Grain deal, Bakhmut and more: What to watch for this week.


Senior Russian officials were meeting with representatives of the United Nations in Geneva on Monday to discuss extending an agreement that allows cargo ships to transport Ukrainian grain past a Russian blockade.

The Black Sea grain deal has been a rare example of cooperation between the countries and is set to expire on Saturday. The agreement, brokered by the U.N. and Turkey, was renewed in November three days before its previous expiration date.

Russian leaders have indicated that they are not satisfied with the deal, and it remains unclear whether or not Moscow will support an extension. Maria Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, told Russian state media on Sunday that, “so far, only the Ukrainian part has been effectively implemented,” while the Russian end of the bargain “continues to be blocked.”

Although the grain deal’s primary goal was to end Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian exports, it also allowed for more shipments of Russian grain and fertilizer. As part of the pact, the United States and the European Union gave assurances that banks and companies involved in trading Russian grain and fertilizer would be exempt from sanctions. The U.N.’s secretary general, António Guterres, said last week that “exports of Ukrainian — as well as Russian — food and fertilizers are essential to global food security and food prices.”

Ukraine, Turkey and the U.N. have expressed support for extending the deal.

Here are some other developments we’re watching this week:

  • Bakhmut: Russia continued attacking Ukrainian positions in the eastern city of Bakhmut. Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, whose fighters have helped lead the Russian assault, said on Monday that the battle was “very tough” but that his forces were advancing. The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, said Wagner units were “coming from several directions” but insisted Ukraine was repelling them and inflicting “significant losses.” Although Bakhmut’s strategic value is debatable, Moscow is looking for a victory there after setbacks elsewhere in Ukraine.

  • Lukashenko in Iran: President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus was in Iran on Monday for meetings, including with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Belarus’ foreign and domestic policies are largely dictated by Moscow. Russia is looking for ways to replenish its diminishing stock of arms and ammunition, and Iran has been an important source of drones and other weapons for Moscow.

  • Moldova: Protests against Moldova’s pro-Western government continued over the weekend. The United States and Moldova have said that the recent demonstrations are organized by pro-Moscow groups who are attempting to incite an insurrection.

Source : Nytimes