The deal allows Ukraine – one of the world’s most important granaries – to export 22 million tons of grain and other agricultural products stuck in the ports of the Black Sea as a result of the Russian invasion. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called it “a beacon of hope” for millions of hungry people who have faced massive increases in food costs.
“A deal allowing grain to leave Black Sea ports is nothing short of a life-saver for people around the world who are struggling to feed their families,” said Robert Mardini, director-general of the Red Cross, who noted that prices for staple food in the past six months have risen by 187% in Sudan, 86% in Syria, 60% in Yemen and 54% in Ethiopia.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signed separate, identical agreements with Guterres and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar at a ceremony in Istanbul attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Today there is a beacon on the Black Sea,” Guterres said. “A beacon of hope, a beacon of opportunity, a beacon of relief in a world that needs it more than ever.”
“You have overcome obstacles and set aside differences of opinion to pave the way for an initiative that will serve the common interests of all,” he told Russian and Ukrainian envoys.
Guterres described the deal as an unprecedented agreement between two sides embroiled in a bloody conflict. Erdogan said he hoped the initiative would be “another turning point that will revive hopes for peace”.
The European Union and the UK immediately welcomed the agreements.
“This is a crucial step forward in efforts to overcome global food insecurity caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” said Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief. “Its success will depend on the prompt and good faith implementation of today’s agreement.”
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said her country applauds Turkey and the UN for reaching the agreement.
“We will see if Russia’s actions match his words,” Truss said. “To enable a lasting return to global security and economic stability, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin must end the war and withdraw from Ukraine.”
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the Russian invasion of the country and the naval blockade of its ports have halted shipments. Some of Ukrainian grain is transported across Europe by rail, road and river, but the prices of essential commodities such as wheat and barley have skyrocketed during the nearly five-month war.
Although international sanctions against Russia did not target food exports, the war disrupted shipments of Russian products because shipping and insurance companies refused to do business with Russia.
Guterres said the plan, known as the Black Sea Initiative, opens the way to significant amounts of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports: Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.
“It will help stabilize global food prices, which were already at record levels before the war – a real nightmare for developing countries,” Guterres added.
The deal provides for safe passage of ships through the heavily buried waters. A coordination center will be set up in Istanbul, staffed by UN, Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials, to monitor the ships and direct the process through specific corridors. Ships would undergo inspections to ensure they are not carrying weapons.
A senior UN official said cargo ships would use “secure channels” identified by Ukraine as…
in and out of ports and would be escorted by Ukrainian pilots. The plan does not provide for further demining of Ukraine’s territorial waters, which would have delayed the process.
No military ships would be used if:
but a minesweeper could be on standby in case the secure channels “need verification from time to time,” the official said.
Ships entering Ukrainian ports would be examined by inspection teams, including representatives of all parties involved, to ensure that no weapons are on board. The unloading of grain onto the ships will also be monitored.
An important part of the deal is an agreement between Russia and Ukraine that, according to the official, there will be no attacks on any of the ships.
It will take a few weeks for the deal to fully work, the official noted, saying Ukraine needs about 10 days to get the ports ready and also needs time to “identify and clarify those safe corridors”.
An initial movement of ships could be possible before then “just to show they can work,” the official said.
The goal is to export about 5 million tons of grains per month to empty Ukrainian silos in time for the new crop, the UN official said. The agreement is entered into for a renewable period of 120 days.
During meetings with Putin in Moscow and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kiev at the end of April, Guterres first raised the critical need to get Ukrainian agricultural production and Russian grain and fertilizers back onto the world market.
He proposed a package deal in early June, fearing the war would endanger the food supply of many developing countries and exacerbate the hunger of 181 million people.
Peter Meyer, head of grain and oilseed analysis at S&P Global Platts, said the deal does not “mean the global supply crisis is over”.
Traders have been expecting a deal in recent weeks, he said, so its effect could already be visible in grain prices, meaning they won’t fall sharply. And the agreement covers the 2021 harvest. There is still a lot of uncertainty about Ukrainian production this year and even next year, Meyer said.
Before the deal, Russian and Ukrainian officials blamed each other for the blocked grain shipments. Moscow accused Ukraine of not clearing naval mines in ports to allow safe shipping and insisted on its right to check incoming ships for weapons. Ukraine argued that the Russian port blockade and the launch of missiles from the Black Sea made safe transports impossible.
Ukraine has asked for international guarantees that the Kremlin would not use the safe corridors to attack the main Black Sea port, Odessa. Ukrainian authorities have also accused Russia of stealing grain from eastern Ukraine and deliberately shelling Ukrainian fields to set fire to them.
Volodymyr Sidenko, an expert at the think tank Razumkov Center in Kiev, said it appears Ukraine has not raised the issue of grain stolen from occupied territories during the negotiations.
“Apparently it was part of a deal: Kiev does not report stolen grain and Moscow does not insist on checking Ukrainian ships. Kiev and Moscow were forced to make a deal and compromise on many differences,” he said.
The deal was also important for Russia’s geopolitical relations, the analyst noted.
“Russia has decided not to fuel another crisis in Africa and cause hunger and government changes there,” Sidenko said. “The African Union has asked Putin to quickly alleviate the crisis with grain supplies and put pressure on the Kremlin, which has its interests in Africa.”