Istanbul summit ends in breakthrough for desperately needed grain

Istanbul summit ends in breakthrough for desperately needed grain

The first meeting in months between Russia and Ukraine took a critical step toward ensuring the export of desperately needed grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to help ease the global food crisis, according to Azerbaijan in Focus, reporting Daily Sabah.

Turkey announced a deal with Ukraine, Russia and the United Nations on Wednesday aimed at resuming Ukrainian grain exports blocked since Moscow launched its invasion in February, raising prospects for an end to a standoff that has exposed millions to the risk of starvation.

The summit in Istanbul marked the Russian and Ukrainian governments’ first face-to-face talks since another meeting in the Turkish metropolis in late March.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said agreements would be signed when the parties meet again next week that included “joint controls” for checking grains in ports and Turkey ensuring the safety of Black Sea export routes for Ukrainian grain.

NATO-member Turkey has retained close ties to both Moscow and Ukraine and has worked with both countries and the U.N. to reach an agreement. It has offered to provide safe Black Sea corridors.

The four-way meeting focused on discussions about stumbling blocks to a deal, mainly on how to ship about 22 million tons of grain stuck in Ukraine because of the war.

Hours after the talks, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said a “critical step forward” had been made toward reviving Ukrainian grain exports.

He cautioned that “more technical work will now be needed” to reach an agreement, “but the momentum is clear … I’m encouraged. I’m optimistic, but it’s not yet fully done.”

With the war in Ukraine in its fifth month and much of the world seeing food prices soar and millions in developing countries facing hunger and possible starvation, getting grain and fertilizer shipments moving again from two of the world’s major exporters is crucial.

Guterres proposed a package deal, supported by Turkey, in early June to unblock shipments of Ukrainian wheat and other food crops from the Black Sea and lift restrictions on Russia’s exports of grain and fertilizer. He kept tight-lipped about progress – until Wednesday.

Akar said the talks were held in a constructive atmosphere. “We see that the parties are willing to solve this problem,” he said, forecasting agreements next week.

Coordination center in Istanbul

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared optimistic in late-night comments.

“The Ukrainian delegation has reported to me that there is progress. In the coming days we will agree on the details with the U.N. secretary-general,” Zelenskyy said.

He said he was grateful to the United Nations and Turkey for their efforts to restore Ukraine’s agricultural exports. “If they succeed in removing the Russian threat to shipping in the Black Sea, it will reduce the severity of the global food crisis,” he added.

A coordination center would be established in Istanbul and would include U.N., Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials, Akar said.

“Its task will be to carry out general monitoring and coordination of safe navigation in the Black Sea,” Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said on Twitter.

Russia said it had presented a package of proposals for a “practical and quick solution” to unblock the export of Ukrainian grain but did not elaborate.

Sides sound optimistic

Both Moscow and Kyiv sounded optimistic on Thursday.

Ukraine is “definitely a step closer” to clinching a deal to export grain through its Black Sea ports after Wednesday’s talks, the country’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Thursday.

“We are definitely a step closer to a result,” the minister told Reuters.

For its part, Russia said contacts between the sides would continue after talks in Istanbul delivered some elements of a possible deal.

“There has indeed been a substantive discussion on this issue,” Maria Zakharova, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, told reporters on Thursday.

“It was possible to formulate some elements of a possible agreement which Russia, Ukraine and Turkey are now discussing in their capitals through their military departments,” she said.

Guterres said there is “a ray of hope to ease human suffering and alleviate hunger around the world” and bring “much-needed stability to the global food system.”

He cited “substantive agreement on many aspects” related to the control of shipping, coordination of the operation and de-mining of the Black Sea.

The alliance chief said the U.N., Russia, Ukraine and Turkey will work together to ensure that an agreement is implemented effectively.

Experts have cautioned that it will take time to ensure there are no mines in the Black Sea shipping channel and then to get cargo ships to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest Black Sea port. Inspections will have to be done and arrangements made for shipping out the 22 million tons of grain that Ukraine’s president says are now in silos.

U.N., Turkish and other officials are scrambling for a solution that would empty the silos in time for the upcoming harvest in Ukraine. Some grain is now being transported through Europe by rail, road and river, but the amount is small compared with the Black Sea routes.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says the war in Ukraine is endangering food supplies for many developing nations and could worsen hunger for up to 181 million people.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion and war has disrupted production and halted shipments across the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.


Before the talks, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told The Associated Press (AP) that grain exports from his country’s ports would not resume without security guarantees to ship owners, cargo owners, and to keep Ukraine as an independent nation.

Any agreement needs to ensure that Russia “will respect these corridors, they will not sneak into the harbor and attack ports or that they will not attack ports from the air with their missiles,” he said.

Russian and Ukrainian officials have traded accusations over the stuck grain shipments.

Moscow claims Ukraine’s heavily mined ports are causing the delay. Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged that Moscow wouldn’t use the corridors to launch an attack, if the sea mines were removed.

But Ukrainian officials have blamed a Russian naval blockade for holding up the exports and causing the global food crisis. They are skeptical of Putin’s pledge not to take advantage of cleared Black Sea corridors to mount attacks on Ukrainian ports, noting that he insisted repeatedly this year that he had no plans to invade Ukraine.

Ahead of the talks, Pyotr Ilyichev, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s department for ties with international organizations, said Russia’s military had repeatedly declared its willingness to allow safe shipping corridors in the Black Sea.

Seventy vessels from 16 countries have remained stuck in Ukrainian ports, Ilyichev said, alleging that Ukrainian authorities had barred them from departing.

“Our conditions are clear: We need to have a way to control and check the ships to prevent any attempts to smuggle weapons in, and Kyiv must refrain from any provocations,” Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Ilyichev as saying.

Western sanctions on Russia do not ban exports of food or fertilizer. But Moscow argues that Western sanctions on its banking and shipping industries make it impossible for Russia to export those goods and are scaring off foreign shipping companies.

“Next week, hopefully, we’ll be able to have a final agreement,” Guterres told reporters in New York. “We still need a lot of goodwill and commitments by all parties,”

“In the end, the aim of all parties is not just an agreement between the Russian Federation and Ukraine but an agreement for the world.”