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Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine, Russia agree to restart grain shipments after Turkey-led talks

Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine, Russia agree to restart grain shipments after Turkey-led talks

If the deal holds, the world may dodge the worst of a food crisis that threatens to starve millions across the globe.

Analysis | Europe

Ukraine and Russia will sign a deal today to restart Ukrainian grain exports, according to Turkish officials. The move, which comes after two month of intensive negotiations, raises hopes that the world could be spared the worst of a food crisis that threatens to push millions into starvation, according to the World Food Programme.

News of the accord broke yesterday, just two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Tehran with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has spearheaded the United Nations-sponsored talks. The full details of the agreement are not currently available but should include measures in which Ukrainian vessels would guide ships through mined waters, and Turkish authorities would oversee inspections to allay Russian concerns of weapons smuggling, according to Al Jazeera.

As many experts note, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is just one cause of current food shortages, which have also been driven by the devastating effects of climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. But there is wide agreement that reopening exports of Ukrainian grain will save lives across the globe.

The blockage revolves around two key issues: Russia has maintained a blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since the war began, and both Kyiv and Moscow have left mines in the water that would imperil any ships attempting to pass through the area. The new accord should take care of the first problem, but the second will be more complicated, as mine expert Herman Lammers told the New York Times. 

“It would take weeks to open up a route that would be safe for shipping to go in and out, for instance. Then it would take months to clear the whole area of mines so that it can be freely used again,” Lammers said. “But that’s mostly post-conflict that you clear the whole area.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price commended the UN, Ukraine and Turkey for their role in the talks while making clear that the U.S. blames Russia for the grain blockage. “We welcome the announcement of this agreement in principle,” Price added, “but what we’re focusing on now is holding Russia accountable for implementing this agreement and for allowing Ukrainian grain to get to world markets.”

When asked if the U.S. played any part in the breakthrough, Price noted that Washington advised Turkish and UN officials but did not mention any direct role in negotiations. “We’ve been briefed by the UN at various stages. Our experts have compared notes, shared notes with their experts,” he said, adding that “the same goes with our Turkish allies and our Ukrainian partners.”

In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:

- The Los Angeles Timesreported that Putin blamed Ukraine for the lack of progress in talks to end the war, saying that “Kyiv’s authorities have no such desire.” The comment was likely made in reference to statements by Ukrainian negotiators that they would not entertain a new round of talks until Kyiv’s forces make progress on the battlefield. 

- Putin’s complaint is unlikely to garner much sympathy in light of recent remarks by  Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who told state media Wednesday that Moscow’s war aims extend beyond the Donbas region, according to CNN. “It is far from being only DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) and LPR (Luhansk People’s Republic), it is also Kherson Region, Zaporizhzhia Region and a number of other territories,” Lavrov said. 

- In the Atlantic, Former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for his proposal that the West should offer Putin an “off-ramp” if it helps end the war. “It suggests that we are approaching a new world order where it’s not the rule of law that matters but the rule of the strongest,” Rasmussen said. “If Putin can get away with taking land from Ukraine, that’s horrendous—because what next?”

- Richard Gowan of the International Crisis Group argues in War on the Rocks that the UN  has been more effective on Ukraine than many think. “The organization has indeed acted as a platform for international public criticism of Russia, brought some aid to victims of the conflict, and helped keep a lid on some other crises that would otherwise be consuming the time of Western policymakers,” Gowan writes.

U.S. State Department news:
In a press briefing on Wednesday, Price responded to concerns that the West’s united front on Ukraine could be threatened by the political crisis in Italy, where Prime Minister Mario Draghi  has resigned over internal divisions in part related to the war. “This coalition of countries that defies any one geographic region has proven its resilience, and it has proven its strength time and again,” he said. “There have been many premature obituaries written for this incredible collection of countries in Europe and well beyond, dozens of countries that have come together to hold Russia to account, to support our Ukrainian partners, and to redouble our efforts to reinforce the rules-based international order.”

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