Millions of people in the world’s poorest nations, at imminent risk of starvation, heaved a sigh of relief at the news that these much-needed quantities of grain were reaching the market and grain prices could once again become affordable.
Less than 24 hours later, however, Russian missiles hit targets in the port of Odesa, raising questions about whether the deal would be implemented.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Moscow effectively blockaded Black Sea ports, while Ukraine mined the waters to prevent a Russian amphibious assault.
As a result, the ports used to export Ukrainian grain were blocked from commercial shipping, and since Ukraine is a major exporter of grain, the prices of this essential commodity rose sharply, leaving millions of poor people who are acutely hungry unable to afford it.
Since both Ukraine and Russia are the world’s largest grain exporters, the blockade has increased grain prices. Ukraine could not export its grain and other agricultural products due to the embargo, while international shippers and insurance companies were reluctant to sign contracts with the Russians if they were to run afoul of US and EU sanctions.
After more than two months of diplomatic efforts by the UN and Turkey, an agreement was reached that port structures and ships will be protected from hostilities.
Ukrainian captains steer grain-carrying ships away from the ports of Odesa, Chornomork and Yuzhne and sail to Istanbul and deliver their cargo to other ships for transport to grain-importing countries.
A joint command center manned by UN, Ukrainian, Russian and Turkish authorities monitors the movement of these ships and ensures that they are not carrying weapons or soldiers.
As the two warring nations refused to sign any treaty with each other, two identical treaties were signed at a separate table. One from the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the Minister of Infrastructure of another Ukraine Alexander Kubrakov. The other signatories were the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar. President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan the person who was actively involved in the contract negotiations was present at the signing.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the agreement reached as “a beacon of hope, a beacon of opportunity, a beacon of relief in a world that needs it more than ever.”
Guterres added: “Since the start of the war, I have emphasized that there is no solution to the global food crisis without guaranteeing full global access to Ukrainian food and Russian food and fertilizers.”
The trade makes more wheat, sunflower oil and fertilizers available for international markets and humanitarian needs. The goal is to reach the pre-war level of five million metric tons of grain per month.
Robert MartinNoting that food prices had risen by 187 percent in Sudan, 86 percent in Syria and 60 percent in Yemen in recent months, the head of the Red Cross described the agreement as “a lifeline for people all over the world who are struggling to feed their families.”
The Ukrainian side was much more reserved about the agreement. Foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba typically said, “I’m not opening a bottle of champagne for this deal. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this works, that ships carry grain to world markets and prices go down and people get food. But I’m very careful because I have no confidence in Russia.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said: “Russia has taken responsibility for the obligations that are clearly expressed in this document. We will not take advantage of the ports being emptied and opened. We have made this commitment.”
The U.S. facilitated trade when it removed a major barrier to Russian food and fertilizer exports, as banks, shipping lines, and insurance companies were extremely reluctant to deal in Russian grain and fertilizer exports for fear of being seen as violating U.S. sanctions. Washington assured that such exports do not violate US sanctions against Russia.
Notably, the US State Department did not issue a statement on the deal, but some Biden administration officials expressed doubts that Russia would allow ships to pass safely through the Black Sea.
Less than a day after the agreement was signed, Russia fired several rockets at the port of Odesa, but it is not clear whether the strikes targeted grain infrastructure. Russia may not have violated the agreement it signed because the agreement does not cover military targets in ports.
According to the Ukrainian military command, Russian forces had fired four Kalibr cruise missiles at Odesa. “Air defense forces shot down two rockets, two hit port infrastructure,” it said.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry said of the attack: “Russian President Vladimir Putin had ‘spat’ in the faces of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the two ‘went on’ with enormous efforts to reach this deal.”
The United Nations, the European Union, the United States, Britain, Germany and Italy strongly condemned the Odesa attacks.
It remains to be seen whether the agreement will be implemented and help prevent famine in poor countries, or whether it will remain a dead end and turn out to be just an illusory dream.
Factor: John Solomou
Source: The Nordic Page