ISTANBUL (AP) — Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements Friday with Turkey and the United Nations on a route to export millions of tons of Ukrainian grain — as well as some Russian grain and fertilizer — across the Black Sea. The long-awaited agreement ends a war-time conflict This has threatened food security around the world.
A UN plan to help Ukraine – one of the world’s main breadbaskets – export 22 million tons of grain and other agricultural products stranded in Black Sea ports because of Russia’s invasion.. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it a “beacon of hope” for millions of hungry people who have faced huge increases in food prices.
Robert Martini, director general of the Red Cross, said: “A deal to allow grain to leave Black Sea ports will save lives for people around the world. He noted that in the past six months, food prices have risen by 187% in Sudan, 86% in Syria and 60% in Yemen in just a few countries.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signed similar agreements with Guterres and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Agar on Friday at a ceremony in Istanbul. Russia and Ukraine have not directly signed any agreement.
“Today, there is a lighthouse in the Black Sea,” Guterres said. “A beacon of hope, a beacon of possibility, a beacon of relief in a world that needs it more than ever.”
“You overcome barriers, put aside differences, and pave the way for initiative that serves the common good of all,” he told the ambassadors.
Guterres described the agreement as unprecedented between two sides in a bloody conflict. Erdogan hoped it would be “a new turning point that renews hope for peace.”
Still in Kiev, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba sounded a more somber note.
“I haven’t opened a bottle of champagne because of this deal,” Kuleba told The Associated Press. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will work, that ships will bring grain to world markets, that prices will come down, that people will have food to eat. But I’m very cautious because I don’t trust Russia,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy echoed Kuleba’s concerns in his nightly video address, saying, “It is clear to everyone that there may be some provocation on the part of Russia, some attempt to discredit Ukrainian and international efforts. But we trust the UN.
The EU and UK immediately welcomed the news.
“This is an important step in efforts to overcome global food insecurity caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” said EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss praised Turkey and the UN for brokering the deal.
“We are watching Russia’s actions match its words,” Truss said. “For a permanent return to global security and economic stability, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin must end the war and withdraw from Ukraine.”
African leaders, who import food and fertilizers from Ukraine and Russia, also welcomed the deal, with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa saying “it took too long”.
Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion of the country and a naval blockade of its ports have halted exports. Some Ukrainian grain is transported through Europe by rail, road and river, but prices for staples such as wheat and barley have risen during the war.
Despite international sanctions against Russia Food exports were not targeted, and the war disrupted exports of Russian products as shipping and insurance companies did not want to deal with Russia.
The project, known as the Black Sea Initiative, opens the way for significant commercial food exports from three major Ukrainian ports: Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.
The agreement, obtained by the AP, states that a UN-led joint coordination center will be set up in Istanbul by officials from Ukraine, Russia and Turkey, including scheduling the arrivals and departures of cargo ships.
Inspectors representing all sides in the Bosphorus in Turkey will check ships entering and leaving Ukrainian ports to ensure they do not contain weapons or soldiers.
Under the agreement, “all operations in Ukrainian territorial waters will be under the authority and responsibility of Ukraine” and the parties agree not to attack ships and port facilities involved in the initiative. If demining is needed to secure shipping lanes, a demining machine from another country will clear the approaches to Ukrainian ports.
The parties will remotely monitor the movement of ships, and there will be no military ships. Aircraft or drones will be allowed to approach the “maritime humanitarian corridor” beyond a distance set by the Center. The agreement will be valid for 120 days and may be automatically extended.
According to UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, Guterres hopes grain exports will begin “within the next two weeks”. A senior UN official said Ukraine needed about 10 days to prepare the ports and time to “identify and clarify those safe corridors”. The aim is to export 5 million tons of grain per month to empty Ukraine’s silos in time for this year’s harvest.
Zelenskyy almost 20 million tons of grain will be exported initially, then some of the current harvest.
Guterres first raised Ukraine’s agricultural output and Russia’s supply of grain and fertilizer to world markets during meetings with Putin in Moscow in late April and Zelenskyy in Kiev, and then proposed a deal amid fears the war could escalate. 181 million people are hungry.
Peter Mayer, head of grains and oilseeds analysis at S&P Global Platts, said the deal “doesn’t mean the global supply crisis is over.”
Traders had been anticipating a deal for the past several weeks, so the effect may have already been reflected in grain prices, he said. The deal covers only the 2021 crop. There is still considerable uncertainty about Ukrainian production this year and next, the mayor said.
Before the agreements, Russian and Ukrainian officials blamed each other for blocked grain exports. Moscow accused Ukraine of failing to remove sea mines in its ports, urged it to check incoming ships for weapons and lift restrictions on Russian grain and fertilizer exports.
Ukraine argued that Russia’s port blockade and missile launches from the Black Sea made any safe sea shipments impossible. It demanded international guarantees that the Kremlin would not use safe corridors to attack Odessa and accused Russia of stealing grain from eastern Ukraine and deliberately setting Ukrainian fields on fire.
Volodymyr Sidenko, an expert at the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center think tank, said Ukraine did not raise the issue of stolen grain at the talks.
“This is part of an agreement: Kiev did not raise the issue of grain theft and Moscow did not insist on checking Ukrainian ships. Kiev and Moscow were forced to make an agreement and compromise,” he said.
The analyst noted that the agreement is also important for Russia’s geopolitical relations.
“Russia decided not to provoke a new crisis in Africa and provoke hunger and government changes there,” Sidenko said. “African Union asks Putin to ease crisis as soon as possible with grain deliveries.”
Fraser reports from Ankara, Turkey. Edith Lederer at the United Nations, Erika Kinets in Kyiv, Ukraine, Raf Gassert in Brussels, Jill Lawless in London and Keir Molson in Berlin contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine