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A “basic, technical” agreement has been reached between Ukraine and Russia to move crucial grain exports out of blockaded Black Sea ports, according to Turkey’s government, which has been working to broker a deal.
The positive step, announced by Ankara’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, followed talks in Istanbul between the different parties, after months of deadlock. Shipments of grain from Ukraine via Black Sea ports have been stopped since Russia invaded in late February.
Millions of tons of grain needed to feed import-dependent countries in places like the Middle East and Africa are sitting in storage, with food prices rising.
Akar said the initial deal includes resolving technical details, such as establishing a coordination center in Istanbul where representatives of all parties would be present; joint controls at port exit and arrival points; and ensuring “navigational safety on the transfer routes.”
“We see that the parties are willing to solve this problem,” Akar said in a statement, adding that a final deal will be coordinated with the U.N. and another meeting should be held next week in Turkey intended to sign off on the agreement.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was more reserved after Wednesday’s talks, though he did say in his nightly address that his country’s delegates had informed him there was “some progress.”
“We are indeed making significant efforts to restore the supply of food to the world market,” Zelenskyy said. “We will agree on the details with the U.N. secretary-general in the coming days.”
Ukraine is wary of becoming vulnerable to attacks if it removes the mines that are protecting its ports, but are also blocking their access to the sea. To strike a deal, Ukraine has said Russia needs to provide guarantees that it won’t hit the ports or grain ships as they start operating again.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, whose organization has been working with Turkey to broker the talks, said the different sides had reached “substantive agreement on many aspects” of unblocking Black Sea trade, “related to mechanisms of control, related to the system of coordination, relating to the questions of the mining.”
“Today in Istanbul, we have seen a critical step, a step forward to ensuring the safe and secure export of Ukrainian food products through the Black Sea. In a world darkened by global crises, today at last, we have a ray of hope,” Guterres told a press conference.
He added that more technical work was needed to secure a final deal, “but the momentum is clear.”
Guterres was more cautious, however, on whether a final agreement will be signed next week.
“I never like to make predictions,” Guterres said. “We are hoping we are able to reconvene very soon, I’m sure next week, and hopefully we’ll be able to have a final agreement.”
He also cautioned that he did not see the initial deal as a sign of Russia potentially ending the war in Ukraine.
“We cannot overestimate the importance of this agreement [for addressing the global food crisis] … But I do not see immediately the perspective of a peace agreement,” Guterres said. “I think in any case this demonstrated that the parties are able to have a constructive dialogue and this is of course very good news. But for peace, we still have a long way to go.”