Russia and Ukraine on Friday signed a landmark deal to reopen Ukraine’s Black Sea ports for grain exports, raising hopes an international food crisis exacerbated by the Russian invasion can be alleviated.
The deal 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 both Ukrainian grain exports and Russian grain and fertilizer shipments despite tough Western sanctions against Moscow would facilitate.
Guterres said the deal opens the way for significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports — Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny — and that the UN would set up a coordination center to oversee the deal’s implementation.
But fighting in eastern Ukraine continued unabated, and to underscore the deep-seated hostility and distrust that sparked the worst conflict in Europe since World War II, Russian and Ukrainian officials declined to attend the ceremony and the presentation of the two Countries to sit at a table’ flags have been adjusted so that they are no longer side by side.
“In case of provocations (there will be) an immediate military response,” Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted.
Russia and Ukraine, both 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 Tayyip Erdogan.
A blockade of Ukrainian ports by the Russian Black Sea Fleet, locking tens of millions of tons of grain in silos and stranding many ships, has worsened shortages in global supply chains and, combined with sweeping Western sanctions, fueled runaway inflation in food and energy prices around the world .
Moscow has denied responsibility for worsening the food crisis, instead blaming Western sanctions for slowing its own food and fertilizer exports and Ukraine for cutting access to its Black Sea ports.
Senior UN officials briefing reporters on Friday said the deal is expected to be fully operational in a matter of weeks.
Safe entry and exit from ports would be guaranteed by a “de facto ceasefire” for affected ships and facilities, they said, although the word “truce” was not in the text of the agreement.
Although Ukraine has mined nearby offshore areas as part of its defense against the five-month-old Russian invasion, Ukrainian pilots would guide ships through safe channels in their territorial waters, they said.
Overseen by a joint coordination center based in Istanbul, the ships would then transit the Black Sea to Turkey’s Bosphorus Straits and on to world markets, UN officials said.
The deal is valid for 120 days but is renewable and not expected to be stopped any time soon.
“The fact that two parties at war – and still very much at war – were able to negotiate an agreement of this kind… I think that’s unprecedented,” said a UN official.
Another said a separate pact signed on Friday would ease Russia’s food and fertilizer exports, and the UN welcomed clarifications from the US and European Union that their sanctions would not apply to such supplies.
To address Russian concerns about arms smuggling ships to Ukraine, all returning ships at a Turkish port are inspected by representatives of all parties and overseen by the JCC.
The overall goal is to avert famine among millions of people in poorer countries by bringing more wheat, sunflower oil, fertilizers and other products to world markets, including for humanitarian purposes, sometimes at lower prices.
The United States welcomed the deal and said it focused on holding Russia accountable for its implementation.
Turkey, a NATO member with good relations with Russia and Ukraine, controls the strait that leads to the Black Sea and has acted as a mediator on the grain issue.
TURNING THE BATTLEFIELD BLOOD?
Meeting with senior commanders on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kiev’s armed forces, now increasingly equipped with longer-range, accurate western weapons, had strong potential to turn the tide on the battlefield.
The United States believes Russia’s military suffers hundreds of casualties every day as the war progresses, including thousands of officers up to the general rank, a senior US defense official said Friday.
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.
There have been no major breakthroughs at the front since Russian troops occupied the last two cities occupied by Ukraine in the eastern province of Lugansk in late June and early July.
Russian forces are now focused on capturing the entirety of neighboring Donetsk province on behalf of separatist proxies who have declared two breakaway mini-states covering the wider industrialized Donbass region.
In its morning update, Ukraine’s General Staff said Russian forces with heavy artillery continued to try to advance towards the cities of Kramatorsk and Bakhmut and the Vuhlehirska thermal power plant 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 retake lost eastern and southern territories.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday its forces destroyed four HIMARS systems between July 5 and 20. Kyiv dismissed the claims, calling them “fake” intended to undermine Western support for Ukraine. Reuters could not verify the claims.
Thousands of people were killed by Russian bombing and cities and towns were devastated, some hit by rockets far from the front lines. Moscow denies deliberately shooting at civilians and says all of its targets are military in nature.
Russia says it is conducting a “military special operation” to demilitarize its neighbor and rid it of dangerous nationalists.
Kyiv and the West say Russia is launching an imperialist campaign to retake a pro-Western neighbor who broke free from Moscow’s rule when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/ukraine-and-russia-sign-deal-to-reopen-grain-export-ports-as-war-rages-on-41860737.html Ukraine, Russia sign deal to reopen grain export ports as war rages on