(Ankara) Following negotiations under the auspices of Ankara and the UN, the July 2022 international agreement on the export of Ukrainian cereals, crucial to averting a food crisis, was extended in extremis on Saturday but Kyiv and Moscow differed on the duration of the extension.

The subject of negotiations for several weeks, the extension was announced on Saturday by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who welcomed the extension of an agreement “vital for the world’s food supply”, threatened by the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The deal was due to end on Saturday evening.

“The Black Sea Grain Initiative, signed in Istanbul on July 22, 2022, has been extended,” UN Secretary General Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric confirmed in a statement.

Neither the United Nations nor Ankara gave details on the duration of the extension.

It was Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov who was the first to say that the extension had been approved for a period of 120 days, in accordance in particular with the wishes of the Turkish authorities.

“The Black Sea Grain Initiative is extended for 120 days. We thank Antonio Guterres, the United Nations, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, [Turkish Defense Minister] Hulusi Akar and all our partners for confirming this agreement,” he said on Twitter.

But Moscow quickly contradicted him, assuring that only a 60-day extension had been decided.

“We see statements from different parties that the ‘grain deal’ has been extended for 120 days,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. “We have repeated several times that […] the Russian side has informed all stakeholders that the agreement has been extended for 60 days,” she added, quoted by the Russian agency Interfax.

In other statements, posted on Facebook, the Ukrainian Minister of Infrastructure said he hoped for an acceleration of ship inspections in Turkey, the country which hosts the joint coordination center of the agreement.

“This will allow the world to get even more Ukrainian agricultural products. We also continue to work on adding ports in the Mykolaiv region to the Grain Initiative and expanding the range of goods,” Oleksandr Kubrakov clarified.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative signed in July 2022 by Ukraine, Russia and Turkey, with the assistance of the UN, has alleviated the global food crisis caused by the war in Ukraine by allowing the export of nearly 25 million tons of corn, wheat and other grains from Ukrainian ports.

According to its terms, the agreement was to be “automatically extended for the same period [de 120 jours, NDLR] unless one of the parties notifies the other of its intention to terminate or modify it”. It was effectively extended by 120 days in November, until Saturday, March 18, 11:59 p.m. Istanbul time (4:59 p.m. Eastern time).

But on March 13, Russia, unhappy with the application of a second agreement to facilitate its own fertilizer exports, had indicated that it only accepted a 60-day extension.

Theoretically, fertilizer exports, essential for world agriculture, do not fall under the sanctions imposed on Moscow by Western countries since the start of the war, but they are de facto blocked.

Moscow wants tangible progress on bank payments, transport logistics, insurance, the thawing of financial activities and the supply of ammonia through the Togliatti-Odessa pipeline.

The UN has said it will do all it can to save the grain mechanism that has helped assuage soaring prices since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.