Putin to use U.N. grain deal as leverage at G20, European diplomat says

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference following the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) leaders' summit in Astana, Kazakhstan October 14, 2022. Sputnik/Valery Sharifulin/Pool via REUTERS

LONDON, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to use the possible extension of the U.N.-brokered Black Sea grain deal as a way to gain leverage and dominate next month's G20 summit in Indonesia, a European diplomat briefed on the grain talks told Reuters.

Ahead of the Nov. 19 expiry of the grain deal, which allows Ukrainian Black Sea grain exports, Russian officials have repeatedly said that there are serious problems with it.

But a European diplomat who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the discussions said that Putin will attend the G20 summit on the resort island of Bali that begins on Nov. 15.

The Kremlin, which has not yet confirmed that Putin will attend, declined immediate comment. Putin said on Oct. 14 that he had not yet made a final decision about whether or not he would go.

If he does, it will be the first major global summit the Kremlin chief has attended alongside major Western leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden since the war began on Feb. 24.

"The grain deal will be the centrepiece of this G20 summit and everyone will be trying to convince Putin to extend it, essentially to allow it to roll over or to extend it for longer," the European diplomat said.

"It is a way for the Russians to hold the cards at the G20 summit but a rollover or a longer term extension to the grain deal doesn’t cost them anything."

The United Nations-brokered grain deal is crucial for food markets: it allows the export of grain from Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, that the Russian invasion had halted.

Since the deal was clinched on July 22, several millions of tonnes of corn, wheat, sunflower products, barley, rapeseed and soya have been exported from Ukraine's Black Sea ports.

Leaders at the G20 will push Putin to extend the deal, the diplomat said. Ultimately, the diplomat said, Russia will allow the deal to rollover for four months - or even go for a longer extension.

"Russia will take it to the brink but they will extend because they won’t want to face the international opprobrium of ending the grain deal," the diplomat said.

"This is the first big event since the war began and every head of state who wants to be a mediator – beginning with President Macron – will make a beeline for Putin’s hotel room to be the mediator who convinced Putin to extend the grain deal – so Putin will be the kingmaker at this summit."

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Mark Trevelyan, William Maclean

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