Turkey is on the brink of sealing a deal that could see Ukrainian grain exports resume, despite the ongoing war with Russia. Hulusi Akar, the Turkish defence minister, said the agreement will be signed next week, allowing millions of tons of Ukrainian grain to leave the country.
Four-way talks between Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations took place on Wednesday, aimed at removing the Russian blockade on Ukrainian grain exports.
The talks, which were held in an undisclosed location in Istanbul, were the first face-to-face discussions between Russia and Ukraine since March. Despite the progress between the two countries, peace remains unlikely.
“Next week, hopefully, we’ll be able to have a final agreement,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said. “For peace, we still have a long way to go.”
Ukraine’s President, Volodomyr Zelensky, said: “We are indeed making significant efforts to restore the supply of food to the world market. And I am grateful to the United Nations and Turkey for their respective efforts.”
The deal could see Ukrainian ships guide vessels loaded with grain through the mined waters around Odesa. Turkey and the UN would also inspect the shipments, as Russia fears that they could be used to smuggle arms into Ukraine.
Currently, more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in Odesa, with Russian forces having blockaded the port. Sea mines have been laid by both sides.
As the next grain harvest approaches – beginning in early September – there are concerns there will be no storage space for millions of tons of grain if the current harvest has not been exported.
Ukraine is known as the “breadbasket of Europe,” and is the ninth largest grain exporter worldwide, producing tens of millions of tonnes of grain per year, much of which is exported to poor and developing countries. Ukraine’s pivotal position in the global supply chain means the Russian blockade is threatening starvation in countries most reliant on the country’s grain.
Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil. India imports 76 per cent of its sunflower oil from Ukraine which also provides Lebanon with 80 per cent of its wheat.
Russian forces have also been accused of stealing Ukrainian grain, with a BBC investigation indicating that stolen grain trucks had been taken to Crimea.
As an alternative to shipping, Ukraine has been exporting grain over land, but only a fraction of the pre-war exports can be moved by road and rail. Exports are currently at 30 per cent of pre-war levels.
In June, Ukraine shipped 2.5 million tonnes of grain, compared with the 8 million tonnes that would previously have been exported.
Hoping to increase exports, Ukraine has recently re-opened ports on the mouth of the Danube river, after it was able to recapture Snake Island from Russian forces.