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Ukraine, Russia near deal on grain exports

Russian, Ukrainian, and Turkish delegations meet with UN officials in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 13, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Russia and Ukraine have made substantive progress on a deal to resume grain exports from the latter country’s Black Sea ports, raising hopes of an end to a standoff that has exposed millions to the risk of starvation.

Delegations from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and the United Nations met for face-to-face talks in the Turkish city of Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss the dispute over blocked grain exports, with the parties agreeing to meet again next week to sign a “final  agreement.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said after the meeting that the talks on allowing grain exports had provided a “ray of hope to ease human suffering and alleviate hunger around the world,” but he also cautioned that while he was optimistic, a deal was “not yet fully done.”

“We are hoping that we’ll be able to reconvene very soon, I’m sure next week, and hopefully we’ll be able to have a final agreement,” Guterres said.

He also noted that there was “broad agreement” on a UN plan to ship millions of tons of grain blocked in Ukraine because of the war to world markets and enable Russia to also send out grain and fertilizer.

However, he said there was still “a long way to go” before there would be peace talks to end the war, when asked about the possibility of talks on peace.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who hosted the talks, also said that a final agreement on exports could be announced next week. “At this meeting, which we will hold next week, all the details will be reviewed once again and the work we have done will be signed,” Akar said in a statement.

He also said that the parties had agreed on “joint controls” at ports and on ways to “ensure the safety of the transfer routes” across the Black Sea.

Turkey would also set up a coordination center with Ukraine, Russia, and the UN for grain exports, he said.

NATO member Turkey has been using its good relations with both Russia and Ukraine to try to broker an agreement on a safe way to get the grains out. An estimated 22 million tons of grain are blocked in Ukraine, and pressure is growing to find a solution that would empty the silos in time for the upcoming harvest.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that the war in Ukraine is endangering food supplies for many developing nations by raising food prices globally and could worsen hunger for up to 181 million people.

Russia started a military offensive in Ukraine on February 24. The ongoing war and the subsequent blockade on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have endangered the world food supply by preventing Ukraine from shipping its agricultural products. Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest grain producers, is a major exporter of corn, barley, sunflower oil, and rapeseed oil.

Russia and Ukraine together produce almost 30 percent of the global wheat supply.

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), which purchases almost 50 percent of its grain from Ukraine, feeds some 125 million people around the world.

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