A historic agreement between Russia and Ukraine to reopen Ukrainian Black Sea ports for grain exports was reached on Friday, bolstering hopes for a resolution to the global food crisis that the Russian invasion has exacerbated.
The agreement marked the culmination of two months of negotiations between the UN and Turkey in search of what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called a "package" that would ease Russian grain and fertilizer shipments while also restoring Ukrainian grain exports despite severe Western sanctions on Moscow.
According to Guterres, the agreement allows for sizable amounts of commercial food shipments from three important Ukrainian ports—Odesa, Chernomorsk, and Yuzhny—and the UN will establish a coordination center to oversee the agreement's execution.
"On the Black Sea nowadays, there is a beacon. A shining example of promise, hope, and relief in a world that more than ever needs them, "Guterres spoke to the group.
However, fighting continued unabatedly in eastern Ukraine, underscoring the underlying animosity and mistrust that has been fueling the worst conflict in Europe since World War Two. Russian and Ukrainian representatives also declined to sit at the same table during the ceremony, and the flags of the two nations were moved so that they were no longer next to one another.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a presidential adviser in Kyiv, tweeted ahead of the ceremony that Ukraine will respond immediately to any provocations with military force.
Both Russia and Ukraine, two of the leading exporters of food worldwide, brought their respective ministries of defense and infrastructure to Istanbul for the signing ceremony, which was also attended by Guterres and the president of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan.
Along with sweeping Western sanctions, a Russian Black Sea fleet blockade of Ukrainian ports has deepened supply chain bottlenecks and fanned global food and oil price inflation. The blockade has trapped tens of millions of tonnes of grain in silos and left numerous ships stranded.
Moscow has rejected blame for the escalating food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for slowing down its own supplies of food and fertilizer and Ukraine for mining the areas around its Black Sea ports.
Reporters were briefed by senior UN officials on Friday, who stated that the agreement was anticipated to be fully operational in a few weeks.
Although the phrase "ceasefire" was not included in the agreement language, one official said that safe passage into and out of the ports would be assured under a "de facto ceasefire" for the ships and facilities covered.
Ukrainian pilots will direct ships down safe passages in its territorial waters, they added, despite the fact that Ukraine has mined the neighboring offshore areas as part of its defenses against Russia's five-month-old assault.
The ships would then travel the Black Sea to Turkey's Bosphorus strait and continue to global markets under the supervision of a Joint Coordination Center with headquarters in Istanbul, according to UN officials.
Although the offer is renewed after 120 days, it is not anticipated to be terminated anytime soon.
One UN official stated, "I think that's unprecedented that two parties at war - and still very much at war - have been able to negotiate an agreement of this nature."
Another stated that a different agreement reached on Friday would facilitate Russian exports of food and fertilizer, and that the UN welcomed US and EU explanations that their sanctions would not apply to such shipments.
All returning ships will be examined by representatives of all parties and under the JCC's supervision at a Turkish port in order to allay Russian worries about ships smuggling weapons to Ukraine.