Russia and Ukraine signed a landmark deal on July 22 to reopen Ukrainian Black Sea ports for grain exports, raising hopes that an international food crisis aggravated by the Russian invasion can be eased.
The accord crowned two months of talks brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, a NATO member that has good relations with both Russia and Ukraine and controls the straits leading into the Black Sea.
Speaking at the signing ceremony in Istanbul, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the deal opens the way to significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports – Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.
"Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea. A beacon of hope..., possibility...and relief in a world that needs it more than ever," Guterres told the gathering.
But fighting raged on unabated in Ukraine's east and, underlining the enmity and mistrust driving the worst conflict in Europe since World War Two, Russian and Ukrainian representatives declined to sit at the same table and avoided shaking hands at the ceremony.
A blockade of Ukrainian ports by Russia's Black Sea fleet, trapping tens of millions of tonnes of grain in silos and stranding many ships, has worsened global supply chain bottlenecks and, along with sweeping Western sanctions, stoked galloping inflation in food and energy prices around the world.
Moscow has denied responsibility for the worsening food crisis, blaming instead sanctions for slowing its own food and fertilizer exports and Ukraine for mining the approaches to its Black Sea ports.
A U.N. official said a separate pact signed on Friday would smooth such Russian exports and that the United Nations welcomed U.S. and European Union clarifications that their sanctions would not apply to their shipment.
Senior U.N. officials, briefing reporters on July 22, said the deal was expected to be fully operational in a few weeks and would restore grain shipments from the three reopened ports to pre-war levels of 5 million tonnes a month.
Safe passage into and out of the ports would be guaranteed in what one official called a "de facto ceasefire" for the ships and facilities covered, they said, although the word "ceasefire" was not in the agreement text.
Though Ukraine has mined nearby offshore areas as part of its defences against Russia's five-month-old invasion, Ukrainian pilots would guide ships along safe channels in its territorial waters, they said.
Monitored by a Joint Coordination Center based in Istanbul, the ships would then transit the Black Sea to Turkey's Bosphorus strait and proceed to world markets.
The overall objective is to help avert famine among tens of millions of people in poorer nations by injecting more wheat, sunflower oil, fertilizer and other products into world markets including for humanitarian needs, partly at lower prices.
"Finally a glimpse of hope! A concrete step in the right direction to solve the global food crisis. Hope this initiative which is a result of our diplomatic efforts under the leadership of Erdoğan will bring us closer to peace in Ukraine" Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu tweeted on July 22 after the agreement.
Finally a glimpse of hope!— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) July 22, 2022
A concrete step in the right direction to solve the global food crisis.
Hope this initiative which is a result of our diplomatic efforts under the leadership of @RTErdogan will bring us closer to peace in Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/QmpigKZUvm