Ukrainian grain export deal a ray of hope for global food security | Atalayar

“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 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.

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AFP – Main Black Sea ports

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.

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Vadim Savitsky /Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP – The UN and Russia have signed a memorandum guaranteeing that Western sanctions against Moscow will not affect, directly or indirectly, grain and fertilisers

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.

Global food security at stake

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.

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Oleksandr GIMANOV/AFP – Ukrainian ports estimated to hold more than 20 million tonnes of grain

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.

“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.

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.

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 doesn’t trust Russia: cruise missile strikes on Odessa

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.