Kyiv and Moscow have signed deals to end Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports and allow the export of millions of tonnes of trapped grain, in what the United Nations called “a beacon of hope” during a devastating war and fears of a food crisis in some parts of the world.
The agreement brokered by the UN and Turkey foresees the reopening of at least three Ukrainian ports, from which ships will ply safe, mine-free channels across the Black Sea to the Bosphorus and on to the Mediterranean.
The ships will be monitored by a co-ordination centre in Istanbul staffed by representatives of Turkey, the UN, Russia and Ukraine, and safety guarantees have been given for vessels and ports involved in the operation.
“Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea. A beacon of hope, a beacon of possibility, a beacon of relief in a world that needs it more than ever,” UN secretary general António Guterres said on Friday after the signing ceremony in Istanbul.
“This is an agreement for the world. It will bring relief for developing countries on the edge of bankruptcy and the most vulnerable people on the edge of famine. It will help stabilise global food prices which were already at record levels even before the war,” he added.
Kyiv and Moscow cautiously welcomed the deal, but there is no trust between them almost five months after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbour that has killed thousands of people, displaced millions, laid waste to towns and cities in parts of Ukraine and devastated its economy.
“Ukraine does not sign any documents with Russia. We sign an agreement with Turkey and the UN and undertake obligations to them. Russia signs a mirror agreement with Turkey and the UN,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak made clear on Twitter.
“No transport escort by Russian ships and no presence of Russian representatives in our ports. In case of provocations, an immediate military response ... All inspections of transport ships will be carried out by joint groups in Turkish waters”.
UN and Turkish officials are expected to be present in the ports of Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny to monitor the safety of areas covered by the agreements, and staff of the joint monitoring centre in Istanbul will check that ships travelling to Ukraine are not carrying weapons; Ukrainian pilot ships will guide vessels to the open sea to avoid sea mines in coastal waters.
Ukraine says about 20 million tonnes of grain are ready for export, and will ease pressure on world food prices, bring in much needed revenue, and create space in silos for the next harvest in the coming months.
The European Union tweaked its sanctions on Russia this week to free up money that will be used for transactions related to food and farming.
“It is very important that this grain reaches world markets and that the indirect restrictions that apply to our products also allow the market to receive additional volumes of fertilisers, grain and so on,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.