Russia and Ukraine have agreed to restart shipments of blockaded grain, in a step toward easing a global crisis that has exposed tens of millions of people, especially in Africa and the Middle East, to the threat of acute hunger, the U.N. secretary general announced on Friday, July 22.

Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, the two countries were among the world’s top producers and exporters of grain, cooking oil and fertilizers. Last year, Ukraine accounted for 10 percent of global wheat exports, according to the United Nations. More than 20 million tons of grain have been stuck in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, causing worldwide shortages and fears of worsening hardship to come.

In a sign of the sensitivities weighing on the deal, representatives from Russia and Ukraine did not sit down together at the Istanbul ceremony, which was presided over by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“We did not reach this point in an instant,” said Erdogan, whose government maintains close ties with both Ukraine and Russia. He called the negotiations to reach an agreement “intense and arduous.”

One of the two agreements signed Friday in Istanbul, brokered by the United Nations and aided by Turkey, guarantees the safe passage of commercial ships from the Ukrainian port of Odessa and two other ports, which are currently cut off by a Russian naval blockade. A similar agreement is supposed to facilitate Russian grain and fertilizer exports worldwide, they said.

Ukraine and Russia sign United Nations-backed deal to restart grain exports to solve global food crisis (photos/video)

As part of the deal, grain ships will be able to navigate through a safe corridor in the Black Sea then pass through the Bosphorus in order to reach global markets, the official said. 

The vessels will be monitored by a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC), which will be established immediately in Istanbul and include representatives from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the UN.

Ukraine and Russia sign United Nations-backed deal to restart grain exports to solve global food crisis (photos/video)

Vessels would be inspected before they arrive in Ukraine by Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials are to ensure they are not carrying weapons from the West. 

Ukraine and Russia have agreed not to attack any ship identified as part of this initiative that is passing through the established channels. In case of an incident, the JCC will intervene to resolve any possible issues.  

It may take several weeks before vessels start moving so that all logistical details of the deal can properly be implemented and inspection teams can be established. 

Nonetheless, the process has to start quickly so that Ukraine’s silos can be emptied for the new harvest, a UN official said to Reuters on Friday.

The deal is valid for 120 days from the date of signing and can be extended for the same period unless one of the parties has announced their intention to terminate it, said Ukrainian minister Oleksandr Kubrakov, who signed the deal.

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