Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Ukraine said on Wednesday that the four-way negotiations on resuming Ukrainian grain exports appear to be close to an agreement, as talks in Istanbul began between Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish and UN officials.
More than 20 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain – the country being the world’s fifth largest grain exporter – are currently stuck in the Black Sea harbour of Odessa, as Russian warships are imposing a blockade making grain transports unable to deliver the grain to buyers around the world.
Many of the world’s poorer countries which are not self-sufficient in food production are dependent on Ukrainian grain, and would likely face severe hardship or even widespread famine unless the grain is eventually allowed to be exported. Land routes out of Ukraine and into the EU face a number of bottlenecks, from lack of trucks to different rail track gauges, making it infeasible to transfer the grain in significant amounts by any other means other than shipping.
After a break in the negotiations that started on Tuesday, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba appeared optimistic. “We are two steps away from a deal with Russia,” Kuleba told Spanish El Pais newspaper. “We are in the final phase and now everything depends on Russia.”
Both Ukraine and the west have accused Russia of exacerbating a global food crisis by preventing commercial shipping through the Black Sea. Moscow, on the other hand, pointed the blame at Kyiv, saying Ukraine was refusing to remove mines protecting the coastline from Russian amphibious assaults.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday that all the participants in the talks are “working hard”, but that there was still a way to go before a deal could be reached. According to diplomatic sources, the draft deal envisions Ukrainian ships escorting freighters through mined port waters, while Russia would agree to a truce while shipments move. Turkey, backed by the UN, would inspect the shipping to make sure the ships are not delivering weapons to Ukraine – one of Moscow’s biggest concerns.