Two separate but symmetrical deals with Turkey — one signed by Russia and the other by Ukraine, brokered and overseen by the UN — are hoping to free millions of tons of Ukrainian grain trapped by the blockade since Russia’s invasion last February are Ukrainian ports. After weeks of diplomatic negotiations, the pact signed this Friday in Istanbul, which proposes an almost cinematic operation to remove the wheat, envisages the arrival of cargo ships in Ukrainian ports through “safe channels” identified by the Kiev authorities to avoid the mines to avoid its territorial waters, guided by Ukrainian pilots, with no military escort, but first patrolled by Turkish and UN teams to ensure they don’t bring weapons into Ukraine. Moscow has tried to downplay the deal’s role in alleviating the food crisis, which has been exacerbated by Russian aggression and export policies. The Kremlin insists the problem, which could lead to severe famine, was caused by Western sanctions against Russia over the invasion.

The goal of the deal, which would pave the way for significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports – Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny – is that Ukraine will be able to export around five million tons of grain per month , a similar volume until before the full-scale war started by Russia five months ago, which blocked Ukrainian ports, left tens of millions of tons of grain in silos and deadlocked the global supply chain. In addition, the Ukrainian authorities have accused Moscow of stealing grain in the territories it occupies – as an investigation by EL PAÍS has shown – and of deliberately bombing the Ukrainian fields in order to set them ablaze, thus bringing the global crisis with great destabilization fuel potential.

The pact will be in place for 120 days, renewable, according to UN sources. However, its implementation is not easy as it involves important logistical and diplomatic fringe areas. Both Russia and Ukraine have laid sea mines in the Black Sea, which pose an enormous risk to shipping. The agreements signed in Turkey do not include mine clearance – this would take a lot of time and enormous diplomatic effort, as Ukraine has so far been reluctant to remove one of its sea mines to protect itself from further attacks by the Russian Navy – therefore merchant ships have to sail through Ukrainian ones Let Ukrainian pilots guide you through the waters while minesweepers wait for help.

The Ukrainian government sees the agreement as an important step in advancing on the “economic front”. “This can translate into jobs. wages. Taxes for the state budget,” stressed Andrii Siibiga, one of the advisers to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, in a comment on his Facebook page. Though executive sources distrust Russia, with a long history of non-compliance, respects what was signed in the memorandum.

Coordination center in Istanbul

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The pact envisages the establishment of a joint coordination center in Istanbul, where military personnel from the four parties will arrange for a UN-Turkey team to inspect the ships to ensure they are not carrying smuggled military supplies. Once they load grain in Odessa and other ports and leave Ukrainian waters, they will sail on specific routes on their way to Turkey’s Bosphorus and then to the rest of the world. It remains to be seen which personnel will travel on the freighters and whether insurers will cover them.

The plan will take at least 10 days, according to United Nations sources, who indicate it’s time to prepare. Kyiv has sought certain guarantees in the agreement that Vladimir Putin’s forces will not use safe corridors to attack the key Black Sea port of Odessa.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin continues its military aggression in Ukraine, particularly in the east of the country, where it is attempting to advance by deploying a large force of artillery to take over the Donbass region while attempting to consolidate occupation of large parts of the south , where The Kremlin tried to deprive Ukraine of its drains to the sea.

Kyiv assures that it is not afraid of an attack by Russian forces on the convoys, but also stressed that in case of a “provocation” by Russia there will be an “immediate military reaction”, according to Mijailo Podoliak, chief negotiator for the Zelenskyy Executive. The Ukrainian government has said the deal was only possible because the Ukrainian military made progress in regaining control of the so-called Snake Island, a small but strategic island in the Black Sea. Since then, Kyiv has accelerated its grain exports by land and smaller ships up the Danube to the Black Sea, reaching 2 million tons of grain in June (a drop from earlier wartime levels).

Zelenskyy’s government estimates that about 22 million tons of caught grain could be shipped. The summer harvest can bring another 65 million tons. Wheat prices fell Friday ahead of the signing of the multilateral agreement.

The Kremlin’s “goodwill gesture”.

The Kremlin, on the other hand, claims its grain-transport concessions are a gesture of goodwill. Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis, claiming it was the result of Western sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine, which it says have curbed its food and fertilizer exports. However, as with gas and oil, the Kremlin used fertilizers as leverage against sanctions and banned their export to the rest of the world. President Vladimir Putin warned on March 10, two weeks after his troops launched into Ukraine, that his country and Belarus “are among the largest producers in the world.” “If they cause us problems, the consequences of this sector will be inevitable,” the president said after vetoing the exit of some vital products for the entire planet’s harvest. According to the United Nations, Russia is the world’s largest exporter of nitrogen fertilizers, second for potassium and third for phosphates.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed on Friday that the solution to the food crisis beyond the naval blockade of Ukraine lies in the lifting of sanctions against Russia. “Ukrainian grain has a relatively small volume. In any case, it is just as important that it reaches international markets [eliminar] the indirect restrictions on our products and let a larger amount of our fertilizers and grains come out,” he said.

In Brussels – where the Community institutions have tried to set up safe corridors to transport the grain, particularly by train – they look forward to the agreements. “This is a fundamental step in efforts to overcome global food insecurity caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” said the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell. “Its success will depend on the speedy implementation and goodwill of the agreement,” he added.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil. However, the Russian invasion and blockade of their ports have halted supplies, affecting countries in the Middle East and North Africa that receive large amounts of Russian and Ukrainian grain. Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, gets more than 70% of its supplies from the two countries, as does Lebanon. Turkey, more than 80%. According to the Red Cross, which has also worked with Ukraine to establish safe corridors for grain, food prices have fallen 187% in Sudan, 86% in Syria, 60% in Yemen and 54% in the past six months % up % in Ethiopia.

The United States has welcomed the deal but insisted it will monitor Russia’s compliance with its commitments, its UN ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also stressed that Western countries will be watching closely to ensure the deal does not endanger Ukraine. “The G-7 is working closely with partners like Turkey and others to ensure we can get this grain from Ukraine to places where the world needs it without jeopardizing Ukraine’s sovereignty and protections,” added Trudeau.

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