ISTANBUL (AP) — Russia and Ukraine were expected to sign separate agreements with Turkey and the United Nations on Friday that would allow Ukraine to resume grain shipments to world markets and Russia to export grain and fertilizers, ending a standoff that threatened world food security amid the war in Ukraine.
Ukrainian and Russian military delegations reached a tentative agreement last week on a U.N. plan that would enable Ukraine to export 22 million tons of desperately needed grain and other agricultural products that have been stuck in Black Sea ports due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan planned to take part in the grain export signing ceremony in Istanbul. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, were expected to sign the deal for their countries.
“In a little while … we will overcome difficulties regarding the agricultural corridor and the issue of grains,” Erdogan said. “With these signatures, we’ll give the world good news.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, said Ukraine and Russia would sign separate agreements.
“Ukraine does not sign any documents with Russia,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter, adding that his country would sign an agreement with Turkey and the U.N., with Russia signing a separate “mirror agreement.”
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but
Russia’s invasion of the country in February and its naval blockade of Ukraine’s ports have halted shipments. Some 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 nearly five-month war.
The deal makes provisions for the safe passage of ships across the Black Sea. A control center in Istanbul, to be staffed by U.N., Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials, will be created to run and coordinate the process, Turkish officials said.
Ships would undergo inspections to ensure they are not carrying weapons.
Podolyak insisted that no Russian ship would escort the cargo vessels and no Russian representatives would be at Ukrainian ports. Ukraine also plans an immediate military response “in case of provocations,” he said.
Guterres first raised the critical need to get Ukraine’s agricultural production and Russia’s grain and fertilizer back into world markets in late April during meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.
He proposed a deal in early June amid fears that the war was endangering food supplies for many developing nations and could worsen hunger for up to 181 million people.
Russian and Ukrainian officials have blamed each other for the blocked grain shipments. Moscow accused Ukraine of failing to remove sea mines at its ports to allow safe shipping and insisted on its right to check incoming ships for weapons.
Ukraine has argued that Russia’s port blockade and its launching of missiles at Ukrainian cities from the Black Sea made any cargo shipments unsafe.
Ukraine has sought international guarantees that the Kremlin wouldn’t use the safe corridors to attack the Black Sea port of Odesa. Ukrainian authorities have also accused Russia of stealing grain from eastern Ukraine and deliberately shelling Ukrainian fields to set them on fire and ruin the harvest.
Russian officials have said that Putin promised not to attack the grain ships, but Ukrainian officials have noted that the Russian leader earlier this year also denied having any plans to attack Ukraine.
A spokesperson for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday laid out Kyiv’s conditions for backing the plan.
Ukraine’s delegation “will support only those decisions that will guarantee the security of the southern regions of Ukraine, the strong position of the armed forces of Ukraine in the Black Sea and the safe export of Ukrainian agricultural products to world markets,” Oleh Nikolenko told reporters.
In Washington, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. welcomes the 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. It has been for far too long that Russia has enacted this blockade,” Price said.