Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signed on 22 July, separate agreements with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in Istanbul. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey, witnessed the ceremony.
The agreements will allow Ukraine to export 22 million tons of grain and other agricultural products and Russia to export grain and fertilizer from the Black Sea ports.
The Russian invasion, which began on 24 February has sparked record food and fuel prices, and supply chain issues, with mountains of grain stocks stuck in silos.
An “unprecedented agreement” on the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea amid the ongoing war is “a beacon of hope” in a world that desperately needs it, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said at the signing ceremony in Istanbul on Friday.
The U.N. plan, known as the “Black Sea Initiative,” will help to stabilize spiraling food prices worldwide and stave off famine, affecting millions.
The two countries signed separate agreements because Ukraine refused to sign any document with Russia.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the grain deal will rescue billions from famine and ease global food inflation. Erdogan underlined that a joint coordination center in Istanbul will observe the implementation of the agreement.
However, on Saturday morning, less than 24 hours after the signing of the Black Sea agreements, Russian missiles attacked the Black Sea port of Odessa.
The U.N. Secretary-General ‘unequivocally’ condemned the reported strikes.
As a consequence, questions emerged about the implementation of the agreements.
Hope and relief
“Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea,” the UN chief said, speaking before the signing. “A beacon of hope – a beacon of possibility – a beacon of relief — in a world that needs it more than ever.”
Mr. Guterres thanked President Erdogan and his government for facilitating the talks that led to the deal.
He commended the Russian and Ukrainian representatives for putting aside their differences in the common interests of humanity.
“The question has not been what is good for one side or the other,” he said. “The focus has been on what matters most for the people of our world. And let there be no doubt – this is an agreement for the world.”
Ukraine is among the world’s leading grain exporters, supplying more than 45 million tonnes annually to the global market, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The Russian invasion, which began on 24 February, has sparked record food and fuel prices, as well as supply chain issues, with mountains of grain stocks stuck in silos.
In addition to stabilizing global food prices, the agreement “will bring relief for developing countries on the edge of bankruptcy and the most vulnerable people on the edge of famine,” said Mr. Guterres.
“Since the war started, I have been highlighting that there is no solution to the global food crisis without ensuring full global access to Ukraine’s food products and Russian food and fertilizer.”
A long road
The initiative specifically allows for significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea – Odessa, Chernomorsk, and Yuzhny.
The Secretary-General also announced the establishment of a Joint Coordination Centre to monitor implementation. It will be hosted in Istanbul and will include representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey.
Inspection teams will monitor the loading of grain at the three ports. Ukrainian pilot vessels will guide the ships through the Black Sea, which is mined, after which they will head out through the Bosphorus Strait along an agreed corridor.
Ships going into the ports also will be inspected.
Mr. Guterres acknowledged “the long road” and weeks of around-the-clock negotiations leading up to the landmark agreement.
In April, the Secretary-General met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to propose a plan. The U.N. has been “working every day since”, he said.
Two U.N. Task Forces were established in parallel with the talks – one focused on the shipment of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, which was led by UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths, and the other on facilitating access to Russian food and fertilizers, headed by Rebecca Grynspan, Secretary-General of the UN trade and development body, UNCTAD.
Beacon for peace
Mr. Guterres pledged the UN’s full commitment to the agreement and urged all sides to do the same.
“This is an unprecedented agreement between two parties engaged in bloody conflict. But that conflict continues,” he said, noting that people are dying every day as the fighting rages.
“The beacon of hope on the Black Sea is shining bright today, thanks to the collective efforts of so many. In these trying and turbulent times for the region and our globe, let that beacon guide the way towards easing human suffering and securing peace.”
The United States welcomes the deal
In a press statement issued on 22 July, the Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said: “the United States welcomes this deal and commends UN Secretary-General Guterres and Turkish President Erdoğan for their committed diplomatic efforts to mediate these discussions. Today’s UN-brokered deal is a positive step towards addressing the far-reaching impacts of Russia’s war.”
Secretary of State emphasized that the international community must now hold Russia accountable for this deal, ending its effective blockade of Ukraine’s ports and ensuring Ukrainian agricultural goods — including grain, oilseeds, and sunflower oil — reach world markets.
“Russia has weaponized food since the beginning of this crisis. An end to Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s agricultural exports through the Black Sea is, therefore, only one of the many steps Russia needs to take to ensure that food from Ukraine makes it to global markets. Global food security will remain at risk for as long as Russia continues its unjustified and brutal aggression against Ukraine.”
The E.U.: a critical step forward
The European Union welcomed the agreements signed in Istanbul.
In a Statement, High Representative Josep Borrell said: “this is a critical step forward in efforts to overcome the global food insecurity caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Its success will depend on the swift and good faith implementation of today’s agreement.”
“Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified military aggression against Ukraine is having a devastating global impact. Russia is deliberately destroying Ukraine’s agricultural and transport infrastructure and equipment, causing fuel shortages and creating worldwide food supply chain problems through the blocking of Ukraine’s ports and the looting of Ukrainian grain. Russia has in fact endangered food security for millions of people across the world. The present agreement offers an opportunity to start reversing this negative course, stated Borrell.
According to the Statement, “the EU remains committed to helping Ukraine bring as much of its grain into global markets as quickly as possible. The EU’s Solidarity Lanes plan has facilitated the export of 2,5 million tons in June alone. We are also working closely with partners such as the UN and G7, to promote a multilateral response to broader aspects of global food security. In this context, we are mobilizing over €7.7 billion until 2024.”
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: Russia did everything to destroy Ukraine
“Today, our state and the entire civilized world have reached an important agreement – we have an agreement that allows us to unblock Ukrainian ports and restore Ukrainian agricultural exports,” stated President Zelenskyy.
“From the first day of the full-scale invasion, Russia did everything to not just close Ukraine’s access to the sea, but to destroy the very potential of our exports – port infrastructure, our railways, warehouses, and silos. We did not allow it. And now we can not only restore the operation of our ports on the Black Sea but also keep them protected. This has been worked out with our military and with our intelligence. The military assured me of one hundred percent control of the approaches to our ports.”
“The text of the document signed today is published, and everyone can read its points. They fully meet the interests of Ukraine. First. About 20 million tonnes of last year’s grain harvest will be exported. And also it will be possible to sell this year’s harvest – and it is already being harvested. These are the incomes of farmers, the entire agricultural sector, and the state budget. These are jobs. These are funds for next year’s sowing season. We now have approximately $10 billion worth of grain. Secondly. Finally, there is a chance to reduce the severity of the food crisis provoked by Russia. There is a chance to prevent a global catastrophe – a famine that could lead to political chaos in many countries of the world, in particular in the countries that help us. And thirdly. This is another illustration that Ukraine is able to withstand this war. It is important that everything in the territorial waters of Ukraine will be controlled by our state.”
President Zelenskyy warned that “it is clear to everyone that there may be some provocations on the part of Russia, some attempts to discredit Ukrainian and international efforts. But we trust the UN. Now, it is their responsibility and responsibility of international partners to ensure compliance with the agreements.”
Russia bombs Odessa port less than 24 hours after the Deal
Although the agreements of Istanbul include the promise of Russia that will not attack Odessa and two other ports, Russian bombs hit the port of Odessa on Saturday morning.
“RF [Russian Federation] is predictably worthless. The ink has not had time to dry out, yet there are two vile provocations: an attack on a seaport in Odessa and a statement by 🇷🇺 Defense Ministry that 🇺🇦 ports are “dangerous for shipping”. A reminder to the world of what ru-” pursuit of peace” is worth,” tweeted advisor of the Ukrainian President Mykhailo Podolyak.
“This proves only one thing: No matter what Russia says and promises, it will find ways not to implement it,” said President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, wrote on Twitter: “How will the safety of vessels in the port of Odessa be ensured, if Russia continues shelling?”
“Outrageous. Russia strikes the port city of Odesa less than 24 hours after signing an agreement to allow shipments of agricultural exports. The Kremlin continues to weaponize food. Russia must be held to account,” tweeted U.S. Ambassador Bridget A. Brink.
The Russian Federation denied any involvement in this attack.