Ukraine and Russia were due to sign an elusive deal on Friday to help ease a global food crisis caused by the blockage of grain exports from the Black Sea.
The first major agreement between the warring parties since Russia invaded its neighbor in February comes with soaring global food prices and starvation in some of the world’s poorest countries.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was due to arrive in Turkey on Thursday for the signing ceremony at the lavish Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, on the Bosphorus Strait.
“The grain export agreement, of crucial importance for global food security, will be signed in Istanbul (Friday) under the auspices of President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan and UN Secretary General Mr. Guterres, as well as Ukrainian and Russian delegations,” the Turkish leader’s spokesman said. Ibrahim Kalin tweeted.
Up to 25 million tonnes of wheat and other grains have been blocked in Ukrainian ports by Russian warships and landmines laid by Kyiv to stave off a feared amphibious assault.
The first direct talks between the military delegations of the warring parties since March – which Turkish and UN officials took part in Istanbul last week – have resulted in a first draft resolution of the impasse.
The parties were due to meet again this week for the eventual signing of a formal agreement.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to derail the talks, warning on Tuesday that he expected any deal to also deal with his own country’s stranded grain exports.
The five-month war is being waged in one of Europe’s most fertile regions by two of the world’s largest grain producers.
Almost all grain is usually shipped out of the region across the Black Sea.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday acknowledged Putin’s concerns.
“When we solve this problem, not only will the export path for grain and sunflower oil from Ukraine be opened, but also for products from Russia,” he said.
“Even if these Russian products are not affected by the sanctions, there are blockages concerning shipping, insurance and the banking system,” he added.
“The US and the EU have promised to lift them.”
Turkey, a NATO member, has maintained good working relations with Moscow and Kyiv throughout the conflict.
A member of the Kyiv delegation for the negotiations said shipments could resume from three ports under Ukrainian control.
“Exports would pass through three ports: Odessa, Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk. But in the future, we hope to be able to expand them,” Ukrainian lawmaker Rustem Umerov told reporters.
He added that the security of shipments would be overseen by a UN monitoring group based in Istanbul.
Umerov also said Russian vessels should not be allowed in Ukrainian waters under the planned deal.
“We don’t trust them, even if they sign an agreement with the UN. It is an aggressor country,” he said.
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