Russia and Ukraine signed agreements on Friday clearing the way for exporting millions of tons of desperately needed Ukrainian grain. But Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa just hours after the deals were signed.
The Black Sea Initiative is meant to enable Ukraine to export 22 million tons of grain and other agricultural products. Those shipments have been stuck in Black Sea ports.
“A deal that allows grain to leave Black Sea ports is nothing short of lifesaving for people across the world who are struggling to feed their families,” says Red Cross Director-General Robert Mardini. He notes that over the past six months prices for food staples have risen 187% in Sudan, 86% in Syria, 60% in Yemen, and 54% in Ethiopia.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signed separate, identical deals with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. The signing was held in Istanbul, Turkey.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn, and sunflower oil. Russia’s invasion of the country and blockade of its ports have halted shipments. Some Ukrainian grain is being transported through Europe by rail, road, and river. But the prices of vital commodities like wheat and barley have soared during the war.
The deal allows the safe passage of ships through the heavily mined waters. A coordination center will be established in Istanbul, staffed by U.N., Turkish, Russian, and Ukrainian officials. They will monitor the ships.
A senior U.N. official says cargo ships will use “safe channels” identified by Ukraine and will be guided by Ukrainian pilots. Part of the deal is that both Russia and Ukraine agreed that there will be no attacks on any of the vessels and port facilities involved in the initiative. Those include the ports of Odesa, Chernomorsk, and Yuzhny.
The aim is to empty Ukraine’s silos in time for the new harvest. That’s about five million tons of grains per month.
The deal doesn’t mean that the global supply crisis is over. But it should help. “It will help stabilize global food prices, which were already at record levels even before the war,” Guterres says.
It’s not yet clear how the airstrike will affect the Black Sea Initiative.
Russian defense officials insisted that the airstrike on the port of Odesa hit only military targets. Turkey’s defense minister, however, said he had had reports from Ukrainian authorities that one missile struck a grain silo while another landed nearby. Neither affected loading at Odesa’s docks.