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Russia faces backlash over threat to pull out of grain deal

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Russia says it's suspending its participation in the grain deal that's helped keep a global food shortage from getting worse. The agreement created a safe humanitarian corridor to export Ukrainian grain. Moscow's decision, though, came after it accused Ukraine of attacking the Russian Black Sea fleet. Here to tell us more, we're joined by NPR's Fatma Tanis in Istanbul.

So suspended is - not necessarily mean withdrawing, at least not yet. So what does this mean for the grain deal?

FATMA TANIS, BYLINE: Well, it's not over yet until Russia pulls out entirely, which, as you mentioned, they haven't. Turkish and U.N. officials, the brokers of this deal, are talking to Russia now. And according to the Turkish Defense Ministry, the Russian team and the inspectors that have been working on the deal are still here in Istanbul. But no new ships will be going to Ukraine to pick up the grain while this gets sorted out.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council will convene today on the grain deal. This was requested by Russia. The deal was set to expire on November 19, and the parties were already in the middle of intense negotiations to extend it. I spoke with Turkish President Erdogan's chief adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, about this, and he said that Erdogan had brought up the grain deal with Putin just a couple weeks ago and had received a favorable response then. But they were prepared for a tough round of talks to keep Russia in. And here's what he said.

IBRAHIM KALIN: We will continue our efforts and intensify our diplomatic initiatives to make sure that this is renewed before its expiration date.

TANIS: Russia is also facing pressure from the international community to resume its participation in the deal, as everybody's worried about food prices going up.

MARTÍNEZ: So why is Russia doing this now?

TANIS: Well, Russia's told the U.N. and Turkey that it can no longer guarantee the safety of ships in the Black Sea, ostensibly because of this drone attack. But, you know, they've been unhappy with the deal for a while now because under the original terms, they were supposed to get some relief, too, in terms of their own fertilizer exports and their agriculture exports. And they're complaining that it's not really working out for them. So Russia could be trying to get a better deal here.

Regardless, I've been hearing from Turkish and U.N. officials that both Ukraine and Russia want and need this to happen. For Ukraine, of course, it's a lifeline to their crippled wartime economy. But Russia needs the deal, too, to get its own exports out, yes, but also to retain favor with the Global South, where many countries haven't participated in sanctions against Russia and are dependent on these shipments.

MARTÍNEZ: What's at stake if Russia withdraws?

TANIS: Frankly, a lot. First, there are countries who are really vulnerable should the deal fall apart, like Egypt and Lebanon. And it's not just there. This will be felt all over the world. But, you know, there's another level to this. I spoke with the U.N. coordinator for the deal, Amir Abdulla, and here's how he put it.

AMIR ABDULLA: It's very important that it is an area and a platform where Russia and Ukraine are talking to each other to achieve a very noble aim.

TANIS: In fact, it's one of the only platforms where they're talking and working together.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Fatma Tanis.

Thanks a lot.

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