"A beacon of hope and relief". This is how UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the agreement reached yesterday in Istanbul between Russia and Ukraine that paves the way for the export of Ukrainian grain. The two countries signed separate agreements with Turkey and the UN to unblock grain shipments from Ukrainian ports, which are estimated to hold more than 20 million tonnes of grain.
The agreement signed today by Ukraine, the Russian Federation & Türkiye under UN auspices opens a path for commercial food exports from Ukraine in the Black Sea.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) July 22, 2022
It will help avoid a food shortage catastrophe for millions worldwide.
It is a beacon of hope, possibility & relief.
The deal, which comes after several weeks of difficult negotiations between Moscow and Kiev with Ankara and the UN as mediators, has a duration of 120 days, or about four months. To follow up and ensure that both sides respect the agreement, a coordination and monitoring centre will be set up in Istanbul consisting of UN, Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials. Once the agreed timeframe has been reached, the pact could be renewed if both sides agree.
Both Russia and Ukraine are committed to respecting the safe corridors established in the Black Sea through which the ships carrying the goods will sail. Kiev expects grain to start leaving through three ports: Odessa, Pivdenny and Chornomorsk. Ukrainian ships will then guide the cargo ships through the mined waters. In return, Russia pledges not to attack the ports while the ships arrive or depart with grain.
One of the requirements put forward by Moscow was the inspection of the ships, as it fears they may harbour weapons for Ukraine. These searches will be carried out on departure and arrival of vessels at two commercial ports in Istanbul: Haydarpasa, at the entrance to the Bosphorus Strait, and at Ambarli on the Sea of Marmara.
In addition to this agreement, the UN and Russia have signed a memorandum guaranteeing that Western sanctions against Moscow will not directly or indirectly affect grain and fertilisers. Certain countries, such as Senegal, had previously addressed this point, calling for sanctions on these products to be lifted.
"The sanctions against Russia worsened the situation with the supply of cereals and fertilisers to African countries. We don't have access to them. This has consequences from the point of view of the continent's food security," stressed Macky Sall, president of Senegal and the African Union, after a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in early June.
Le Président #Poutine nous a exprimé sa disponibilité à faciliter l’exportation des céréales ukrainiennes.— Macky Sall (@Macky_Sall) June 3, 2022
La Russie est prête à assurer l’exportation de son blé et de son engrais.
J’appelle tous les partenaires à lever les sanctions sur le blé et l’engrais. pic.twitter.com/7PqVLNhqWD
The deal is a shot in the arm for global food security, which was facing a serious crisis as a result of the war between Russia and Ukraine, the world's main grain suppliers and on which 30 percent of wheat exports from more than 30 countries depend, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
According to Anna Nagorny - quoted by AP - a professor of crisis management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a board member of the Kiev School of Economics, 400 million people in the world depend on Ukrainian food supplies.
Because of this critical situation, the international community has welcomed this agreement that can alleviate the effects of the food crisis. "This is a fundamental step in efforts to overcome the global food insecurity caused by Russia's aggression against Ukraine," EU diplomacy chief Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter.
The agreements signed by Ukraine, Russia, Turkey & @UN are a critical step in overcoming the global food insecurity caused by Russia‘s aggression against Ukraine.— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) July 22, 2022
EU remains committed to help #Ukraine bring as much of its grain into global markets as possible.
Full Statement: https://t.co/fAC3vuh7nY
"An agreement that allows grain to leave Black Sea ports saves lives of people around the world struggling to feed their families," said Red Cross director general Robert Mardini. In a statement, Mardini said that in the past six months, food prices have risen by 187 per cent in Sudan, 86 per cent in Syria and 60 per cent in Yemen. In this food crisis, the countries with humanitarian problems are the ones that cause the most concern.
Amidst alarming global food insecurity,— Robert Mardini (@RMardiniICRC) July 22, 2022
today’s Black Sea deal to allow grain exports is an encouraging step.
My statement ? pic.twitter.com/yMZK160tMM
For this reason, African nations such as South Africa and the Ivory Coast have praised the agreement reached in Istanbul. "The grain supply will be useful for Africa, so I am particularly pleased," said South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at a joint press conference in Pretoria with his Ivorian counterpart, Alassane Ouattara. "Since the beginning of the conflict we have held the view that it must be resolved through negotiation," he added. Ramaphosa also stressed that this agreement could lay the groundwork for an end to the war. "We should see this agreement as something that could signal the end of the conflict," he said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been actively involved in shuttle diplomacy to resolve the Ukraine grain crisis from day one pic.twitter.com/JH98AcOUlo— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) July 22, 2022
On this point Guterres also agrees, describing the agreement as "an unprecedented pact between two parties involved in a bloody conflict". "You have overcome obstacles and set aside differences to pave the way for an initiative that will serve the common interests of all," the UN secretary general said, addressing the Russian and Ukrainian delegations, who sat at separate tables during the ceremony.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has emerged as a mediator between Kiev and Moscow since the Russian invasion began, made a similar point. The Turkish leader referred to the agreement as "a new turning point that would revive hopes for peace", AP reports.
Ukraine grain export deal clears the way for exporting millions of tons of desperately needed Ukrainian grain – as well as Russian grain and fertilisers – ending a standoff that had threatened food security around the globe pic.twitter.com/9S8tIOngqI— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) July 22, 2022
However, Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, admitted to AP that he "would not open a bottle of champagne for this agreement". "I'll keep my fingers crossed that this will work, that ships will bring grain to world markets, prices will go down and people will have food to eat," he said. "But I am very cautious because I don't trust Russia," Kuleba added.
I welcome the signing of the initiative on the safe transportation of grain and other food exports from Ukrainian ports. Resuming them is vitally important for Ukraine and the world. I commend the efforts of @AntonioGuterres and count on the UN to ensure proper implementation.— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) July 22, 2022
Indeed, a day after signing the agreement, the Ukrainian army has denounced a Russian cruise missile attack on a commercial port in Odessa. Two missiles hit the port, while two others were shot down by air defence forces, Ukraine's Southern Operational Command reported on Telegram, according to Reuters..
President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video that "there may be some provocations from Russia", although the Ukrainian leader stressed that he "trusts the UN". Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhailo Podolyak has already warned that any Russian provocation 'will face an immediate military response'.
The UK, like Ukraine, looks askance at Russia after the deal was signed. "We will be watching to make sure that Russia's actions match its words," said foreign secretary Liz Truss. The US has urged Russia to act quickly to prevent further international food insecurity. It has also warned that it will monitor Moscow for compliance.
#Zelensky July 22nd— Oriannalyla ?? (@Lyla_lilas) July 22, 2022
1/ "Today, our state and the entire civilized world have reached an important agreement – we have an agreement that allows us to unblock Ukrainian ports.
About 20 million tonnes of last year's grain harvest will be exported. pic.twitter.com/OmwUrGi1lM
Despite the accusations and mistrust, Russia is trying to present itself as a reliable partner that will abide by the agreement. Defence Minister and leader of the Russian delegation in Istanbul, Sergei Shoigu, told reporters after the signing of the agreement that Russia "assumes the obligations" and "will not take advantage of the fact that the ports will be cleaned and opened".
BREAKING Russian Defense Minister Shoigu arrives in Istanbul ahead of grain export agreement signing, which will open Ukraine’s heavily mined Black Sea ports, in hopes of easing the food security crisis. The document must be signed by Russian, Turkish & UN representatives. pic.twitter.com/4OOZSHTKUx— Fiorella Isabel (@FiorellaIsabelM) July 22, 2022
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also spoke out after the signing of the treaty. The head of Russian diplomacy has once again attacked the West for its "absolutely unfounded accusations", which he called "unacceptable and inhuman". According to Lavrov, the US and its allies use food security for "geopolitical adventures". "It is gratifying that Washington and Brussels have stopped blocking the realisation of the agreements," Lavrov added.
❗ The signing of the #RussiaUN memorandum reiterated the absolutely artificial nature of the West’s attempts to shift the blame for the problems in supplying grain to international markets on Russia.— MFA Russia ?? (@mfa_russia) July 23, 2022
? Read in full: https://t.co/qIz6pJzmAm pic.twitter.com/YRWsywN8uE
While the international community has welcomed this hopeful agreement, the parties and their actions need to be closely monitored, especially Russia, which has previously been accused of failing to respect humanitarian corridors during the first weeks of the invasion. This important treaty comes on the same day that Ukraine marks 150 days at war, a conflict that, despite international diplomatic efforts, is becoming increasingly entrenched.