An agreement to allow the safe transport of Ukrainian grain from the country’s blocked ports will be signed on Friday in Istanbul, according to a statement from Turkey’s communications directorate.
Details of the emerging deal, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey with Russia and Ukraine, have not yet been divulged, and Turkey’s statement was met with caution by Ukrainian officials.
The statement said the deal would be signed at 4:30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. ET) by the Ukrainian and Russian sides, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and UN Secretary General Secretary-General António Guterres.
- Why this matters: Western officials have previously accused Moscow of “weaponizing” food supplies, with leaders and experts warning of a catastrophic food crisis as millions of tons of Ukrainian grain are unable to reach the global market due to the war. A United States official said last month they had intelligence that the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy “is under orders to effectively blockade the Ukrainian ports of Odesa and Ochakiv.” The Kremlin has previously rejected accusations that Russia is obstructing the export of grain from Ukraine and instead blamed the West and Kyiv.
- Some background: Turkish, Ukrainian and Russian officials last held talks with the support of the UN on the issue of grain exports on July 13. Speaking at the time, Guterres said that although the meetings had proven that Russia and Ukraine can talk, there is still “a long way to go” to broker peace between the two countries.
- What the UN says now: On Thursday, deputy spokesperson for the UN Secretary General, Farhan Haq, said the UN is trying to reach an “agreement that would allow for Ukrainian and Russian food and fertilizer to reach global markets.” Although no deal has been formalized, Haq told a briefing the UN is “hopeful” and will wait to “see what happens” when talks pick up again Friday.
- What the Ukrainians say: More talks are expected before the agreement is signed, a top Ukrainian official has cautioned. “Following negotiations, a document can be signed, that will contain the obligations of the parties regarding the safe operation of the export routes in the Black Sea,” Oleg Nikolenko, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Thursday. Nikolenko stressed that the Ukrainian delegation “will support only those decisions that will guarantee the security of the southern regions of Ukraine, the strong positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Black Sea, and the safe export of Ukrainian agricultural products to the world markets.”
- Western reaction: US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Thursday that Washington welcomes the “agreement in principle” to allow the safe transport of Ukrainian grain, but is focused on “holding Russia accountable for implementing this agreement and for enabling Ukrainian grain to get to world markets,” European officials familiar with the discussions expressed optimism about the agreement, but cited concerns about its implementation. The officials said Russia is unlikely to follow through on the agreement without any issues.