Putin Warns Russia Could Drop Grain Deal after 60 Days

A worker loads a truck with grain at a terminal during barley harvesting in Odesa region, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, Ukraine June 23, 2022. (Reuters)
A worker loads a truck with grain at a terminal during barley harvesting in Odesa region, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, Ukraine June 23, 2022. (Reuters)
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Putin Warns Russia Could Drop Grain Deal after 60 Days

A worker loads a truck with grain at a terminal during barley harvesting in Odesa region, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, Ukraine June 23, 2022. (Reuters)
A worker loads a truck with grain at a terminal during barley harvesting in Odesa region, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, Ukraine June 23, 2022. (Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed on Monday that Moscow has agreed to extend a deal allowing the exports of Ukrainian grain to global markets only for 60 days and could drop it altogether if its conditions aren't met.

Speaking at a parliamentary meeting in Moscow attended by lawmakers from African countries, Putin emphasized that Russia expects the facilitation of exports of its own agricultural products as part of a package agreement.

“A fair and comprehensive implementation of the Black Sea grain deal can only be ensured if our position is taken into account, and depending on that we will deal with the issue of our further participation in it,” Putin said.

The UN and Türkiye brokered July's agreement that allowing Ukraine — one of the world’s key breadbaskets — to ship food and fertilizer from three of its Black Sea ports. The 120-day agreement was renewed last November. Russia agreed to extend it again when it expired Saturday, but noted that it has only accepted a 60-day extension.

Ukraine has charged that the 60-day extension contradicts the deal, but the agreement allows the parties to roll it over or “modify” it — as Russia did. The United Nations and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed the extension, but neither said how long it would last, reflecting their inability to force Russia's hand.

Moscow has voiced frustration that a parallel agreement has failed to fully open the door to Russian exports of grain and fertilizer through the Black Sea. Still, overall Russian wheat shipments were at or near record highs in November, December and January, increasing 24% over the same three months a year earlier, according to financial data provider Refinitiv.

Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement that 25 million metric tons (about 28 millions tons) of grain and foodstuffs had moved to 45 countries under the initiative, helping to bring down global food prices and stabilizing markets.

Putin used Monday's conference attended by African lawmakers to press the long held Russian claim that a significant part of grain exported under the deal was sent to “well-stocked” European markets and only a fraction ended up in African markets.

He added that if Russia decides not to extend the deal after 60 days it will be ready to provide African countries with free grain.

Food prices surged to record highs after Russian troops rolled into Ukraine last February, helping contribute to a global food crisis also tied to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate factors like drought.

The disruption in shipments of grain needed for staples of diets in places like Egypt, Lebanon and Nigeria exacerbated economic challenges and helped push millions more people into poverty or food insecurity. People in developing countries spend more of their money on basics like food.

The crisis left an estimated 345 million people facing food insecurity, according to the UN’s World Food Program.



Israeli Supreme Court Says Ultra-Orthodox Men Must Serve in Military

A man carries an Israeli flag next to an ultra-Orthodox Jew as protesters gather for a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 17, 2024. (Reuters)
A man carries an Israeli flag next to an ultra-Orthodox Jew as protesters gather for a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 17, 2024. (Reuters)
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Israeli Supreme Court Says Ultra-Orthodox Men Must Serve in Military

A man carries an Israeli flag next to an ultra-Orthodox Jew as protesters gather for a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 17, 2024. (Reuters)
A man carries an Israeli flag next to an ultra-Orthodox Jew as protesters gather for a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 17, 2024. (Reuters)

Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled unanimously that the military must begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men for military service, a decision that could lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition as Israel continues to wage war in Gaza. 

The court ruled that in the absence of a law that distinguishes between Jewish seminary students and other draftees, Israel’s compulsory military service system applies to the ultra-Orthodox like any other citizens. 

Under longstanding arrangements, ultra-Orthodox men have been exempt from the draft, which is compulsory for most Jewish men and women. These exemptions have long been a source of anger among the secular public, a divide that has widened during the eight-month-old war, as the military has called up tens of thousands of soldiers and says it needs all the manpower it can get. Over 600 soldiers have been killed. 

Politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties, key partners in Netanyahu’s governing coalition, oppose any change in the current system. If the exemptions are ended, they could bolt the coalition, causing the government to collapse and leading to new elections. 

During arguments, government lawyers told the court that forcing ultra-Orthodox men to enlist would “tear Israeli society apart.” 

The court decision comes at a sensitive time, as the war in Gaza drags on into its ninth month and the number of dead soldiers continues to mount. 

The court found that the state was carrying out “invalid selective enforcement, which represents a serious violation of the rule of law, and the principle according to which all individuals are equal before the law.” 

It did not say how many ultra-Orthodox should be drafted. 

The court also ruled that state subsidies for seminaries where exempted ultra-Orthodox men study should remain suspended. The court temporarily froze the seminary budgets earlier this year. 

In a post on the social media platform X, cabinet minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, who heads one of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition, called the ruling “very unfortunate and disappointing.” He did not say whether his party would bolt the government. 

“The state of Israel was established in order to be a home for the Jewish people whose Torah is the bedrock of its existence. The Holy Torah will prevail,” he wrote. 

The ultra-Orthodox see their full-time religious study as their part in protecting the state of Israel. Many fear that greater contact with secular society through the military will distance adherents from strict observance of the faith. 

Ultra-Orthodox men attend special seminaries that focus on religious studies, with little attention on secular topics like math, English or science. Critics have said they are ill-prepared to serve in the military or enter the secular work force. 

Religious women generally receive blanket exemptions that are not as controversial, in part because women are not expected to serve in combat units. 

The ruling now sets the stage for growing friction within the coalition between those who support drafting more ultra-Orthodox and those who oppose the idea. Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers are likely to face intense pressure from religious leaders and their constituents and may have to choose whether remaining in the government is worthwhile for them. 

Shuki Friedman, vice-president of the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank said the ultra-Orthodox “understand that they don’t have a better political alternative, but at same time their public is saying ‘why did we vote for you?’” 

The exemptions have faced years of legal challenges and a string of court decisions has found the system unjust. But Israeli leaders, under pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties, have repeatedly stalled. It remains unclear whether Netanyahu will be able to do so again. 

Netanyahu’s coalition is buoyed by two ultra-Orthodox parties who oppose increasing enlistment for their constituents. The long-serving Israeli leader has tried to adhere to the court’s rulings while also scrambling to preserve his coalition. But with a slim majority of 64 seats in the 120-member parliament, he's often beholden to the pet issues of smaller parties. 

Netanyahu has been promoting a bill tabled by a previous government in 2022 that sought to address the issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment. 

But critics say that bill was crafted before the war and doesn’t do enough to address a pressing manpower shortfall as the army seeks to maintain its forces in the Gaza Strip while also preparing for potential war with the Lebanese Hezbollah group, which has been fighting with Israel since the war in Gaza erupted last October. 

With its high birthrate, the ultra-Orthodox community is the fastest-growing segment of the population, at about 4% annually. Each year, roughly 13,000 ultra-Orthodox males reach the conscription age of 18, but less than 10% enlist, according to the Israeli parliament’s State Control Committee.