Russia, Ukraine Sign UN Deal To Export Grain - Relieves Looming "Nightmare For Developing Countries"
Update(11:15ET): The deal is official, signed late in the day in Istanbul under UN auspices - though the Ukrainian government has stressed it signed a "mirror agreement" with the UN and not with Moscow directly, per CNN:
Ukraine and Russia have agreed a deal that would allow the resumption of vital grain exports from Ukrainian Black Sea ports, a major diplomatic breakthrough aimed at easing a global food crisis sparked by the war, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday. Ministers from both countries signed an agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in Istanbul.
The breakthrough followed months of negotiations, and promises to unblock ports on the Black Sea to allow the safe passage of grain and oilseeds — some of Ukraine’s most important exports.
"Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea. A beacon of hope – a beacon of possibility – a beacon of relief – in a world that needs it more than ever," UN Secretary Guterres said Friday as the Ukraine-Russia deal was signed to allow for grain exports from previously blocked ports.
LATEST — Turkey, UN, Russia, Ukraine sign deal for resumption of Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exportshttps://t.co/UhSe9ovoSE pic.twitter.com/6hX3EJqZoR— DAILY SABAH (@DailySabah) July 22, 2022
Guterres hailed that the deal will stabilize global food prices and bring much-needed relief to already suffering populations heavily dependent on grain from the region - food prices "which were already at record levels even before the war – a true nightmare for developing countries."
Some of the early circulating details from the UN-Russia-Ukraine and Turkey-backed agreement...
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Turkey has announced that Russia and Ukraine are on the cusp of signing a deal that would allow for the resumption of crucial grain exports from Ukrainian ports, after days of intense negotiations in Istanbul. Expected to be signed Friday, details have yet to emerge, but The New York Times is reporting that Ukraine may have compromised on a key demand regarding demining its ports.
"The Turkish presidency says that a signing ceremony will be held on Friday to unveil a deal brokered between Ukraine and Russia" - which would allow some 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain to be released under the UN-sponsored plan, the Times reports. In the afternoon local time, Turkish President Erdogan said he's about to give the world "good news" on grain exports later in the day.
Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, has traveled to Turkey - presumably to finalize the deal. However the Ukrainian side is saying it will not sign any documents directly with Russia, but only that Ukraine and Russia will sign "mirror" agreements on grain exports with the UN.
"We can confirm that the signing is being prepared today," Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said, though it seems a lot could still go wrong: "But let’s wait — let’s not get ahead of ourselves," he quickly qualified.
Significantly, and further suggesting a deal is in the works, UN Secretary General António Guterres is now in Istanbul to help "ensure full global access to Ukraine’s food product and Russian food fertilizer," according to a UN statement.
"The situation remains a little bit fluid, so I can’t really say when something will be signed," UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq indicated Thursday. "But as you can see from the fact that he is traveling to Istanbul, we are moving ahead with this," he added of Guterres' trip. Additionally, the FT notes that Putin and Erdogan discussed the impending deal in Tehran this week:
Ibrahim Kalın, a spokesman and adviser to Erdoğan, said the signing would be "critical for global grain security". The final text was agreed after Erdoğan met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Tehran earlier this week.
While Kiev and its backers in the West have laid sole blame for disrupting vital global food supplies on Russian warships blocking ports and shipping lanes, the Kremlin has for months complained of Ukraine's military mining its own ports, saying that that it's first and foremost the issue of thousands of mines dotting the coast that makes regular commercial transit unsafe and thus impossible. But a potential breakthrough on this is being noted in the NY Times as follows:
According to three senior government officials, Mr. Guterres said Ukrainians had agreed to remove only a few of the mines and have their own Navy or Coast Guard captains steer freighters to international waters. Foreign crews would then take the ships to Istanbul, before continuing to other destinations.
Regarding the Istanbul agreement "on the export of 🇺🇦 grain". Previously.— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) July 22, 2022
1. Ukraine does not sign any documents with Russia. We sign an agreement with Turkey and the UN and undertake obligations to them. Russia signs a mirror agreement with Turkey and the UN. 1/2
And a stipulation of Russia's is that arms not be trafficked to the Ukrainians via ports: "A control center would be set up in Istanbul to oversee the operation, and Turkish officials would play the main role in checking the vessels to guarantee to Russia that the empty ships were not ferrying weapons back to Ukraine," the NYT report adds.
Stella Nordhagen of the Switzerland-based Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition non-profit organization, says the anticipated grain deal is "good news for … food security". But she further said that "we also need to recognize that at this point it probably won’t be enough on its own to stem the global food insecurity crisis."
"This will make a difference, it is an important deal … but at the same time we need to make sure that it is followed through on," Nordhagen told Al Jazeera. In addition any deal finalized today could take weeks or even months to actually implement, depending on the details and major moving pieces - and most importantly whether the rival sides see the other as practically holding up to its stipulations. The necessary demining efforts alone could take weeks or likely months.