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In major breakthrough, Russia and Ukraine sign pact to resume grain exports through Black Sea

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu with Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov in Istanbul on Friday

In a major development that would ultimately result in the resumption of supplies from a region considered the breadbasket of the world, Russia and Ukraine today signed a UN-backed agreement in Istanbul for the export of Ukrainian food products and Russian food and fertilizer through the Black Sea. 

After United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu too arrived in Istanbul Friday afternoon for the signing of documents which Moscow said are "on Russian exports and on Russia facilitating the export of Ukrainian grain".

The unblocking of Ukraine's Black Sea ports will help in facilitating export of over 25 million tonnes of grain lying unused in the conflict zone.

"Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea. A beacon of hope – a beacon of possibility – a beacon of relief — in a world that needs it more than ever. Let there be no doubt – this is an agreement for the world. It will bring relief for developing countries on the edge of bankruptcy and the most vulnerable people on the edge of famine," Guterres said at the signature ceremony of 'Initiative on the safe transportation of grain and foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports document'.

Shoigu and Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signed the deal in the presence of Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The development is a result of a meeting held in the same city last week when the delegations from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Nations held talks to resolve the grain issue.

During the meeting, the Russian side had also provided a package of proposals on the creation of a coordination centre in Istanbul, as well as an algorithm for grain transportation.

Russia has repeatedly emphasized that the export of Ukrainian grain is hindered by the mining of the Black Sea by Kyiv. Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the country was ready to facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain, but that all restrictions on the export of Russian grain should be lifted. 

Putin had also stated that the Russian Agriculture Ministry estimated that Ukraine could export about five million tonnes of wheat, which is only a fraction of the world's grain production. At the same time, Putin said that Russia will export 37 million tonnes of wheat in 2021-2022 and raise that figure to 50 million in 2022-2023.

Kyiv on Thursday had indicated that following negotiations in Istanbul, a document can be signed, that will contain the obligations of the parties regarding the safe operation of the export routes in the Black Sea.

"The Ukrainian delegation will support only those decisions that will guarantee the security of the southern regions of Ukraine, the strong positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Black Sea, and the safe export of Ukrainian agricultural products to the world markets," Oleg Nikolenko, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said in a statement on the negotiations in Turkey.

As the world saw a major rise in prices of grains, cooking oils, fuel, and fertilizer – together with major supply chain issues due to the Ukraine conflict – Guterres said last week labeled the UN-brokered talks in Turkey as a "ray of hope to ease human suffering and alleviate hunger around the world".

"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," said the UN chief.

Also Read: Turkey engages with Russia and Ukraine to end global food crisis