Russia and Ukraine sign an agreement on grain exports


Ukraine and Russia have reached a deal that would allow the resumption of vital grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, a major diplomatic breakthrough aimed at easing a global food crisis triggered by the war.

The ministers of the two countries signed an agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in Istanbul.

The breakthrough follows months of negotiations and promises to unblock Black Sea ports to allow the safe passage of grains and oilseeds – some of Ukraine’s most important exports.

Russia has so far blocked sea access to these ports, which means that millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain have not been exported to the many countries that depend on it.

“Today there is a lighthouse on the Black Sea. A glimmer of hope – a glimmer of possibility – a glimmer of relief – in a world that needs it more than ever,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday.

“Promoting the well-being of humanity has been the driving force behind these talks,” he said. “The question was not what is good for one side or the other. The focus has been on what matters most to the peoples of our world. And let there be no doubt, this is a deal for the world.

Guterres said the deal will bring relief to developing countries and help stabilize world food prices, “which were already at record highs even before the war – a real nightmare for developing countries.”

The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that 47 million people entered a phase of acute hunger as a result of the war in Ukraine, and Western officials have accused Russia of using food as a weapon during its invasion.

The agreement will also allow unhindered access of Russian fertilizers to world markets. Russia is a major producer of fertilizers, which are essential for maximizing food production, and the cost of the product has skyrocketed since the invasion.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “millions of people will be relieved from this danger of hunger” thanks to the deal.

“In the next few days we will see the start of maritime traffic and many countries will get a breath of fresh air,” Erdogan said.

Under the deal signed on Friday, the grain ships would navigate a safe Black Sea corridor under Ukrainian pilots and then cross the Bosphorus Strait – a major shipping corridor in northwestern Turkey – in order to reach the world level. markets.

The ships would be inspected before arriving in Ukraine by Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish officials, to ensure that weapons are not smuggled into Ukraine.

The vessels will be controlled by a Joint Coordination Center (JCC) which will be immediately established in Istanbul and will include representatives from Ukraine, Russia and Turkey.

Both sides have agreed that there should be no attacks on any of the ships departing from these ports outside territorial waters to the Black Sea by any side.

Before the signing of the agreement, the Ukrainian government warned Russia against any provocation. “No transport escort by Russian ships and no presence of Russian representatives in our ports,” tweeted Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the chief of staff of the Ukrainian president, on Friday.

“In case of provocations, an immediate military response,” he added.

Podolyak also added that Ukraine was not signing an agreement with Russia, but with Turkey and the UN. He also said ship inspections would be carried out in Ukrainian waters, by joint groups, if necessary.

The Black Sea will not be demined; a long and complex process that UN mining experts, as well as Turkey and Ukraine, said was a no-start. Naval mines in the Black Sea have been a significant obstacle to efforts to revive grain exports, with Ukraine and Russia accusing each other of exploiting the waters.

Both Ukraine and Russia are major food suppliers to the world. In normal times, Ukraine – known as one of the breadbaskets of the world – would export around three-quarters of the grain it produces. According to data from the European Commission, about 90% of these exports were shipped by sea from Ukrainian Black Sea ports.

The war and its impact on cereal exports therefore have major implications, particularly in the countries of the South which are highly dependent on it. Between the disruption of Ukrainian agricultural production and the blocking of the export of the remaining products, Russia’s war in Ukraine could plunge 49 million people into famine or near-famine conditions, the United Nations has warned. last month.

The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that 47 million people have gone into a phase of acute hunger as a result of Ukraine wa

This year’s harvest is underway in Ukraine, adding even more urgency to the negotiations. Fields have come under attack in recent days, leaving farmers running to save their crops.

Storage problems also hampered farmers; last month, a grain storage silo was destroyed in the town of Mykolaiv, which Ukraine says Russia hit with aerial cruise missiles.

The UN hopes that under the agreement, a monthly export of 5 million tonnes of grain would leave ports each month, a figure comparable to pre-war levels.

While the ability to export grain to the Black Sea is a major breakthrough, the amount Ukraine can ship has been badly affected by the war.

Ukrainian Grain Association Chairman Mykola Horbachov said on Friday that unblocking Ukrainian ports was the only way to prevent a global food crisis and save Ukrainian agricultural producers. He said that the Russians stole about 500,000 tons of grain from the occupied territories and that about 1 million tons of grain remained in the silos under the control of the occupiers.

Earlier this month, Ukraine’s Grain Traders’ Union said it expected a grain and oilseed harvest of 69.4 million tonnes, slightly above previous forecasts but well below the 106 million tonnes harvested last year.

Agriculture Minister Taras Vysotskiy said the grain harvest could be at least 50 million tonnes, up from 86 million tonnes in 2021. At least half of this production is for export, according to the trade union.

Wheat production and export in an already tight global market could be most at risk. French consultancy Agritel said this month it expects Ukraine to harvest 21.8 million tonnes of wheat this summer, up from 32.2 million last year.

Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov described the deal he signed at the Istanbul ceremony as “great support for Ukraine’s economy”.

Western officials have accused Russia of deliberately strangling the global supply chain during the country’s war in Ukraine. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the food was part of the Kremlin’s “arsenal of terror” and the United States accused it of “weaponizing” the food.

The United States and other Western countries welcomed Friday’s deal. But US State Department spokesman Ned Price warned on Thursday, when a tentative agreement was reached, that Washington would focus on “Russia’s responsibility in implementing this agreement”.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Friday: “The UK and our allies have worked hard to get to this point. Now this deal must be implemented, and we will ensure that Russia’s actions match its words. »

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