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Ukraine and Russia sign grain export deal in Istanbul

‘War will end at the negotiating table. This is a turning point’: Turkey’s Erdogan offers hope as Ukraine and Russia sign grain export deal

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Russia and Ukraine have signed a deal to reopen Ukrainian Black Sea ports for grain exports, Turkey and the United Nations said, raising hopes that an international food crisis aggravated by the Russian invasion can be eased.

Russia and Ukraine, both among the world’s biggest exporters of food, sent their defence and infrastructure ministers respectively to Istanbul to take part in the signing ceremony, the two sides said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed the deal as a ‘an agreement for the world’, though admitted it ‘did not come easy… it has been a long road’. 

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, whose country provided a neutral ground on which to sign the treaty, was quick to lap up praise for his part in organising the arrangement.

‘We are proud to be instrumental in an initiative that will play a major role in solving global food crisis that has been on the agenda for a long time,’ he said.

He went on to boldly claim: ‘War will end at the negotiating table. This is a turning point.’ 

The blockade on Ukrainian ports by Russia’s Black Sea fleet has worsened global supply chain disruptions and, along with Western sanctions imposed on Moscow, stoked high inflation in food and energy prices since Russian forces swept into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Guterres said the accord opens the way to significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports – Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny – and explained the U.N. would set up a coordination centre to monitor implementation of the deal. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (L) attend a signing ceremony of the grain shipment agreement between Turkey-UN, Russia and Ukraine, after their meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, 22 July 2022

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (L), Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov (centre), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R, seated) and Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar (R, standing) are pictured as Ukrainian and Russian delegates sign an agreement designed to allow Ukraine to export vital grain

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu is pictured signing the Russian end of the deal, Turkey July 22, 2022

Grain fields burn, on the outskirts of Kurakhove, Donetsk Oblast, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, July 21, 2022

Diplomats said last week details of the plan included Ukrainian vessels guiding grain ships through mined port waters, with Turkey overseeing inspections of ships to allay Russian concerns they might smuggle weapons to Ukraine.

Some 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos at Odesa, and dozens of ships have been stranded by Moscow’s offensive.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted on Thursday that Friday’s gathering in Istanbul would mark ‘the first step to solve the current food crisis’.

The United States also welcomed the deal and said it was focusing on holding Russia accountable for implementing it.

Moscow has denied responsibility for the worsening food crisis, blaming instead a chilling effect from Western sanctions for slowing its own food and fertiliser exports and Ukraine for mining the approaches to its Black Sea ports.

The United Nations and Turkey have been working for two months to broker what Guterres called a ‘package’ deal – to restore Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports while easing Russian grain and fertiliser shipments.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said the European Union had proposed relaxing some earlier sanctions to shore up global food security. Moscow hoped this would create conditions for untrammeled exports of grain and fertilisers.

Turkey, a NATO member that has good relations with Russia and Ukraine alike, controls the straits leading into the Black Sea and has acted as a mediator on the grain issue.

United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (L) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) arrive for a signature ceremony of an initiative on the safe transportation of grain and foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports, in Istanbul, on July 22, 2022

Ukrainian farmers collect wheat at a field about 15 miles from the front line in the Chuhuiv region of Kharkiv area, Ukraine, 19 July 2022, amid the Russian invasion

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (R) waits prior to a signing ceremony of the grain shipment agreement after their meeting in Istanbul

Despite the signing of the deal, fighting is continuing unabated in Ukraine’s east.

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky met senior commanders on Thursday and said Kyiv’s forces, now increasingly armed with precision, longer-range Western weaponry, had strong potential to turn the tide on the battlefield.

The United States believes Russia’s military is sustaining hundreds of casualties a day, including thousands of officers up to general rank in total, in the course of the war, a senior U.S. defense official said on Friday.

‘The chain of command is still struggling,’ the official said in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, although Ukraine had also endured significant casualties.

The official said Washington also believed that Ukraine had destroyed more than 100 ‘high-value’ Russian targets in Ukraine, including command posts, ammunition depots and air-defence sites.

There have been no major breakthroughs on front lines since Russian forces seized the last two Ukrainian-held cities in eastern Luhansk province in late June and early July.

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