A first ship loaded with grain of Ukrainian origin has sailed from Odessa, ending the blockade imposed by Russia

Ukraine starts exporting grain again

photo_camera AFP/DANIEL MIHAILESCU - Workers take samples of maize from a loaded ship at pier 80 in the Black Sea port of Constanta, 3 May 2022

The blockade on Ukrainian grain exports has ended. A ship loaded with 26,000 tonnes of Ukrainian corn has sailed from the Black Sea commercial port of Odessa, becoming the first food ship to leave the enclave since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The release of the grain follows an agreement reached between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul, where they signed an agreement to create a Black Sea corridor through which the grain would be transported so that global markets can continue to trade it. Until now, this part of the sea had been guarded - for the past five months - by Russian frigates that did not allow the passage of any ship that could transport this commodity, a situation that has generated a food crisis that has had repercussions on food prices.

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The pact stipulated that Ukrainian ships could set sail again from the port of Odessa, under the protection of Turkish frigates, in order to unblock the grain and make exports possible. As confirmed by the Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructures, this first ship is said to have left at six o'clock this morning for the port of Tripoli in Lebanon.

Turkey played a key mediating role in the approval of this first export. During the signing, where the Ukrainian and Russian representatives did not meet, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar first sealed the agreement with Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu and then signed it with Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov. 

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According to the agreement, Russia undertook not to attack Ukrainian ships as long as they were not used for the militarisation of Ukraine or for other war purposes. In addition, it was stipulated that, in order to enforce this condition, Turkey would organise a coordination centre from which it would ensure that ships leaving Odessa were only carrying goods that were not considered to be of a warlike nature. Together with Turkey, the UN will also be responsible for ensuring that the ships can sail safely and that the terms of the agreement are complied with.

The document also stipulates an expiry date for the agreement itself. Both Russia and Ukraine will be able to withdraw from the agreement after 120 days, at which point both Moscow and Kiev will decide to go ahead with the agreement.

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On the other hand, the mines in the vicinity of the Ukrainian coast will remain operational in the same location, but it has been agreed that demining could be carried out in the future, depending on the course of events and the prolongation of the conflict itself.

Some analysts consider this first agreement to be an important ceasefire that could also symbolise a rapprochement between the two sides. However, Ukraine wanted to clarify that this pact "is not an agreement with Russia", since, as the advisor to the Ukrainian president, Mikhail Podoliak, stated, "Ukraine is not signing any agreement with Russia". On the other hand, and according to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, this agreement benefits both countries as they would be "on the verge of bankruptcy" and will prevent the population from continuing to suffer food shortages.

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For Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, this will prevent "millions of people from going hungry" and will be a "breath of fresh air for many countries". Like countries such as France and the UK, Erdogan remains committed to diplomacy and is convinced that the negotiating table will be the only place where peace can be achieved.

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