BRUSSELS — Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement in Istanbul on Friday to free more than 20 million metric tons of grain stuck in blockaded Black Sea ports in Ukraine, a deal aimed at bringing down soaring grain prices and alleviating a mounting global hunger crisis.
The breakthrough comes after months of talks and was brokered with the help of the United Nations and Turkey. The agreement provides a method for exporting Ukrainian grain out of the country, and it comes after the United Nations gave Russia assurances that it can export its grain and fertilizers.
If the agreement holds, it could help ease catastrophic food shortages that worsened when Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Ukraine is one of the world’s breadbaskets, and the invasion reverberated across the global economy, aggravating a growing food crisis, contributing to famine in Africa and threatening political unrest in some countries.
“This agreement did not come easy,” António Guterres, the U.N. secretary-general, said at the signing ceremony, calling the deal a “beacon in the Black Sea.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to block food exports to gain international leverage has led to some of the gravest global consequences of Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, undermining a global food distribution network that was already strained by pandemic-related disruptions and climate change.
Senior U.N. officials said that the first shipments of grain out of Odesa, Ukraine, and neighboring ports were only weeks away and would quickly bring 5 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain and other foodstuffs to the world market each month. That would also free up storage space in Ukraine’s silos for freshly harvested grain, the officials said.
The agreement would expire after 120 days, officials said, but could be renewed on a rolling basis to normalize the export of grain for the months to come.
It contains an express agreement that the commercial and civilian ships involved, as well as the port facilities, will not be attacked. But a senior U.N. official said that the Russian security guarantees did not extend to parts of the Ukrainian ports not directly used for the grain exports.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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