Russia suspended its participation in the grain deal over the weekend, citing allegations of a Ukrainian drone attack against its Black Sea fleet. The Russian Defence Ministry said Monday that ship traffic from ports in southern Ukraine was halted, calling the movement “unacceptable.”
But ships loaded with grain departed Ukraine on Monday and Tuesday, despite Vladimir Putin’s announcement he was ready to walk away from the deal.
Three ships carrying 84,490 metric tons of corn, wheat and sunflower meal left Ukraine through a humanitarian sea corridor set up in July, while 36 other vessels cleared inspections near Turkey to head to their final destinations, the UN said. The corridor, brokered by Turkey and the UN, was seen as a breakthrough to ensure Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia would receive grain and other food from the Black Sea region during Russia’s war in Ukraine.
A total of 14 ships sailed on Monday, including one chartered by the UN World Food Program to bring wheat to Ethiopia, which along with neighbouring Somalia and Kenya, is badly affected by the worst drought in decades. The UN has warned that parts of Somalia are facing famine. Thousands of people have died there.
Calling Putin’s bluff, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu informed Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar that the deal for a humanitarian grain corridor would “continue in the same way as before” as of noon.
Erdogan said the renewed deal would prioritize shipments to African nations, including Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan, in line with Russia’s concerns that most of the grain exported since the agreements first was reached in July was ending up in richer nations.
The Russian Defence Ministry said Russia agreed to continue carrying out its role in the deal after receiving written guarantees from Kyiv that Ukraine would not use the sea corridor for military actions against Moscow, according to a statement by the Russian defence ministry
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The Defence Ministry said Wednesday that Ukraine had formally committed to using the safe shipping corridors through the Black Sea “exclusively in accordance with the stipulations of the Black Sea initiative,” a reference to the separate UN and Turkey-backed agreements signed by Moscow and Kyiv on July 22.
The UN operation had been prioritising a large backlog of ships waiting for checks off Istanbul, said Munro Anderson, head of intelligence of the risk consultancy Dryad Global.
While Western sanctions on Russia do not affect its grain exports and a parallel wartime deal was meant to clear the way for the country’s food and fertiliser shipments, some shipping and insurance companies have been wary of running afoul of the penalties or want to avoid doing business with Moscow.
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Putin pointed to the fertiliser issue in a call Tuesday with the Turkish President, saying Russia’s agricultural exports still were not unblocked. Putin also said resuming the grain deal would require an investigation into the attack on Russia’s Black Sea fleet, according to a Kremlin readout of the call.
The July 22 deal to spur exports of grain and fertiliser was a response to skyrocketing food prices as a result of slashed supplies from two major producers following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
The UN said that as of Tuesday, more than 9.7 million metric tons of grain and other food have been shipped from three Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea.