Russia and Ukraine signed a landmark deal on Friday to reopen Ukrainian Black Sea ports for grain exports, raising hopes that an international food crisis aggravated by the Russian invasion can be eased.
The accord crowned two months of talks brokered by the UN and Turkey aimed at what UN Secretary General António Guterres called a “package” that would both restore Ukrainian grain exports while easing Russian grain and fertiliser shipments despite tough Western sanctions on Moscow.
Mr Guterres said the accord opens the way to significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports – Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny, and the UN would set up a coordination centre to monitor implementation of the deal.
The agreement signed today by Ukraine, the Russian Federation & Türkiye under UN auspices opens a path for commercial food exports from Ukraine in the Black Sea.
It will help avoid a food shortage catastrophe for millions worldwide.
It is a beacon of hope, possibility & relief.
— António Guterres (@Antónioguterres) July 22, 2022
Russia and Ukraine, both among the world’s top exporters of food, sent their defence and infrastructure ministers respectively to Istanbul for the signing ceremony, also attended by Mr Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
A blockade of Ukrainian ports by Russia’s Black Sea fleet, trapping tens of millions of tonnes of grain in silos and stranding many ships, has worsened global supply chain bottlenecks and, along with sweeping Western sanctions, stoked galloping inflation in food and energy prices around the world.
Senior UN officials, briefing reporters on Friday, said the deal was expected to be fully operational in a few weeks.
Safe passage into and out of the ports would be guaranteed in what one official called a “de facto ceasefire” for the ships and facilities covered, they said, although the word “ceasefire” was not in the agreement text.
Though Ukraine has mined nearby offshore areas as part of its defences against Russia’s five-month-old invasion, Ukrainian pilots would guide ships along safe channels in its territorial waters, they said.
#Ukraine has agreed to partially de-mine its ports in the Black Sea, sources told @nytimes.
According to them, #Kyiv is ready to take this step as part of a deal to export #Ukrainian grain. pic.twitter.com/NCO4kEFx1C
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) July 22, 2022
Monitored by a Joint Coordination Centre based in Istanbul, the ships would then transit the Black Sea to Turkey’s Bosphorus strait and proceed to world markets.
The deal will be valid for 120 days but renewable and would not be expected to be stopped any time soon.
The overall objective is to help avert famine among tens of millions of people in poorer nations by injecting more wheat, sunflower oil, fertiliser and other products into world markets including for humanitarian needs, partly at lower prices.
The US welcomed the deal and said it was focusing on holding Russia accountable for implementing it. Turkey, a NATO member that has good relations with Russia and Ukraine alike, controls the straits leading into the Black Sea and has acted as a mediator on the grain issue.
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