Ukraine and Russia sign deal to resume Black Sea grain exports as UN chief hails ‘beacon of hope’

·2-min read
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sit at the start of the signature ceremony  (AFP via Getty Images)
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sit at the start of the signature ceremony (AFP via Getty Images)

Russia and Ukraine have signed deals allowing for millions of tons of desperately needed grain exports through the Black Sea.

The agreement brokered by Turkey and signed in Istanbul at 3.20pm on Friday has the potential to end the standoff brought on by the war in Ukraine that has threatened food security around the globe.

At the start of the signing ceremony in Istanbul, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the deal was “an agreement for the world” and a “beacon of hope”.

There has been a world shortage of grain since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February, with Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea leaving grain exports unable to pass.

It sent food prices soaring, and left millions across the world at risk from hunger. Around 20 million tonnes of grain is stuck in silos in Odesa.

Under the terms of the deal, a control centre in Istanbul, staffed by UN, Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials, would run and coordinate the grain exports, officials have said.

Ships would be inspected to ensure that they are carrying grains and fertiliser and not weapons. It also makes provision for the safe passage of the ships.

The price of Chicago wheat futures - a key benchmark for the global market - fell by more than 3% on Friday morning following news of the apparent agreement.

Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak ruled out any direct deals with Russia, saying they will sign an agreement with Turkey and the UN. He said Russia would sign a “mirror” deal.

In an address on Thursday night, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said: “And tomorrow we also expect news for our state from Turkey - regarding the unblocking of our ports.”

A spokesperson for the foreign ministry, Oleh Nikolenko, told reporters that Ukraine’s delegation "will support only those decisions that will guarantee the security of the southern regions of Ukraine, the strong position of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Black Sea and the safe export of Ukrainian agricultural products to world markets.”

Some of the grain is currently being transported through Europe by rail, road and river, but the amount is small compared with sea routes.

Ukraine has also worked to bring its previously defunct river ports into use to beat the blockade.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US welcomes the agreement in principle.

“But what we’re focusing on now is holding Russia accountable for implementing this agreement and for enabling Ukrainian grain to get to world markets,” said Mr Price.

“It has been for far too long that Russia has enacted this blockade.”

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