ISTANBUL — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were due to oversee the signing of a key deal on Friday that would allow Ukraine to resume shipping grain from the Black Sea to global markets and Russia to export grain and fertilizer — ending a stalemate that has threatened global food security.
Last week, the parties reached an agreement in principle on a UN plan that would allow Ukraine to export 22 million tonnes of grain and other desperately needed agricultural products that have been stuck in ports Black Sea Ukrainians because of the war. The release of grain stocks will help ease a food crisis that has sent prices of vital commodities such as wheat and barley soaring.
The agreement provides for the establishment of a control center in Istanbul, which will be staffed by UN, Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials, which would manage and coordinate grain exports, officials said. Ships would be inspected to ensure they were carrying grain and fertilizers and not weapons. It also provides for the safe passage of ships.
António Guterres first spoke of the critical need to bring Ukrainian agricultural production and Russian grain and fertilizer production back to world markets during meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv late april.
He proposed a comprehensive deal in early June, fearing the war would endanger the food supply of many developing countries and worsen hunger among 181 million people.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, maize and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion and blockade of its ports has halted their shipment.
Some grain is transported across Europe by rail, road and river, but the amount is small compared to sea routes.
Russian and Ukrainian officials blamed each other for the stalled grain shipments. Moscow has accused Ukraine of failing to remove sea mines from ports to allow safe shipping. Russia has also insisted on its right to screen incoming ships for arms.
Ukraine has asked for international guarantees that the Kremlin will not use safe corridors to attack the port of Odessa on the Black Sea. Ukrainian authorities have also accused Russia of stealing grain from its eastern regions to sell and of deliberately bombing Ukrainian fields to set them on fire.
On Thursday evening, a spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry appeared to outline Kyiv’s terms for backing the plan.
Oleh Nikolenko told reporters that the Ukrainian delegation “will only support decisions that will guarantee the security of the southern regions of Ukraine, the strong position of the Ukrainian armed forces in the Black Sea and the safe export of Ukrainian agricultural products to world markets”. “
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States welcomed the tentative agreement. “But what we are focused on now is holding Russia accountable for implementing this deal and allowing Ukrainian grain to access world markets. It’s been far too long since Russia has had this blockade,” Price said.