Russia and Ukraine sign resumption of grain exports under Turkey and UN supervision

Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement Friday in Istanbul through the mediation of the United Nations and Turkey to resume grain exports from Ukrainian ports in a solution to the food crisis stemming from the lack of grain in the world’s neediest countries.

Under the agreement, a coalition of Turkish, Ukrainian and UN personnel will supervise the loading of grain onto ships at the Ukrainian ports of Odessa, Chernomosk and Pivdenyi, before sailing a pre-planned route across the Black Sea.

The ships will cross the Black Sea to the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey, where a joint coordination center will be established in Istanbul, including representatives from the UN, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey. This center will also be responsible for screening ships entering Ukraine to ensure that they are not carrying weapons or combat materiel.

Similarly, the Russian and Ukrainian sides undertake to suspend any attacks on ships or ports involved in these exports. Turkish and UN personnel will be in Ukrainian ports to confirm security in the areas protected by the agreement.

As the founder of the Institute for Global Food Security, Chris Elliot, reminds ‘The Guardian’, Ukraine is the world’s fifth largest exporter of grain, and the United Nations buys almost half of its produce to feed millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

This is a “huge-scale” operation, involving the short-term resumption of exports of at least five million tons of grain, preparations for which could take a month before they are fully operational.

Ukraine additionally faces the task of clearing mines in the path of the ships, provided it finds enough ships to cover the delays. The success of the plan also depends on Moscow’s security assurances and on its keeping its side of the bargain in the midst of armed conflict.

In addition, the very nature of the signing of the agreement must be taken into account: Ukraine has affixed its signature next to that of Turkey and the UN, but has not done so directly with Russia, which it has never recognized as an interlocutor and on which it has already warned that it will not allow escorts of Russian ships or the presence of its representatives in Ukrainian ports.

The time frame for demining varies. While the International Maritime Organization has estimated that complete removal of mines near the ports would take months, the head of the Ukrainian Grain Association, Mikola Gorbachev, believes that it would take only 10 days to open the first exit route.

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Still a long way off, however, is the hope that Ukraine will be able to resume exports to pre-conflict levels, for a start because other ports in the country remain inoperative. Mikolaiv, near Kherson, is paralyzed by fighting while Chornomorsk is blocked by deliberately sunk ships.

“A BEACON TOWARDS PEACE”

All in all, the international community, starting with UN Secretary General António Guterres, has hailed the agreement as the first major pact reached between the two combatant parties since the beginning of the conflict.

“This is an unprecedented agreement between two parties involved in a bloody conflict. But that conflict continues and people are dying every day,” Guterres explained after the signing was achieved following “a long road” of negotiations.”

“The beacon of hope in the Black Sea is shining today thanks to the collective efforts of so many. In these difficult and turbulent times for the region and our world, let that beacon guide us in alleviating human suffering and securing peace,” he added.

The European Union’s High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, has assessed the agreement as “a step in the right direction” and called for its “swift implementation.” “The EU remains committed to further assisting with Ukrainian grain exports,” he has let it be known.

“Russia is deliberately destroying,” Borrell has charged, “Ukraine’s agricultural and transport infrastructure and equipment, causing fuel shortages and creating problems in the food supply chain around the world by blockading Ukrainian ports and plundering Ukrainian grain.”

In one of the first reactions from Ukraine, Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov applauded on his Twitter account that the signing of the agreement was “a great contribution to global food security.”

For his part, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed this “historic day” with the opening “in the coming days” of at least one sea corridor through which to resume exports. “We are proud to be instrumental in an initiative that plays an important role in solving the global food crisis,” he added.

“This joint step we are taking today in Istanbul with Russia and Ukraine will be a new turning point in reviving hopes for peace, this is my sincere hope. The war will finally end at the negotiating table,” he has assured.

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The United States, for its part, has warned that it will “hold Russia accountable for the implementation of the agreement,” according to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

From Europe, Italy’s interim prime minister, Mario Draghi, celebrated that the agreements “are excellent news for the entire international community” and called the pact “essential to allow these shipments to reach the citizens of many low- and middle-income countries and avoid a global food crisis.”

Likewise, the Italian head of government has stressed that from Rome they have supported Turkey’s mediation efforts. “We hope that these agreements represent a first step towards concrete prospects for peace, in terms that are acceptable to the United Nations and Ukraine,” he concluded, according to Adnkronos.

Alongside Draghi, the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, has welcomed “the agreement”, which is aimed at “benefiting millions around the world”, although it is now “of utmost importance” to ensure its implementation.

For her part, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has launched a publication on her profile on the social network Twitter in which she has also thanked Guterres for his “tireless efforts.”

Regarding the materialization of the agreements, the U.S. National Security spokesman, John Kirby, has stated that Washington will control at all times that the parties comply with what has been agreed, especially Russia.

AGREEMENT WITH RUSSIA ON GRAIN AND FERTILIZERS

Shortly thereafter, the Russian Foreign Ministry has also announced the additional signing of a memorandum of understanding on Russian exports of agricultural products between Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov and the UN Secretary General.

This memorandum seeks to “ensure transparent and unimpeded supply of Russian food and fertilizers, including raw materials materials for their production, to the world markets,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has made known in the note reported by the Interfax agency.

Russia hopes to open a channel of dialogue to “remove the obstacles that the United States and the EU have created in the areas of finance, insurance and logistics, and to achieve specific exemptions,” the minister said.

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