Turkey says a deal has been reached with Russia to allow Ukraine to resume exports of grain through the Black Sea.
It is to be signed on Friday in Istanbul by Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
The world shortage of Ukrainian grain since Russia’s 24 February invasion has left millions at risk of hunger.
The invasion sent food prices soaring, so the deal to unblock Ukraine’s ports is crucial. Some 20 million tonnes of grain is stuck in silos in Odesa.
The US State Department welcomed the UN-brokered deal, but said it was focusing on holding Russia accountable for implementing it.
“We should never have been in this position in the first place. This was a deliberate decision on the part of the Russian Federation to weaponise food,” said the department’s spokesman Ned Price.
Diplomats say the plan includes:
- Ukrainian vessels guiding grain ships in and out through mined port waters
- Russia agreeing to a truce while shipments move
- Turkey – supported by the United Nations – inspecting ships, to allay Russian fears of weapons smuggling.
The deal is also meant to facilitate Russian exports of grain and fertiliser via the Black Sea.
The UN and Turkey have been working for two months to broker a grain deal, amid global anxiety about the food crisis.
Russia denies blockading Ukraine’s ports – it blames Ukraine for laying mines at sea and Western sanctions for slowing Russia’s own exports.
Ukraine however says the Russian navy prevents it shipping grain and other exports and accuses Russian occupation forces of stealing grain from Ukrainian farms.
If the signing goes ahead as planned it will be the first significant deal between Russia and Ukraine since the invasion began. There have been some prisoner exchanges, but a ceasefire still appears a long way off.
“The grain export agreement, critically important for global food security, will be signed in Istanbul under the auspices of President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and UN Secretary General Mr Guterres together with Ukrainian and Russian delegations,” said Mr Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin.