Russia, Ukraine sign deal freeing up grain exports
Agreement hailed as chance to ease world food crisis
ISTANBUL — Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements Friday with Turkey and the United Nations clearing the way for the export of millions of tons of desperately needed Ukrainian grain — as well as some Russian grain and fertilizer — across the Black Sea. The long-sought deal ends a wartime standoff that has threatened food security around the globe.
The U.N. plan will enable Ukraine — one of the world’s key breadbaskets — to export 22 million tons of grain and other agricultural goods stuck in Black Sea ports due to Russia’s invasion. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it “a beacon of hope” for millions of hungry people facing huge increases in the price of food.
“A deal that allows grain to leave Black Sea ports is nothing short of lifesaving for people across the world who are struggling to feed their families,” said Red Cross
Director-General Robert Mardini. He noted that over the past six months, prices for food have risen 187% in Sudan, 86% in Syria and 60% in Yemen, just to name a few countries.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signed separate, identical deals Friday with Guterres and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar at a ceremony witnessed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. Russia and Ukraine would not sign any deal directly with each other.
Guterres described the deal as an unprecedented agreement between two parties engaged in a bloody conflict. Erdogan hoped it would be “a new turning point that will revive hopes for peace.”
Yet in Kyiv, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba sounded a more somber note.
“I’m not opening a bottle of Champagne because of this deal,” Kuleba said. “I will keep my fingers crossed that this will work, that ships will carry grain to world markets and prices will go down and people will have food to eat. But I’m very cautious because I have no trust in Russia.”
The European Union immediately welcomed the news.
“This is a critical step forward in efforts to overcome the global food insecurity caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
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 being transported through Europe by rail, road and river, but the prices of vital commodities like wheat and barley have soared during the war.
Although international sanctions against Russia did not target food exports, the war has disrupted shipments of Russian products because shipping and insurance companies did not want to deal with Russia.
Guterres said the plan, known as the Black Sea Initiative, opens a path for significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports: Odesa, Chernomorsk
The agreement, obtained by the AP, says a joint coordination center will be set up in Istanbul staffed by officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the U.N. to run the plan, including scheduling cargo ships’ arrivals and departures. The center will be headed by a U.N. official.
Inspection teams with representatives from all parties in Turkey will search vessels entering and leaving Ukrainian ports to ensure there are no weapons or soldiers on board. Inspections will take place at the
entry and exit of the Bosporus.
Under the deal, “all activities in Ukrainian territorial waters will be under authority and responsibility of Ukraine,” and the parties agree not to carry out attacks against vessels and port facilities in the initiative. If demining is required to make the shipping lanes safe, a minesweeper from another country could clear the approaches to Ukrainian ports.
The sides will monitor the movement of ships remotely and no military ships, aircraft or drones
will be allowed to approach “the maritime humanitarian corridor” closer than a distance set by the center. The agreement will remain in effect for 120 days and can be extended automatically.
A senior U.N. official said it will take a few weeks before the deal is fully working, adding that Ukraine needs about 10 days to get the ports ready and also needs time to “identify and be clear about those safe corridors.” The aim is to export 5 million tons of grains per month to empty Ukraine’s silos in time for this year’s harvest.