Ukraine, Russia agree to UN-backed deal to restart grain exports; global food crisis may be averted

Ukraine, Russia agree to UN-backed deal to restart grain exports; global food crisis may be averted

A catastrophic global food crisis may just have been averted, even though Russia continues to wage war throughout Ukraine.

Ukraine and Russia separately signed a U.N.-backed treaty in Istanbul on Friday that would allow Ukraine to export millions of tons of grain from blockaded Black Sea ports. Russia will also be able to export fertilizer products through the Black Sea, even though sanctions remain in place.

“Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio 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 put aside differences to pave the way for an initiative that will serve the common interests of all,” Guterres told the Russian and Ukrainian envoys.

Sunday, Jul 24, 2022 · 12:51:55 AM +00:00

Charles Jay

A day after the grain export agreement was signed, Russia launched a Kalibr missile attack on the Odesa port. Ukrainian air defense systems shot down two missiles, but two more hit the port’s infrastructure facilities, Ukrainskaya Pravda reported.

The Ukrainian military said a fire broke out in a pumping station, but did not cause any significant damage to the port infrastructure. The attack did not impactthe grain storage facility.

“It took less than 24 hours for the Russian Federation to launch a missile strike on the territory of the city of Odesa to question the agreement and the promises it made to the UN and Turkey in the document signed yesterday in Istanbu,”  Oleh Nikolenko, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Facebook.

“The Russian missile is Vladimir Putin spitting in the face of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, who made a huge effort to reach the deal, and to whom Ukraine is grateful.”

Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is calling on the U.N. and Turkey to ensure that Russia complies with its obligations with regard to the safe functioning of the grain corridor, Nikolenko said.

Sunday, Jul 24, 2022 · 1:00:33 AM +00:00

Charles Jay

On Saturday morning, a Russian missile strike hit the Odesa seaport. Ukrainian defenders shot down two missiles, but two more missiles hit the port’s infrastructure facilities, Ukrainskaya Pravda reported.

The Ukrainian military reported that a fire broke out in the pumping station, but there was no significant damage to the port infrastructure. The military said there was no impact on the grain storage facility.

Sunday, Jul 24, 2022 · 1:25:34 AM +00:00

Charles Jay

  • On Saturday morning, a Russian Khalibr missile strike hit the Odesa sea port — Ukrainian defenders shot down two missiles, but two more missiles hit the port’s infrastructure facilities, Ukrainskaya Pravda reported.
  • The Ukrainian military reported that a fire broke out in the pumping station, but there was no significant damage to the port infrastructure. The missile strike had no impact on the grain storage facility.
  • An official said some casualties were reported, but did not provide additional details. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who played a key role in brokering the deal over months of negotiations, was also present at the signing ceremony at Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.

Erdogan said he hoped the initiative would be “a new turning point that will revive hopes for peace,” The Associated Press reported.

The deal involved compromises on both sides, but in my opinion, is more of a setback for Russia. Russia had been accused of using food as a weapon in order to exert pressure on Ukraine to make concessions, and for its Western allies to ease sanctions imposed after Russia launched the invasion of its neighbor.

But as the war continued, Russian leader Vladimir Putin had to take into consideration Russia’s extensive interests in Africa, where countries friendly to Russia were demanding a resumption of Ukrainian grain shipments on which they depended.

The deal may also have an impact in the U.S. if it leads to lower prices on the global market for grain products.

The Guardian reported:

Guterres said in remarks at the ceremony that the deal would open the way to significant volumes of food exports from Ukraine and alleviate a parallel food and economic crisis in the developing world. He said “the beacon of hope was shining bright in the Black Sea” and called on Russia and Ukraine to fully implement the accord.

It is hoped the agreement will secure the passage of grain and essential goods such as sunflower oil from three Ukrainian ports including Odesa, even as the war continues to rage elsewhere in the country. The UN had warned that the war risked mass malnutrition, hunger and famine.

The deal is also aimed at ensuring the safe passage of Russian-made fertiliser products, essential for ensuring future high yields on crops, amid efforts to ease a global food crisis provoked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainskaya Pravda said Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signed the document with Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and the U.N.’s Guterres.

Ukraine insisted that it would not sign any document directly with Russia. A top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podoliak, put out the following Tweet: 

2. No transport escort by Russian ships and no presence of 🇷🇺 representatives in our ports. In case of provocations, an immediate military response. 3. All inspections of transport ships will be carried out by joint groups in 🇹🇷 waters in the event of such a need. 2/2

— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) July 22, 2022

Ukrainskaya Pravda reported that under the agreement, “the control over the seaports of Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Pivdennyi (Yuzhnye) was and remains entirely with the Ukrainian side. No vessels other than those intended to export grain and related food products and fertilizers are to be in these ports.”

According to Podoliak, there will be ”no transport escort by Russian ships or the presence of Russian representatives in Ukrainian ports.” In the event of provocations, there will be an immediate military response.

Russia’s official TASS news agency reported that Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu signed the same agreement with his Turkish counterpart and Guterres.

Here how Russia’s RIA-Novosti news agency spun the deal:

ISTANBUL, July 22 – RIA Novosti. Russia signed documents on lifting restrictions on the supply of Russian products for export and on facilitating the export of Ukrainian grain, RIA Novosti correspondent reports.

As Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu emphasized, the document involves the involvement of the UN in the work to lift restrictions on the export of agricultural products and fertilizers from Russia to world markets.

Both the TASS and RIA Novosti reports were pretty straightforward and relatively brief. There were quotes from Guterres and Erdogan.

The agreement was reached after talks were held earlier this month among military delegations from Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey, as well as U.N. representatives.

Here’s how the South African Broadcasting Corp. reported on the signing ceremony. South Africa is among the African countries that import a lot of grain from Ukraine.

The Associated Press reported:

The deal will enable Ukraine — one of the world’s key breadbaskets — to export 22 million tons of grain and other agricultural products that have been stuck in Black Sea ports due to Russia’s invasion.  …

“A deal that allows grain to leave Black Sea ports is nothing short of lifesaving for people across the world who are struggling to feed their families,” said Red Cross Director-General Robert Mardini, who noted that over the past six months prices for food staples have risen 187% in Sudan, 86% in Syria, 60% in Yemen and 54% in Ethiopia.

The AP reported that the European Union and Britain immediately welcomed the agreements.

“This is a critical step forward in efforts to overcome the global food insecurity caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. “Its success will depend on the swift and good faith implementation of today’s agreement.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the U.K. applauded Turkey and the U.N. for brokering the agreement.

“We will be watching to ensure Russia’s actions match its 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.”

Here is a copy of the deal as signed by Ukraine:

Here is the Russia, Ukraine grain deal. This one is signed by Ukraine

— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) July 22, 2022

Here are some details of the agreement as described by a senior U.N. official, according to The Guardian and the Associated Press.

  • A coalition of Turkish, Ukrainian, and U.N. staff will monitor the loading of grain onto vessels in Ukrainian ports before navigating a pre-planned route through the Black Sea, which remains heavily mined by Ukrainian and Russian forces.
  • Ukrainian pilot vessels will guide commercial vessels transporting the grain in order to navigate the mined areas around the coastline using a map of safe channels provided by the Ukrainian side.
  • The vessels will then cross the Black Sea toward Turkey’s Bosphorus strait while being closely monitored by a joint coordination center in Istanbul, containing representatives from the U.N., Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey.
  • Ships entering Ukraine will be inspected under the supervision of the same joint coordination center to ensure they are not carrying weapons or items that could be used to attack the Ukrainian side
  • The Russian and Ukrainian sides have agreed not to attack any of the cargo ships or ports engaged in the initiative to transport grain; U.N. and Turkish monitors will be present in Ukrainian ports in order to demarcate areas protected by the accord.  
  • No military ships would be used as escorts, but a minesweeper from an agreed party would be available if needed.

News reports indicated that it would take a few weeks for Ukraine to get the ports ready to resume the grain exports and establish the “safe corridors,” but there may be some trial runs before then.

The U.N. official said that the aim is to export about 5 million tons of grains per month to empty Ukraine’s silos in time for the new harvest, according to the AP. The agreement is for a renewable 120-day period.

Ukraine had accused Russia of using its Black Sea fleet to blockade its ports and make safe shipments impossible because of the threat of missile attacks. Russia said safe shipments were not possible because Ukraine had mined its ports—a move undertaken to prevent an amphibious attack by Russian invaders.

There remain other obstacles to resuming grain exports at previous levels. Ukraine has accused Russia of stealing grain from occupied regions of eastern Ukraine and deliberately setting fields on fire.

Volodymyr Sidenko, an expert with the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center think-tank, told the AP that Ukraine had not raised the issue of grain stolen from the occupied territories in the talks.

“Apparently, it was part of a deal: Kyiv doesn’t raise the issue of stolen grain and Moscow doesn’t insist on checking Ukrainian ships. Kyiv 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 decided not to fuel a new crisis in Africa and provoke a hunger and government changes there,” Sidenko said. “The African Union asked Putin to quickly ease the crisis with grain supplies and put pressure on the Kremlin, which has its interests in Africa.”

Russia failed to get any easing of sanctions as it previously demanded, but The Guardian reported that the U.S. and EU reassured businesses carrying Russian agricultural goods, particularly fertilizer, that they would not be violating sanctions ahead of signing the deal.

Saturday, Jul 23, 2022 · 6:25:11 AM +00:00

Charles Jay

A Ukrainian official said the port of Chernomorsk may be the first to operate as part of the agreement to lift the Russian blockade, and the first ship may pass through the unblocked corridor within four days, according to Ukrainskaya Pravda.

Yuriy Vaskov, Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and a member of the Ukrainian delegation at the negotiations in Istanbul, reported this in a comment to Economic Pravda.

“Our wish is that work should start within the next 3-4 days. The Coordination Center in Istanbul needs to be staffed for this to be possible, and we are currently discussing this issue. But representatives of all four parties must be established,” Vaskov said.

According to him, this can be done within four days, and then the resumption of shipping will begin immediately.

In response to clarification regarding the removal of mines from territorial waters, Vaskov noted that this issue is primarily a military one.

He said the first port to open may be Chernomorsk, then Odesa and the last of the three ports will be Pivdennyi.

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