Ukraine and Russia set to sign deal to reopen grain export ports

  • The UN and Turkey brokered an export deal between Ukraine and Russia
  • Signing ceremony with Russia, Ukraine and the UN at 13:30 GMT
  • Encouraging sign of progress towards alleviating the global food crisis
  • Ukraine’s Zelenskiy: Potential to turn the tide on the battlefield

ISTANBUL/Kyiv, July 22 (Reuters) – Russia and Ukraine will sign an agreement on Friday to reopen Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to grain exports, Turkey and the United Nations said, raising hopes that a crisis international food aggravated by the Russian invasion could be eased.

Russia and Ukraine, both among the world’s biggest food exporters, will send their infrastructure and defense ministers respectively to a signing ceremony at 1330 GMT in Istanbul, three sources told Reuters .

The Kremlin has confirmed that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu will sign the deal brokered by Turkey and the UN, hours after Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy said he expected seaports of his country will soon be unblocked.

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan were due to attend the ceremony.

The blockade by the Russian Black Sea Fleet has worsened global supply chain disruptions and, together with Western sanctions imposed on Moscow, has fueled high inflation in food and energy prices since the forces Russians invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Full details of the deal were not immediately released. But Russian state news agency TASS, citing an unnamed source, said three Ukrainian ports, including the biggest export hub in Odessa, would be reopened.

Some 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos in Odessa and dozens of ships have been blocked by Moscow’s offensive.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted on Thursday that Friday’s rally in Istanbul would mark “the first step to solving the current food crisis”.

The United States welcomed the deal and said it was focused on holding Russia accountable in its implementation.

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Moscow has denied responsibility for the worsening food crisis, instead blaming the chilling effect of Western sanctions for slowing its own food and fertilizer exports and Ukraine for mining the approaches to its seaports. Black.

The United Nations and Turkey have been working for two months to negotiate what António Guterres has called a “comprehensive” deal – to restore Ukrainian grain exports from the Black Sea while facilitating Russian shipments of grain and fertilizer.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the European Union had offered to ease some previous sanctions to boost global food security. Moscow hoped this would create conditions for unhindered grain and fertilizer exports.

Diplomats said last week that details of the plan included Ukrainian ships guiding grain ships through mined waters at the port, with Turkey overseeing ship inspections to allay Russian fears of smuggling weapons into Ukraine. .

Turkey, a NATO member with good relations with Russia and Ukraine, controls the strait leading to the Black Sea and has acted as a mediator on the grain issue.

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“(We) agreed that our forces had the strong potential to advance on the battlefield and inflict significant further casualties on the occupiers,” he said in his video address.

Kyiv hopes that the gradual increase in supplies of Western precision and longer-range weapons, such as the American High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), will allow it to counterattack and retake lost territories from east and south.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday that its forces destroyed four HIMARS systems between July 5 and July 20. Reuters could not verify the claim.

Ukraine has accused the Russians of stepping up missile and rocket strikes on cities in recent weeks in a deliberate attempt to terrorize its population.

Towns and villages were devastated by Russian bombardment during the conflict, with some far from the front lines hit by missiles. Moscow denies deliberately shooting civilians and says all of its targets are military.

However, there is a good chance that longer-range Russian weapons will miss their targets and cause civilian casualties, as Moscow increasingly uses long-range air defense systems to compensate for the shortage of attack missiles in the ground, according to British military intelligence.

Such air defense systems, with smaller warheads to shoot down planes and missiles, are unlikely to be able to penetrate hardened military structures on the ground and their crews will have little training for such missions, said the UK Ministry of Defense in an intelligence update. Friday.

There has been no major breakthrough on the front lines since Russian forces seized the last two Ukrainian-held towns in eastern Luhansk province in late June and early July.

Russian forces are now focused on capturing the entire neighboring province of Donetsk on behalf of separatist proxies who have declared two breakaway mini-states covering the industrialized region of Donbass.

In its morning update, the Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces backed by heavy artillery fire continued to seek gains towards the cities of Kramatorsk and Bakhmut and the Vuhlehirska thermal power plant in the province of Donetsk, but had made no significant progress on the ground.

Russia says it is carrying out a “special military operation” to demilitarize its neighbor and rid it of dangerous nationalists.

Kyiv and the West say Russia is mounting an imperialist campaign to win back a pro-Western neighbor that broke free from Moscow’s rule when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II has killed more than 5,000 people, driven more than 6 million from Ukraine and left 8 million internally displaced, according to the United Nations.

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Reports from Reuters offices; written by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Stephen Coates and Nick Macfie

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