Ukraine, Russia sign U.N. deal to export grain on Black Sea

Russia and Ukraine signed separate deals on Friday with Turkey and the United Nations that cleared the way for millions of tons of desperately needed Ukrainian grain, as well as Russian grain and fertilizer, to be exported, ending a wartime standoff that had threatened food security around the world.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signed separate agreements with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. The ceremony was witnessed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Today, there is a lighthouse in the Black Sea,” Guterres said. “A beacon of hope, a beacon of possibility, a beacon of relief in a world that needs it more than ever.”

“You have overcome obstacles and set aside differences to pave the way for an initiative that will serve the common interests of all,” he said, addressing the Russian and Ukrainian representatives.

Russian and Ukrainian officials were set to sign deals on Friday designed to clear millions of tons of desperately needed grain for export, ending a standoff sparked by war in Ukraine that threatened food security around the world.

The two countries were expected to sign separate agreements with Turkey and the United Nations that would allow Ukraine to export 22 million tons of grain and other agricultural products that have been stuck in Black Sea ports due to the war.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan planned to take part in a signing ceremony in Istanbul. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov were designated as signatories by their governments.

Military delegations from Ukraine and Russia reached a tentative agreement last week on a UN plan that would also allow Russia to export its grain and fertilizers. Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the President of Ukraine, emphasized on Friday that Ukraine and Russia will sign separate agreements.

“Ukraine does not sign any documents with Russia,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter, adding that his country would sign an agreement with Turkey and the UN, with Russia signing a separate “mirror agreement.”

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the Russian invasion of the country and a naval blockade of its ports have halted shipments. Some grain is transported across Europe by rail, road and river, but prices for vital commodities like wheat and barley have soared during the nearly five months of war.

The agreement makes provisions for the safe passage of ships. It envisions the establishment of a control center in Istanbul, staffed by Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian UN officials, to run and coordinate the process, Turkish officials said. The ships would undergo inspections to ensure they are not carrying weapons.

Podolyak insisted that no Russian ships would escort the ships and that no Russian representative would be present in Ukrainian ports. Ukraine also plans an immediate military response “in case of provocations,” he said.

Guterres first raised the critical need for Ukraine’s agricultural production and Russia’s grain and fertilizer to return to world markets in late April during meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv. .

He proposed a global deal in early June amid fears the war was jeopardizing food supplies for many developing nations and could worsen hunger for as many as 181 million people.

Russian and Ukrainian officials have blamed each other for the blocked grain shipments. Moscow accused Ukraine of failing to clear sea mines in ports to allow safe shipping and insisted on its right to check incoming ships for weapons. Ukraine has argued that Russia’s port blockade and missile launches from the Black Sea made the shipments unfeasible.

Ukraine has sought international assurances that the Kremlin would not use safe corridors to attack the Black Sea port of Odessa. Ukrainian authorities have also accused Russia of stealing grain from eastern Ukraine and deliberately shelling Ukrainian fields to set them on fire.

On Thursday night, a Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman appeared to lay out Kyiv’s conditions for backing the plan.

The Ukrainian delegation “will only support those decisions that ensure the security of the southern regions of Ukraine, the strong position of the Ukrainian armed forces in the Black Sea and the safe export of Ukrainian agricultural products to world markets,” the official said. spokesperson, Oleh. Nikolenko told reporters.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States welcomes the deal in principle. “But what we are focusing on now is holding Russia accountable for implementing this agreement and allowing Ukrainian grain to reach world markets. It has been too long since Russia has enacted this lockdown,” Price said.

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