Russia and Ukraine sign agreement with Turkey to export grain

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ISTANBUL — Russia and Ukraine agreed on Friday to resume stalled grain shipments, in a step towards easing a global crisis that has exposed tens of millions of people, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. , to the threat of acute hunger, said the United Nations Secretary. announced general.

One of two agreements signed on Friday in Istanbul, brokered by the UN and aided by Turkey, guarantees the safe passage of commercial vessels from the Ukrainian port of Odessa and two other ports, which are currently cut off by a blockade Russian naval. A side deal is supposed to facilitate Russian grain and fertilizer exports, they said.

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The grain deal is in effect for a period of 120 days and is renewable, according to the text of the agreement posted on the Facebook page of Andrii Sybiha, the deputy chief of staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, the two countries were among the world’s leading producers and exporters of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer. Last year, Ukraine accounted for 10% of global wheat exports, according to the United Nations. More than 20 million tonnes of grain have been blocked in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, sparking global shortages and fears of worsening hardship ahead.

In a sign of the sensitivities weighing on the deal, representatives of Russia and Ukraine did not sit together at the Istanbul ceremony, chaired by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“We haven’t reached this point in an instant,” said Erdogan, whose government has close ties to Ukraine and Russia. He described the negotiations to reach an agreement as “intense and arduous”.

And for all the complexity of the negotiations, the grain deal seemed to hinge on a lack of goodwill, relying largely on Russian assurances that it would not attack merchant ships or port facilities involved in the deal. ‘initiative. Even so, officials expressed optimism.

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

“It will bring relief to developing countries on the brink of bankruptcy and to the most vulnerable people on the brink of starvation,” he added.

Sybiha called the initiative “an important step to avert the global food crisis”, in a message posted on Twitter.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the Russian signatory, said Russia would not seek any military advantage from reopening and clearing Ukrainian ports to allow grain shipments. “Russia has assumed the obligations that are very clearly set out in this document. We will not benefit, in this case, from mine clearance and the opening of ports,” he said in a speech on the state television channel Rossiya 24. He expected the transport of grain to begin “in the next few days”. He said the agreement would help solve the global problem of food security.

The agreements are the fruit of conversations Guterres had with Ukrainian and Russian leaders in April to resolve the spiraling food crisis. Turkey, which has good relations with the two countries and controls the passage through the Bosphorus, the entrance to the Black Sea, has played an active mediating role.

For months, the talks stalled, as a sign of the lack of trust between the belligerents. Ukrainian diplomats have complained that their security concerns are not being acknowledged, with Russia downplaying the scale of the global food crisis. Ships’ insurers needed to be assured that ships would not be attacked, struck by mines, or faced other dangers in an active war zone.

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UN officials said the deal on Ukrainian grain shipments hinges on a complex regime that establishes safe channels through the Black Sea and inspections to ensure weapons are not sent to Ukraine by these channels. Despite early speculation, there will be no large-scale demining of Ukrainian ports, a process considered too long. Ukrainian pilots will guide commercial vessels from ports. Minesweepers will be used as needed, officials said.

There would be no military escort of the ships, whose passage will be controlled from a coordination center in Istanbul made up of representatives of the parties to the agreements. In addition to Odessa, the agreement covers shipments from the ports of Chernomorsk and Yuzhny, António Guterres said.

A side deal is supposed to facilitate the export of grain and fertilizers from Russia, although its purpose was unclear: these products are not subject to sanctions by the United States or the European Union. A second UN official said they hoped it would help reduce soaring fertilizer costs that could impact next crop yields. The two UN officials spoke on condition of anonymity because when they spoke the agreements had not yet been signed.

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the Ukrainian president, said in a Twitter post on Friday afternoon that Ukraine was not signing a direct agreement with Russia, but rather with Turkey and the United Nations. Russia would sign a “mirror” agreement, he said.

And there would be “no presence” of Russian representatives in Ukrainian ports, he said. “In case of provocations”, he added, “an immediate military response”.

The announcement comes as countries around the world, and particularly in East Africa, struggle to feed themselves. A group of seven East African countries, including Somalia and South Sudan, said on Friday that 50 million people in their countries face acute food insecurity this year while some 300,000 are on the brink. of starvation.

Mercy Corps, the aid organization, said in a statement that while the deal could help ease grain shortages, “it will not end or significantly alter the trajectory of the worsening food crisis. world”.

“Unblocking Ukrainian ports will not reverse the damage the war has done to crops, farmland and agricultural transit routes in the country,” the group said. “We must recognize that our global food systems were already failing and record numbers of people were heading into poverty and hunger due to the economic crisis of the COVID-19 crisis and the impacts of climate change.”

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