Russia and Ukraine have signed a UN-backed deal to restart the export of millions of tonnes of grain that is currently stuck in blockaded Black Sea ports, potentially avoiding a catastrophic global food crisis.
The sighing of the agreement was attended by the UN secretary general António Guterres and the president of Turkey, Recap Tayyip Erdoğan, who is said to have played a crucial role in the recent tense negotiations.
Guterres said that the new agreement would open the way for significant volumes of food exports to leave Ukraine and alleviate a food and economic crisis in the developing world. He called on Ukraine and Russia to fully implement the agreement, adding that "the beacon of hope was shining bright in the Black Sea".
Kyiv has voiced deep scepticism about Russia's intentions but an advisor of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky - Mykhailo Podolyak - said that his country was trusting that Turkey and the UN would police the agreement.
The main purpose of the agreement is to secure the passage of grain as well as essential goods such as sunflower oil from three Ukrainian ports, including Odesa. The UN had previously warned that the war in Ukraine risked mass hunger, famine, and malnutrition.
The deal also guaranteed the safe passage of Russian-made fertiliser products.
Officials from the United Nations said that they hoped that preliminary shipments of grain could begin as early as Saturday, with the hope of reaching a rate of 5m metric tonnes a month - prewar levels - within several weeks.
UN officials stated that under agreements signed by Ukrainian infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, and Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu:
A coalition of Turkish, Ukrainian, and UN staff will monitor the loading of grain onto vessels in Ukrainian ports before navigating a pre-planned 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.
Ships entering Ukraine will be inspected under the supervision of the same joint coordination centre to ensure they are not carrying weapons or items that could be used to attack the Ukrainian side.
The Russian and Ukrainian sides have agreed to 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 accord.