Russia and Ukraine have signed a deal to reopen Ukrainian Black Sea ports for grain exports, Turkey and the United Nations said, raising hopes that an international food crisis aggravated by the Russian invasion can be eased.
Russia and Ukraine, both among the world’s biggest exporters of food, sent their defence and infrastructure ministers respectively to Istanbul to take part in the signing ceremony, the two sides said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed the deal as a ‘an agreement for the world’, though admitted it ‘did not come easy… it has been a long road’.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, whose country provided a neutral ground on which to sign the treaty, was quick to lap up praise for his part in organising the arrangement.
‘We are proud to be instrumental in an initiative that will play a major role in solving global food crisis that has been on the agenda for a long time,’ he said.
He went on to boldly claim: ‘War will end at the negotiating table. This is a turning point.’
The blockade on Ukrainian ports by Russia’s Black Sea fleet has worsened global supply chain disruptions and, along with Western sanctions imposed on Moscow, stoked high inflation in food and energy prices since Russian forces swept into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Guterres said the accord opens the way to significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports – Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny – and explained the U.N. would set up a coordination centre to monitor implementation of the deal.
British foreign secretary and prime ministerial candidate Liz Truss congratulated Turkey and the U.N. for brokering the deal, but stressed the onus lay with Russia to honour its promises.
‘Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine has meant some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world are at risk of having nothing to eat,’ Truss said in a statement.
‘Now this agreement must be implemented, and we will be watching to ensure Russia’s actions match its words.’
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and U.N. Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, left sit as Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu shakes hands with Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar at Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, Turkey
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu is pictured signing the Russian end of the deal, Turkey July 22, 2022
Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov attends the signing ceremony in Istanbul
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (L), Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov (centre), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R, seated) and Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar (R, standing) are pictured as Ukrainian and Russian delegates sign an agreement designed to allow Ukraine to export vital grain
Grain fields burn, on the outskirts of Kurakhove, Donetsk Oblast, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, July 21, 2022
Why did Russia agree to the deal?
Putin had been accused of ‘weaponising’ the food crisis, deliberately driving up global prices in response to Western sanctions that hampered the Russian economy.
But today’s agreement marks a rare moment of diplomacy between the warring countries, leaving many to ask why Russia has appeared to drop its belligerence.
Putin said earlier this week the deal was effectively a quid pro quo which would also unblock the export of Russian grain, food and fertiliser to global markets.
A second pact was signed which smoothed exports and ensured that no US or EU sanctions would apply.
Exports were never explicitly banned but some shipping companies have avoided carrying Russian goods because of the risks involved.
Putin said: ‘As you know, Americans have essentially lifted restrictions on the supply of Russian fertilisers to the world markets.
‘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.’
Putin hopes the deal will give him leverage and allow for further concessions towards Russia, while also boosting the economy by allowing for its own exports to flow more freely
To address Russian concerns about ships smuggling weapons to Ukraine, all returning ships will be inspected at a Turkish port by representatives of all parties and overseen by the JCC.
Diplomats said last week details of the plan included Ukrainian vessels guiding grain ships through mined port waters, with Turkey overseeing inspections of ships to allay Russian concerns they might smuggle weapons to Ukraine.
Some 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos at Odesa, and dozens of ships have been stranded by Moscow’s offensive.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted on Thursday that Friday’s gathering in Istanbul would mark ‘the first step to solve the current food crisis’.
The United States also welcomed the deal and said it was focusing on holding Russia accountable for implementing it.
Moscow has denied responsibility for the worsening food crisis, blaming instead a chilling effect from Western sanctions for slowing its own food and fertiliser exports and Ukraine for mining the approaches to its Black Sea ports.
The United Nations and Turkey have been working for two months to broker what Guterres called a ‘package’ deal – to restore Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports while easing Russian grain and fertiliser shipments.
Guterres said that overseeing the deal was one of the most important feats in his career, but admitted nothing could be done to punish Russia if it were to renege on the terms of the agreement.
The U.N. chief said a breach of the agreement would constitute ‘an absolutely unacceptable scandal and the whole international community would react in a very strong way.’
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who signed the agreement personally, said that Moscow would not ‘take advantage’ of the de-mining and opening of Ukrainian ports.
‘Russia has taken on the obligations that are clearly spelled out in this document,’ Shoigu said on the Rossiya-24 state TV channel after the signing ceremony in Istanbul.
‘We will not take advantage of the fact that the ports will be cleared and opened.
‘We have made this commitment.’
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said the European Union had proposed relaxing some earlier sanctions to shore up global food security, though it is unclear whether these terms were included in the final deal.
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.
Russian-Israeli oligarch Roman Abramovich, who has also been acting as a negotiator and ambassador throughout the conflict, was pictured in attendance at today’s signing.
Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich (C) is pictured witnessing the signing of an agreement to protect Ukrainian grain exports
United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (L) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) arrive for a signature ceremony of an initiative on the safe transportation of grain and foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports, in Istanbul, on July 22, 2022
Ukrainian farmers collect wheat at a field about 15 miles from the front line in the Chuhuiv region of Kharkiv area, Ukraine, 19 July 2022, amid the Russian invasion
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (R) waits prior to a signing ceremony of the grain shipment agreement after their meeting in Istanbul
Despite the signing of the deal, fighting is continuing unabated in Ukraine’s east.
Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky met senior commanders on Thursday and said Kyiv’s forces, now increasingly armed with precision, longer-range Western weaponry, had strong potential to turn the tide on the battlefield.
The United States believes Russia’s military is sustaining hundreds of casualties a day, including thousands of officers up to general rank in total, in the course of the war, a senior U.S. defense official said on Friday.
‘The chain of command is still struggling,’ the official said in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, although Ukraine had also endured significant casualties.
The official said Washington also believed that Ukraine had destroyed more than 100 ‘high-value’ Russian targets in Ukraine, including command posts, ammunition depots and air-defence sites.
There have been no major breakthroughs on front lines since Russian forces seized the last two Ukrainian-held cities in eastern Luhansk province in late June and early July.