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Russia, Ukraine sign grain deal



Russian and Ukrainian officials have signed a deal to allow grain exports from Ukrainian Black Sea ports, as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the agreement would help ease a global food crisis..

The neighboring, warring countries are among the world’s biggest exporters of food, but Russia’s invasion led to a de-facto blockade of the Black Sea, resulting in Ukraine’s exports dropping to a sixth of their pre-war level.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, signed the deal separately on Friday, carefully avoiding sitting at the same table and avoiding shaking hands.

The signing ceremony took place at Istanbul’s lavish Dolmabahce Palace in the presence of Erdogan and Guterres.

“Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea. A beacon of hope [and] possibility … and relief in a world that needs it more than ever,” Guterres said, calling on Russia and Ukraine to fully implement the accord.

Friday’s deal means around $10bn worth of grain will be available for sale with roughly 20 million tonnes of last year’s harvest that can now be exported, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

The agreement is valid for 120 days and may be automatically renewed without further negotiations.

According to UN officials, under the agreement, a coalition of Turkish, Ukrainian and UN staff will monitor the loading of grain into vessels in Ukrainian ports before navigating a preplanned route through the Black Sea, which remains heavily mined by Ukrainian and Russian forces.

Ukrainian pilot vessels will guide commercial vessels transporting the grain in order to navigate the mined areas around the coastline using a map of safe channels provided by the Ukrainian side.

The vessels will then cross the Black Sea towards Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait while being closely monitored by a joint coordination centre in Istanbul, containing representatives from the UN, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey.

Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said another detail relates to the inspection of ships.

“Russia is concerned that weapons might be brought via ships to Ukraine and Ukraine is concerned about the safety of its grain deliveries to world markets,” she said.

Accordingly, ships entering Ukraine will be inspected under the supervision of the same joint coordination center to ensure they are not carrying weapons.

The Russian and Ukrainian sides will also withhold attacks on any of the commercial vessels or ports engaged in the initiative to transport vital grain, while UN and Turkish monitors will be present in Ukrainian ports in order to demarcate areas protected by the agreement..

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