U.N., Russia to talk Ukraine grain deal on Friday ahead of extension deadline

FILE PHOTO: Asl Tia, a cargo vessel carrying Ukrainian grain, transits Bosphorus, in Istanbul

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -Top U.N. officials will meet a senior Russian delegation in Geneva on Friday to discuss extending a Ukraine Black Sea grain export deal and efforts to smooth shipments of Russian food and fertilizers to global markets, the United Nations said.

The deal allowing the export of food and fertilizers from several of Ukraine's Black Sea ports - brokered by the United Nations and Turkey on July 22 - could expire on Nov. 19 if Russia or Ukraine object to its extension.

A key part of the July package deal is also facilitating exports of Russian grain and fertilizer exports. The United Nations has said that Russian grain exports have increased, but that work needed to be done to alleviate a chilling effect of Western sanctions on Russian fertilizer exports.

U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths, who heads talks on Ukrainian exports, and senior U.N. trade official Rebeca Grynspan, who leads discussions on Russian food and fertilizer exports, will meet with Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin on Friday, a U.N. spokesperson said.

"It is hoped that the discussions will advance progress made in facilitating the unimpeded export of food and fertilizers originating from the Russian Federation to the global markets," the U.N. spokesperson said on Wednesday.

Russia suspended participation in the pact allowing Black Sea exports for several days last week after accusing Ukraine of using it as cover to target Russian ships in Crimea. Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied it was behind the attack.

While Russia restarted its cooperation, President Vladimir Putin said he reserved Moscow's right to withdraw again. If Russia did so, however, Putin said it would not impede shipments of grain from Ukraine to Turkey.

More than 10 million tonnes of grain and other food has been exported from Ukraine under the deal, according to the United Nations. It has warned that Russia's war is worsening a global food crisis and pushing tens of millions more people into hunger.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Gareth Jones)