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A week after ending the grain deal, Russia is bombing Ukrainian ports carrying grain

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A week after ending a deal that allowed the export of millions of tons of grain from Ukraine, Russia has been bombing Ukrainian ports with missiles and drones. On Wednesday, 60,000 tons of grain were destroyed in an attack just south of the port city of Odesa. That would have been enough to feed 270,000 people for a year. The United Nations says the deal's impact on global food markets cannot be overstated.

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MARTIN GRIFFITHS: This potentially threatens hunger and worse for millions of people.

SIMON: That is Martin Griffiths, the U.N.'s top humanitarian official, speaking at the U.N. Security Council on Friday.

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GRIFFITHS: So the humanitarian catastrophe that continues to unfold in Ukraine continues to reverberate around the world, and it must end.

SIMON: NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen joins us. Michele, thanks so much for being with us.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Scott.

SIMON: Can the U.N. do anything to try and revive this deal to keep grain flowing?

KELEMEN: Well, I mean, they are certainly encouraging Russia to return to the deal, which is known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative. But so far, Russia shows no sign that it's going to back down. You know, it complains that the U.N. and Turkey, which also helped negotiate this deal, didn't do enough to make sure that Russia can export its goods. The Russians complain about U.S. and Western sanctions, not on food actually, but on banks. They say that it's making it more difficult for them to finance this trade and to get insurance. And they say they want that resolved first.

SIMON: What's the U.S. response?

KELEMEN: Yeah, I mean, the U.S. says Russia is lying about this. Here's what Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the U.N. Security Council.

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LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: They would have you believe that sanctions have blocked their exports. That couldn't be further from the truth. They were exporting more grains than ever before and at higher prices. Russia is simply using the Black Sea as blackmail. It's playing political games. It's holding humanity hostage.

KELEMEN: Thomas-Greenfield also says the U.S. believes that Russia has laid sea mines near Ukrainian ports and might be planning what she's calling a false flag to justify attacks on Ukrainian shipments. And you know, Scott, that's been one of the Biden administration's strategies throughout this war. They declassify information to show the world what Russia might do. The hope is that that will deter Russia from taking such actions or at least convince other countries to use their influence with Russia to back down.

SIMON: Well, how might that work? Is there anything the U.N. or the U.S. can do to protect Ukrainian food shipments right now?

KELEMEN: Right now, they're just trying to get this deal back on track. And Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. is talking to allies about other possible routes for Ukrainian agricultural goods. But that's also not easy, as he pointed out at the Aspen Security Conference.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: I think it's very, very difficult because for the shippers, for the insurers, given the threats - more than the threats - the action that Russia has taken over the last few days, it would be very hard to operate in that environment. That's why we are looking for alternatives. We are looking for options. I just don't think we can make up the volume.

KELEMEN: Some analysts are even suggesting that NATO start escorting Ukrainian ships, but Blinken was asked about that. He didn't directly respond to it, but he also didn't give any indication that that's really being considered.

SIMON: NPR's Michele Kelemen. Thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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