Ambassador Flake’s Op-Ed on the Black Sea Grain Initiative

Ankara. Türkiye
August 22, 2023

During my tenure as the U.S. Ambassador in Türkiye, I have seen the importance of Türkiye’s global leadership, including the negotiation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI).  Brokered between Türkiye, Ukraine, Russia, and the United Nations, this agreement ensured some of the most vulnerable people on earth had access to food.  Since the first ship sailed on August 1, 2022, hundreds of ships traversed the corridor, delivering nearly 33 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain and foodstuffs to global markets.  Sixty-five percent of those agricultural products went to developing countries, supporting global food security and stability.  The success of the BSGI not only demonstrated the crucial role that Türkiye plays in world events, but also Türkiye’s willingness to stand up and do what’s right for the global community.    

The BSGI would be unnecessary were it not for President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.  This is a war waged on innocent civilians with egregious disregard for human life, including targeting children and committing atrocious war crimes like sexual assault, torture, and extrajudicial executions.  Estimates indicate that over a quarter of a million Ukrainian children have been abducted; forcibly separated from their families before being put up for adoption in Russia.  Imagine the terror and grief your children would feel if they were taken from you, moved to a new country, and placed with a strange family to erase their culture, language, and identity.  These crimes have been well documented and verified by numerous international humanitarian organizations as well as international press.   

By weaponizing food, Putin has spread suffering far beyond Ukraine’s borders, extending hunger to the developing world where it will be felt most acutely.  Russia’s actions place millions at risk.  Moscow’s withdrawal from the BSGI; its attacks against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, including grain terminals in the Black Sea and on the Danube; and its aggression against civilian traffic in the Black Sea needlessly exacerbate food insecurity around the world.  One such Russian attack destroyed 60,000 tons of grain, enough to feed 270,000 people for a year.  These actions defy international norms and exacerbate global hunger.   

Russia’s excuses for withdrawing are just that, excuses; their fertilizer exports and their grain exports were at or near all-time highs while the BSGI was in effect.  Russia’s decision to abandon the BSGI raises the price it receives for its food exports, increasing its profit while forcing the rest of the world to grapple with higher food prices and exposing the most vulnerable to even greater risk of going hungry.  These are economic facts. 

There is real suffering behind the facts that Russia has callously manipulated to justify its aggressions. The BGSI has alleviated suffering and hunger around the world.  The American people extend their thanks to Türkiye, the United Nations, and all other countries working to ensure that the world has enough food to eat.  I am confident that Türkiye will continue its critical leadership role in advocating for global food security.