Kiev warns that any Russian provocation "will face an immediate military response"

Ukraine and Russia agree in Istanbul to unblock Ukrainian grain exports

AFP/DANIEL MIHAILESCU - Kiev and Moscow have reportedly reached an agreement to unblock Ukrainian grain exports, as reported by Turkey

Kiev and Moscow have reached an agreement to unblock Ukrainian grain exports. The two countries have separately signed a pact with Turkey and UN Secretary-General António Guterres in the offices of the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul.

The Russian delegation was led by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, while Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kobarko led the delegation from Kiev.

The two countries have signed separate agreements, AFP reports. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhailo Podolyak has indicated that Ukraine will only sign the agreement with the United Nations and Turkey. "Ukraine does not sign any documents with Russia. We sign and adhere to an agreement with Turkey and the UN. Russia signs a similar agreement with Turkey and the UN," Mikhailo Podolyak clarifies on Twitter. Podolyak also warns that any Russian provocation "will face an immediate military response".

This agreement will come as a great relief to the entire international community amid threats of a serious food crisis caused by the conflict in Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine are the world's main suppliers of wheat, so the invasion launched by Moscow increased grain prices and hindered its export. It is estimated that there are more than 20 million tonnes of grain stored in silos in Ukrainian ports such as Odessa. In this regard, Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of undermining ports and preventing ships from leaving. 

However, despite the export blockade, some ships have been able to leave Ukrainian ports. According to several reports, Russia has reportedly been stealing Ukrainian grain and supplying it to other countries, such as Syria, its main ally in the Middle East. Also, according to Ruslan Nechai, Ukraine's chargé d'affaires in Egypt, Cairo in May turned away two Russian ships carrying stolen Ukrainian wheat, he told The Wall Street Journal. 

Russia has been accused of stealing about 600,000 tonnes of Ukrainian grain since the invasion began on 24 February through June, according to UAC, a Ukrainian agricultural organisation. However, grain is not the only thing being looted by Russia during the war in Ukraine. Russian troops have been accused of stealing household appliances, furniture, clothes and jewellery

Ankara, mediator between Russia and Ukraine

Turkey has positioned itself as a key mediator between the two countries since the beginning of the conflict. It first hosted negotiations to bring about a cessation of hostilities and has recently organised meetings to reach an agreement on Ukrainian grain exports. Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said last week that the agreement includes controls to check supplies leaving ports. Ankara will also set up an export coordination centre with Ukraine, Russia and the UN.  

The UN has also been involved in negotiations to revive exports and alleviate the global food crisis. The Secretary-General "is travelling to Istanbul as part of his efforts to ensure full global access to Ukrainian food and Russian food and fertilisers," said Guterres' spokesman, Farhan Haq. After the latest meeting in Turkey, Guterres was optimistic, calling the progress "a glimmer of hope for alleviating human suffering and hunger around the world".

Moscow and Kiev have not confirmed the signing of the agreement, although the Ukrainian foreign ministry announced that another round of UN-led talks would take place in Turkey this Friday.

Russia, for its part, insists that the food crisis and rising prices are a direct consequence of the international sanctions imposed on Moscow. Indeed, at the end of May, President Vladimir Putin offered to help alleviate the crisis provided sanctions against his country were lifted. Since then, other Russian officials have rethought the offer, including Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic - Draghi: "El mundo se enfrenta a una grave crisis alimentaria que tendrá enormes consecuencias humanitarias"

The US, a key player in the conflict because of its significant support for Ukraine against Russia, has praised the deal, but has also said it will monitor Moscow's compliance. He also criticised Russia again for using food as a "weapon". "Russia has weaponised food during this conflict," said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

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