Ukraine and Russia sign agreement to reopen grain exports

ISTANBUL (AP) — Russia and Ukraine on Friday signed separate agreements with Turkey and the United Nations paving the way for the export of millions of tons of desperately needed Ukrainian grain — as well as Russian grain and fertilizer – ending a wartime stalemate that had threatened food security around the globe.

The deal will allow Ukraine – one of the world’s main breadbaskets – to export 22 million tonnes of grain and other agricultural products stuck in Black Sea ports due to the Russian invasion . UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it a “beacon of hope” for millions of starving people who have faced huge increases in food prices.

“A deal that allows grain to leave Black Sea ports is nothing less than saving lives for people around the world struggling to feed their families,” said Red Cross director general , Robert Mardini, who noted that over the past six months, staple food prices have increased by 187% in Sudan, 86% in Syria, 60% in Yemen and 54% in Ethiopia .

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signed separate and identical agreements with Guterres and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar at a ceremony in Istanbul attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Today there is a lighthouse on the Black Sea,” said António Guterres. “A glimmer of hope, a glimmer of possibility, a glimmer of relief in a world that needs it more than ever.”

“You have overcome obstacles and put aside differences to pave the way for an initiative that will serve the common interests of all,” he said, addressing the Russian and Ukrainian envoys.

The European Union immediately welcomed the agreements.

“This is a critical step forward in efforts to overcome global food insecurity caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” said the EU’s foreign policy chief, Joseph Borrell. “Its success will depend on the swift and good faith implementation of today’s agreement.”

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion of the country and naval blockade of its ports have halted shipments. Some Ukrainian grain is transported across Europe by rail, road and river, but prices for vital commodities like wheat and barley have soared during the nearly five-month war.

Guterres said the plan known as the Black Sea Initiative paves the way for large volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports: Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.

“This will help stabilize world food prices, which were already at record highs even before the war – a real nightmare for developing countries,” António Guterres added.

The agreement includes provisions for the safe passage of ships through heavily mined waters. A coordination center will be established in Istanbul, made up of UN, Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials, to monitor ships and direct the process through specific corridors. Ships would be subject to inspections to ensure they were not carrying weapons.

A senior UN official said the cargo ships would use “safe channels” identified by Ukraine when entering and leaving ports and would be guided by Ukrainian pilots. The plan does not provide for further clearance of Ukrainian territorial waters, which would have delayed the process.

No military vessels would be used as an escort, but a minesweeper would be on standby in case the safe channels “require occasional checking”, the official said.

Ships entering Ukrainian ports would be checked by inspection teams that would include representatives from all parties involved to ensure there were no weapons on board. The unloading of cereals on ships will also be controlled.

A key part of the deal is an agreement between Russia and Ukraine that there will be no attacks on any of the vessels, according to the official.

It will take a few weeks before the deal is fully operational, the official noted, saying Ukraine needs about 10 days to prepare the ports and also needs time to “identify and be clear on those corridors. sure”.

A first movement of ships could be possible by then “just to show that they can work”, the official said.

The aim is to export about 5 million tonnes of grain per month to empty Ukrainian silos in time for the new harvest, according to the UN official. The agreement covers a renewable period of 120 days.

António Guterres first spoke of the critical need to bring Ukrainian agricultural production and Russian grain and fertilizer back to world markets in late April during meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

He proposed a comprehensive deal in early June, fearing the war would endanger the food supply of many developing countries and worsen hunger among 181 million people.

On Friday, Guterres described the deal as an unprecedented agreement between two parties embroiled in a bloody conflict. Erdogan said he hoped the initiative would be “a new turning point that will revive hopes for peace”.

Prior to the deal, Russian and Ukrainian officials accused each other of blocking grain shipments. Moscow accused Ukraine of failing to remove sea mines from ports to allow safe shipping and insisted on its right to screen incoming ships for weapons. Ukraine argued that the blockade of Russian ports and the launching of missiles from the Black Sea made safe shipping impossible.

Ukraine has demanded international guarantees that the Kremlin will not use safe corridors to attack the key Black Sea port of Odessa. Ukrainian authorities have also accused Russia of stealing grain in eastern Ukraine and deliberately bombing Ukrainian fields to set them on fire.

Volodymyr Sidenko, an expert with the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center think tank, noted that Ukraine did not raise the issue of grain stolen from the occupied territories during the talks.

“Apparently it was part of an agreement: Kyiv does not raise the issue of stolen grain and Moscow does not insist on checking Ukrainian ships. Kyiv and Moscow were forced to come to an agreement and compromise on many disputes,” he said.

The deal was also important for Russia’s geopolitical relations, the analyst noted.

“Russia has decided not to fuel a new crisis in Africa and to provoke hunger and government changes there,” Sidenko said. “The African Union has asked Putin to quickly ease the grain supply crisis and put pressure on the Kremlin, which has its interests in Africa.”


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