Russia's leverage over Ukraine's export of grain via the Black Sea will likely erode in weeks to come as more ships are able to leave Ukrainian ports and rising costs could prompt Moscow to reconsider its abandonment of the grain deal, a senior US State Department official said.
James O'Brien, head of the State Department Office of Sanctions Coordination, said leaders at the UN General Assembly this week discussed efforts to revive the deal, which Russia abandoned in July.
Western countries have accused Russia of using food as a weapon of war by quitting the Black Sea deal, which had helped bring down global food prices, and then carrying out repeated air strikes on Ukrainian ports and grain stores.
"A couple of factors are going to ... affect their calculation. One is that their leverage will decline. Ukraine's already now had a few ships leave and stay in territorial waters," O'Brien said of Moscow's thinking on the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
He said the second factor was that Russia's pricing would be hurt by its attacks on Ukrainian ships, which leads to insurers raising rates and Moscow's costs going up.
"Over the next several weeks, I think the factors that led Russia to believe it would benefit from withdrawing are going to change."
Russia quit the grain deal, brokered by the UN and Türkiye in 2022, saying that its own food and fertiliser exports, while not subject to Western sanctions, faced obstacles and that not enough Ukrainian grain was going to countries in need.
Ukrainian ports across the Danube River have since become a vital export corridor for Ukrainian grain, and Russia has targeted the route with regular air strikes.
Ukraine last month announced a 'humanitarian corridor' to release ships trapped in its ports and to circumvent a de facto blockade.