Difficulties in complying with the agreement that frees Ukraine’s grain: Navigating around mines and mistrust of Russia | International
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Two separate but symmetrical agreements with Turkey – one signed by Russia and the other by Ukraine, mediated and supervised by the UN – are the hope to unlock millions of tons of Ukrainian grain, trapped since the Russian invasion in February by the blockade of Ukrainian ports. After weeks of diplomatic negotiations, the pact signed on Friday in Istanbul, which proposes an almost cinematic deployment to remove the wheat, provides for the arrival of cargo ships at Ukrainian ports through “safe channels” identified by the kyiv authorities to avoid the mines from its territorial waters, guided by Ukrainian pilots, without military escort, but supervised first by Turkish and United Nations teams together with Ukrainians and Russians to ensure that the ships do not carry weapons to Ukraine. An agreement under which the distrust of Ukraine and its Western partners beats for Russia to respect what was signed more in the long term. In fact, kyiv has denounced this Saturday a missile attack against the port of Odessa, just one day after the signing of the pact. “The enemy attacked the Odessa sea trading port with Kalibr cruise missiles; two missiles were shot down by air defense forces; two reached the port infrastructure, ”wrote the Southern Operational Command in a message on Telegram, reports the Reuters agency.
Moscow has sought to downplay the memorandum’s role in alleviating the food crisis aggravated by Russian aggression and export policies. The Kremlin insists that the problem, which could lead to severe famine, has been caused by Western sanctions against Russia for the invasion.
The aim of the agreement, which would open a path for significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports – Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhni – is for Ukraine to be able to export around five million tons of grain per month, a volume similar to from before the large-scale war launched by Russia five months ago, which blockaded Ukrainian ports, leaving tens of millions of tons of grain in silos and clogging the global supply chain. In addition, the Ukrainian authorities have accused Moscow of stealing grain in the territories it has occupied —as an investigation by EL PAÍS showed— and of deliberately bombing the Ukrainian fields to set them on fire and thus spur the global crisis, with great destabilizing potential.
The pact will be in force for 120 days, renewable, according to UN sources. Its implementation, however, is not easy, since it includes important logistics and diplomacy fringes. Both Russia and Ukraine have placed sea mines in the Black Sea, which are a huge risk to the movement of ships. The agreements signed in Turkey do not include demining – it would require a lot of time and enormous diplomatic efforts, since Ukraine has been reluctant to remove any of its sea mines to protect itself from further Russian naval attacks – so commercial ships are required to sail through ukrainian waters be guided by ukrainian pilots while minesweepers wait for help.
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The Ukrainian government considers the agreement an important step to advance on the “economic front”. “This can be translated into jobs. Wages. Taxes to the state budget, ”stressed Andrii Siibiga, one of the advisers in the office of President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a comment on his Facebook page. Although Executive sources are suspicious that Russia, with a long history of non-compliance, respects what was signed in the memorandum. Especially after the first shipments, which will not be fast either.
Coordination center in Istanbul
The pact provides for the creation of a joint coordination center in Istanbul, where there will be military personnel from the four parties, who will ensure that a team from the UN and Turkey check the ships to ensure that they are not carrying contraband military supplies. Once they load grain at Odessa and other ports and leave Ukrainian waters, they will sail along specific routes on their way to Turkey’s Bosphorus and then to the rest of the world. It remains to be determined which personnel will sail on the freighters and whether insurers will provide coverage for them.
The plan will take at least 10 days to start, according to United Nations sources, who point out that it is the time that Ukraine needs 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, especially in the east of the country, where it tries to advance by using a large artillery force to take over the Donbas region while trying to consolidate the occupation of large swathes of the south, where it tries to to strip Ukraine of its outlets to the sea.
kyiv assures that it is not afraid that the Russian forces will attack the convoys, but has also stressed that it will give an “immediate military response” in the event of any “provocation” by Russia, according to Mikhailo Podoliak, senior negotiator for the Zelensky Executive. The Ukrainian government has stated that the agreement has only been possible due to Ukrainian military progress in regaining control of the so-called Snake Island, a small but strategic Black Sea island. Since then, kyiv has accelerated its grain exports by land and via smaller ships up the Danube River to the Black Sea, reaching two million metric tons of grain in June (down from previous levels of war).
Zelensky’s government estimates that there are some 22 million tons of trapped grain that could be shipped out. The summer harvest may bring another 65 million tons. Wheat prices fell on Friday before the signing of the multilateral agreement.
The Kremlin’s “goodwill gesture”
The Kremlin, meanwhile, claims that its grain transport concessions are a goodwill gesture. Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis and maintains that it is the result of Western sanctions on 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 a weapon to pressure against sanctions and prohibited their export to the rest of the world. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on March 10, two weeks after launching his troops into Ukraine, that his country and Belarus “are among the largest producers in the world.” “If they create problems for us, the consequences of this sector will be inevitable,” said the president after vetoing the exit of some vital products for the crops of the entire planet. According to the UN, Russia is the world’s leading exporter of nitrogen fertilizers, the second of potassium and the third of phosphates.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, insisted on Friday that beyond the maritime blockade of Ukraine, the solution to the food crisis lies in withdrawing sanctions on Russia. “Ukrainian grain has a relatively small volume. In any case, it is as important that it reaches international markets as [eliminar] the indirect restrictions on our products and allow a greater amount of our fertilizers and grains to come out,” he said.
In Brussels – where the community institutions have tried to set up safe corridors to get the Ukrainian grain out, especially by train – they see the agreements with hope. “This is a fundamental step in the 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 good faith 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 its ports have halted shipments, affecting countries in the Middle East and North Africa, which receive large supplies 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 data from the Red Cross, which has also worked with Ukraine to help map out safe corridors for the grain, food prices have increased in the last six months by 187% in Sudan, 86% in Syria, 60% in Yemen and 54% in Ethiopia.
The United States has welcomed the deal but has 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 watch closely to make sure the deal does not put Ukraine at risk. “The G-7 is working closely with partners like Turkey and others to ensure that we can get that grain out of Ukraine and into places where the world needs it without compromising Ukraine’s sovereignty and protection,” Trudeau added.
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