A deal has been reached to free grain exports blockaded by Russia in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, according to Turkey’s government, which has been working to broker an agreement.
The deal will be unveiled in Istanbul on Friday, İbrahim Kalın, a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said on Twitter. The announcement followed multiple rounds of talks in Turkey, brokered by Ankara and the U.N., after months of deadlock.
Shipments of grain from Ukraine via Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia invaded the country in late February, sparking fears of a global food crisis. Millions of tons of grain needed to feed import-dependent countries in places like the Middle East and Africa are stuck in storage in Ukraine, with food prices rising.
“The grain export agreement, critically important for global food security, will be signed in Istanbul” on Friday by the Ukrainian and Russian sides, “under the auspices” of Erdoğan and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, Kalın said. The U.N. confirmed Guterres had landed in Turkey.
But Kyiv was cautious in its assessment.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson Oleh Nikolenko said in a statement that negotiations on unlocking Ukraine’s grain were planned in Turkey on Friday, and “a document may be signed, which will contain the obligations of the parties regarding the safe functioning of export routes in the Black Sea.”
But he added that the Ukrainian side would “support only those decisions that will guarantee the security of the southern regions of Ukraine, the strong position of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Black Sea, and the safe export of Ukrainian agricultural products to world markets.”
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.
The U.S. warned that Russia must abide by the terms of any agreement, and added that Moscow was to blame for the impasse.
“We welcome the announcement of this 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,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a press briefing. He added: “The fact is that, to date, Russia has weaponized food during this conflict.”
The Kremlin has not yet commented publicly on the news.
Turkey announced a “basic” deal on unlocking the Black Sea grain ships had been reached earlier this month. Ankara’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar at the time said the initial deal included 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.”