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Russia returns to Ukraine grain deal, easing food crisis fears

Russia announces its return to the Ukraine grain deal after intense diplomatic traffic between Ankara and Moscow, mitigating concerns over a food crisis until the deal expires late November.
The Malta-flagged bulk carrier Zante en-route to Belgium transits the Bosporus carrying 47,270 metric tons of rapeseed from Ukraine.

Russia has announced its return to the grain deal, saying “written guarantees” provided by the Ukrainian side for its participation in the deal were “adequate,” mitigating fears over a fresh jump in food prices globally.

“The Russian Federation believes that the guarantees received at this time are adequate and resumes implementation of the agreement,” the Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday in a statement.

The ministry stopped short of detailing the guarantees but added that they include an assurance that the routes set up for the grain shipments will not be used outside its scope. 

“The Ukrainian side, in particular, officially assured that the maritime humanitarian corridor will be used only in accordance with the provisions” of the deal, it added.

Moscow ceased its participation in the deal Oct. 29 for an “indefinite period of time,” citing alleged Ukrainian attacks on its ships in the Black Sea and stoking fears over food prices and the risk of a global food crisis.  

The guarantees that were obtained with the help of Turkey and the United Nations were submitted to the joint coordination center in Istanbul on Nov. 1, the ministry added. 

The resumption came after intense diplomatic traffic between Moscow and Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin held a phone conversation over the issue Nov. 1, following separate discussions between Turkish and Russian top diplomats and defense chiefs.

“Following our conversation with Mr. Putin yesterday, Russian Defense Minister Shoigu called our Defense Minister Hulusi Akar to notify him that grain shipments will resume as planned as of 12 p.m. today,” Erdogan said. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Erdogan for his country’s efforts to keep the deal alive during a phone call today.

Russian withdrawal from the deal has not effectively impacted the shipments. Russian personnel stationed at the joint coordination center didn’t leave their posts but halted their activities.

White House National Security Council coordinator John Kirby also confirmed yesterday that ships carrying tons of grain were continuing to leave Ukraine. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu for Ankara’s effort to salvage the critical deal during a phone call today, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu News Agency reported.

Cavusoglu said the Russian side’s complaints include impediments before the export of Russian grain and fertilizer.

Concrete steps need to be taken to remove obstacles before [export of] Russian grain and fertilizer,” Cavusoglu said Nov. 1.

“[Russian] fertilizer and grain are not on the sanctions list. But ships that would carry these products still cannot dock at ports. They are still unable to be insured and receive payments,” Cavusoglu told reporters, adding that many ships were still reluctant to undertake shipments due to sanctions.

Moscow is expected to continue to press for the facilitation of its fertilizer and grain exports during talks for the renewal of the deal, which expires late November.

The deal “remains particularly crucial for low to low-middle income countries, since more than 40% of wheat shipped so far is going to low- and lower-middle income countries,” World Food Program (WFP) warned recently.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative ​​brokered by Turkey and the United Nations allowed Ukrainian grain to reach world markets, fending off concerns over a potential global food crisis and regional hunger in impoverished communities across the world after the Russian invasion cut off exports from Ukraine, one of the major breadbaskets of the world. Tens of millions of tons of grain were stranded at Ukrainian silos and ships, skyrocketing grain prices globally.  

Under the deal, more than 8 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs were exported from various Ukrainian ports, according to a report by the WFP released in late October. “A total of 738 voyages (375 inbound and 363 outbound) have been enabled so far,” the report said.

WFP is among the major buyers of Ukrainian food products as part of its food-assistance program for impoverished communities. The deal has so far allowed the UN body to ship more than 150,000 tons of wheat to several impoverished countries including Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “warmly welcomed” the Russian turnaround, his spokesman said in a statement. “He also remains committed to removing the remaining obstacles to the exports of Russian food and fertilizer,” the spokesman added. 

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