Ukraine, Russia sign deal to reopen grain export ports as war rages

  • The United Nations and Turkey worked to broker an export deal between Ukraine and Russia
  • A hopeful sign of progress towards alleviating the global food crisis
  • Russia and Ukraine sign agreement as war rages in eastern Ukraine
  • Zelensky in Ukraine: The possibility of turning the tide on the battlefield

ISTANBUL/Kyiv (Reuters) – Russia and Ukraine signed a landmark agreement on Friday to reopen Ukraine’s Black Sea ports for grain exports, raising hopes that a global food crisis exacerbated by Russia’s invasion could be eased.

The agreement capped two months of talks brokered by the United Nations and Turkey aimed at what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called a “package” that would restore Ukrainian grain exports while easing Russian shipments of grain and fertilizer despite harsh Western sanctions on Moscow.

Guterres said the agreement opens the way for large volumes of commercial food exports from three major Ukrainian ports – Odessa, Chernomoresk and Yuzhny, and that the United Nations will set up a coordination center to monitor implementation of the agreement.

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“Today there is a beacon on the Black Sea. A beacon of hope … and possibility … and relief in a world that needs it more than ever,” Guterres told the crowd.

But fighting has raged relentlessly in eastern Ukraine, highlighting the deep-rooted animosity and mistrust that has led to Europe’s worst conflict since World War II. The flags have been modified so that they are not next to each other.

“In the event of provocations (there will be) an immediate military response” from Ukraine, presidential adviser in Kyiv Mikhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter before the ceremony.

Russia and Ukraine, both of the world’s largest food exporters, sent their defense and infrastructure ministers respectively to Istanbul for the signing ceremony, which was also attended by Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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The blockade of Ukrainian ports by the Russian Black Sea fleet, trapping tens of millions of tons of grain in silos and stranding many ships, has exacerbated global supply chain bottlenecks and, combined with sweeping Western sanctions, has fueled accelerating inflation in food and energy prices. around the world. Globalism.

Moscow has denied responsibility for the worsening food crisis, blamed Western sanctions for slowing its exports of food and fertilizer, and blamed Ukraine for mining routes to its Black Sea ports.

Senior UN officials told reporters on Friday that the agreement was expected to be fully implemented within a few weeks. Read more

They said safe passage to and from the ports would be guaranteed in what one official called a “virtual ceasefire” for the ships and facilities covered, although the word “ceasefire” was not included in the text of the agreement.

They said that although Ukraine had mined nearby sea areas as part of its defenses against the five-month-old Russian invasion, Ukrainian pilots would guide ships along safe channels in its territorial waters.

UN officials said the ships, monitored by a joint coordination center based in Istanbul, would then move the Black Sea to Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait and destined for world markets.

The deal will be valid for 120 days but is renewable and not expected to be discontinued any time soon.

“The fact that two parties are at war – and are still very much at war – have been able to negotiate an agreement of this kind … I think this is unprecedented,” a UN official said.

Another said a separate agreement signed on Friday would facilitate Russian food and fertilizer exports, and that the United Nations welcomed clarifications from the United States and the European Union that their sanctions would not apply to such shipments.

To address Russian concerns about ships smuggling weapons into Ukraine, all returning ships at a Turkish port will be checked by representatives of all parties and supervised by the Joint Coordination Center.

The overall goal is to help avert starvation among tens of millions of people in poor nations by pumping more wheat, sunflower oil, fertilizer and other products into global markets including for humanitarian needs, in part at lower prices.

The United States welcomed the agreement and said it was focusing on holding Russia accountable for its implementation.

Turkey, a NATO member with good relations with both Russia and Ukraine, controls the straits to the Black Sea and has acted as a mediator on the grain issue.

Turn the tide of the battlefield?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with top commanders on Thursday and said Kyiv’s forces, now increasingly armed with Western precision and longer-range weapons, have strong potential to turn the tide on the battlefield.

A senior US defense official said, on Friday, that the United States believes that the Russian army suffers hundreds of casualties daily, including thousands of officers up to the rank of general, during the war.

The official said Washington also believes Ukraine has destroyed more than 100 “high-value” Russian targets in Ukraine, including command posts, ammunition depots and air defense sites.

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There have been no major frontline breakthroughs since Russian forces captured the last two Ukrainian-held cities in the eastern Luhansk province in late June and early July.

Russian forces are now focused on capturing all of the neighboring Donetsk Province on behalf of the separatist proxies who have declared two separate mini-states covering the wider Donbass industrial region.

In a morning update, the Ukrainian General Staff said that Russian forces backed by heavy artillery continued to attempt to advance towards the cities of Kramatorsk and Bakhmut and the Vohlherska thermal station in Donetsk, but made no significant progress.

Kyiv hopes that its gradually increasing supply of Western weapons, such as the US High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), will allow it to counterattack and reclaim lost eastern and southern territories.

On Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry said its forces destroyed four HYMARS systems from July 5-20. Kyiv denied the allegations, describing them as “fake” aimed at draining Western support for Ukraine. Reuters was unable to verify these assertions. Read more

Russia says it is conducting a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbor and rid it of dangerous nationalists.

Kyiv and the West say Russia is waging an imperialist campaign to restore its pro-Western neighbour, which was freed from Moscow’s rule when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

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Reporting by Reuters offices. Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Stephen Coates, Nick McPhee, and William McLean

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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