about 50,000 tons," Blinken said in an interview with British broadcaster BBC.

"The Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) delivered 20 million tons to lower and middle-income countries. In other words, what the Russians were proposing in compensation for getting out of the agreement is a drop in the bucket of what countries were getting and what they need," he added.

More than 50% of all exports that were processed under the agreement were going to Africa, including about two-thirds of all wheat that left Ukraine, said Blinken.

Russia suspended its participation in the BSGI on July 17. The deal was signed in July 2022 following mediation by the UN and Türkiye in a bid to resume grain exports from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports that had been placed under a blockade by Russia after it began its war in February of that year.

Russia has maintained that some of the benefits it was to have received under the agreement failed to materialize, including the removal of obstacles to its fertilizer exports and the inclusion of state-owned Russian Agricultural Bank in the SWIFT international payment system.

But Blinken maintained that he personally sent what are known as "letters of comfort" to heads of major banks "telling them very clearly there is no problem facilitating" transactions with Russia covered by the BSGI.

"Our sanctions from day one exempted Russian wheat, grain, shipping, insurance, everything necessary to move that around the world. As I said, we want everyone’s food and grain to get everywhere it needs to go," he said.

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