Ukraine’s president and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the extension of a deal with Moscow that allowed Kyiv to export grain through Black Sea ports during Russia’s invasion.

After talks with Guterres in Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the Black Sea Grain Initiative was “critically necessary” for the world, and the UN chief emphasized its importance to global food security and food prices.

The 120-day agreement, first negotiated by the UN and Turkey in July and extended in November, will be renewed on March 18 if no party objects. However, Russia’s demands have yet to be met, according to a Turkish diplomatic source, who added that Ankara was “working very hard” to keep the deal going.

“I want to emphasize the critical importance of launching the Black Sea Grain Initiative on March 18th and working to create the conditions for the most effective use of export infrastructure through the Black Sea in line with the initiative’s objectives,” Guterres told reporters in Kyiv.

Russia, which lifted a blockade of three Ukrainian Black Sea ports as part of the agreement last July, has indicated that obstacles to its own agricultural exports must be removed before the deal can be extended. Last year, the United Nations agreed to help facilitate Russian food and fertilizer exports in order to persuade Russia to allow Ukraine to resume Black Sea grain exports.

Western powers have imposed harsh sanctions on Russia for its invasion of neighbouring Ukraine more than a year ago. While Russia’s food and fertiliser exports are not sanctioned, Moscow claims that restrictions in the country’s payments, logistics, and insurance industries act as a “barrier” to such shipments.

“Russia’s concerns, or rather the difficulties that it is facing, have not been overcome yet. “However, Turkey is doing its part to help all parties reach an agreement,” a Turkish diplomatic source said. Ukraine and Russia are both major global suppliers of grains and fertilisers, so the talks to extend the agreement will be closely watched by global markets.

According to the United Nations, Kyiv has exported more than 23 million tonnes of primarily corn and wheat under the agreement. China, Spain, Turkey, Italy, and the Netherlands have been the top primary destinations for shipments. Zelenskiy said he and Guterres, who was in Kyiv for the third time since Russia’s invasion a year ago, also talked about security and the safety of the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.

Security around the Zaporizhzhia plant, according to Guterres, is “vital,” and the UN is attempting to assist. The United Nations nuclear watchdog monitors Europe’s largest nuclear power plant and has urged both sides to establish a demilitarised “safe zone” around it.

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