Saturday, April 13

Ukraine and Russia sign UN-backed deal to restart grain exports | Ukraine


Ukraine and Russia have signed a UN-backed deal to allow the export of millions of tonnes of grain from blockaded Black Sea ports, potentially averting the threat of a catastrophic global food crisis.

A signing ceremony at Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul was attended by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, who had played a key role during months of tense negotiations.

Guterres said in remarks at the ceremony that the deal would open the way to significant volumes of food exports from Ukraine and alleviate a parallel food and economic crisis in the developing world. He said “the beacon of hope was shining bright in the Black Sea” and called on Russia and Ukraine to fully implement the accord.

It is hoped the agreement will secure the passage of grain and essential goods such as sunflower oil from three Ukrainian ports including Odessa, even as the war continues to rage elsewhere in the country. The UN had warned that the war risked mass malnutrition, hunger and famine.

The deal is also aimed at ensuring the safe passage of Russian-made fertilizer products, essential for ensuring future high yields on crops, amid efforts to ease a global food crisis provoked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

UN officials said they hoped preliminary shipments could begin as soon as Saturday, with the hope of reaching prewar levels of export from the three Ukrainian ports – a rate of 5m metric tonnes of grain a month – within weeks.

According to UN officials, under the agreement struck between Kyiv and Moscow:

  • A coalition of Turkish, Ukrainian and UN staff will monitor the loading of grain on to vessels in Ukrainian ports before navigating a pre-planned route through the Black Sea, which remains heavily mined by Ukrainian and Russian forces.

  • Ukrainian pilot vessels will guide commercial vessels transporting the grain in order to navigate the mined areas around the coastline using a map of safe channels provided by the Ukrainian side.

  • The vessels will then cross the Black Sea towards Turkey’s Bosphorus strait while being closely monitored by a joint coordination center in Istanbul, containing representatives from the UN, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey.

  • Ships entering Ukraine will be inspected under the supervision of the same joint coordination center to ensure they are not carrying weapons or items that could be used to attack the Ukrainian side.

  • The Russian and Ukrainian sides have agreed to withhold attacks on any of the commercial vessels or ports engaged in the initiative to transport vital grain, while UN and Turkish monitors will be present in Ukrainian ports in order to demarcate areas protected by the accord.

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Guterres said such a deal between two warring countries was “unprecedented” and that it would “bring relief for developing countries on the edge of bankruptcy and the most vulnerable people on the edge of famine.

“And it will help stabilize global food prices, which were already at record levels even before the war – a true nightmare for developing countries,” he added.

“Specifically, the initiative we just signed opens a path for significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea – Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny. The shipment of grain and food stocks into world markets will help bridge the global food supply gap and reduce pressure on high prices.”

The agreement is the product of months of constant and difficult negotiations between UN officials, including Guterres, and leading Russian and Ukrainian officials, who first broached the issue in April.

Ukraine grain map

US officials had accused the Russian government of effectively “weaponising food” by taking Ukrainian grain hostage in order to reduce the effects of sanctions on Russian exports. Still, the US and EU have both reassured businesses carrying Russian agricultural goods that they are not violating sanctions ahead of the signing of the deal.

Before the deal was announced on Friday, Kyiv said it had ruled out a direct agreement with Moscow. “Ukraine does not sign any documents with Russia. We will sign an agreement with Turkey and the UN,” presidential aid Mykhaylo Podolyak wrote on Twitter. He said Russia would sign a separate “mirror” agreement.

Senior UN officials said prior to the signing of the agreement that demining Ukraine’s coastline was not seen as a viable option. Ukrainian officials had expressed concerns that removing defensive mines from their coastline would increase their vulnerability to Russian attacks.

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But the agreement contains provisions for a potential minesweeping operation by an agreed party to check that the maritime route for the ships remains safe, as well as a potential search and rescue vessel in the Black Sea.

UN officials emphasized that the deal to prevent attacks only included specific areas in Ukraine’s ports covered by the grain agreement.

They added that they had engaged with the shipping industry and insurers to ensure the commercial costs of insuring the grain shipments does not become punitive, thereby raising the cost of the grain on the international market.

The details had been finalized after Erdoğan met Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, in Tehran earlier this week, officials in Ankara said. Turkey has the authority over sea traffic entering and leaving the Black Sea.

İbrahim Kalın, a spokesperson for Erdoğan, said the arrangement would be “critical for global grain security”.

Ukraine is the world’s fifth-largest wheat exporter but exports have badly stalled since the war began, with about 20m tonnes of grain stuck in silos at Odesa close to the frontline.

On Thursday night, the office of the Turkish president said a general agreement had been reached on a UN-led plan during talks in Istanbul last week and that it would now be put in writing by the parties.

The US state department said on Thursday night it welcomed the deal “in principle” and was focused on holding Russia accountable for implementing it.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, briefly mentioned the possible deal in his latest national address on Thursday evening, saying: “Tomorrow we also expect news for our state from Turkey – regarding the unblocking of our ports.”

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Earlier on Thursday, Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister, Taras Vysotskiy, said the country could restart exports quickly. “The majority of the [Odesa port] infrastructure … remains, so it is a question of several weeks in the event there are proper security guarantees,” he told Ukrainian television.

Moscow has denied responsibility for worsening the food crisis, blaming instead western sanctions for slowing its own food and fertilizer exports and Ukraine for mining its Black Sea ports.

Vladimir Putin effectively called the deal a quid-pro-quo earlier this week, saying that Russia would “facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain, but we are proceeding from the fact that all restrictions related to… the export of Russian grain will be lifted. ”

While Russian grain exports were not sanctioned by the US, some shipping companies have avoided carrying Russian goods because of the financial and reputational risks involved.

“As you know, Americans have lifted – essentially lifted – restrictions on the supply of Russian fertilizers to the world markets,” Putin said.

“If they sincerely want to improve the situation on the international food markets, I hope the same will happen with the supply of Russian grain for export.”




www.theguardian.com

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