Russia and Ukraine will sign an agreement on Friday to reopen Ukrainian Black Sea ports for grain exports, according to Turkey and the UN, bolstering optimism that a worldwide food crisis exacerbated by Russia’s invasion might be alleviated.

Russia and Ukraine, two of the world’s largest food exporters, dispatched their respective defense and infrastructure ministers to Istanbul for a signing ceremony at 1330 GMT, according to the two countries.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan were slated to attend.

But conflict in Ukraine’s east continued unabated, and a Kyiv presidential advisor stated the country would sign no contracts with Russia, instead opting for parallel accords on grain shipments with the United Nations.

“In case of provocations, (there will be) an immediate military response” Ukraine said. Mykhailo Podoloyak sent a tweet.

Since Russian soldiers rushed into Ukraine on February 24, the blockade by Russia’s Black Sea navy has exacerbated global supply chain disruptions and, along with Western sanctions placed on Moscow, has fueled rising inflation in food and oil prices.

The agreement’s full terms were not immediately revealed. However, according to the Russian official news agency TASS, citing an unknown source, three Ukrainian ports, including the largest export center Odesa, will be reopened.

According to diplomats, the plan includes Ukrainian boats leading grain tankers through mined port waters, with Turkey monitoring ship inspections to calm Russian suspicions that the ships would sneak weapons to Ukraine.

Twenty million tonnes of grain are blocked in Odesa silos, and Moscow’s onslaught has stopped dozens more ships.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that the meeting in Istanbul will be “the first step to solve the current food crisis”

The US hailed the agreement and said that it will concentrate on keeping Russia responsible for its implementation.

DEAL ON ‘PACKAGE’

Moscow has denied culpability for the escalating food crisis, blaming Western sanctions for impeding its own food and fertilizer supplies and Ukraine for mining the entrances to its Black Sea ports.

The UN and Turkey have been negotiating a “package” arrangement to restore Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports while easing Russian grain and fertiliser imports for two months.

According to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova, the European Union has suggested lifting certain previous sanctions in order to strengthen global food security. Moscow thought that this would pave the way for unrestricted food and fertilizer shipments.

Turkey, a NATO member with strong ties with both Russia and Ukraine, controls the Black Sea straits and has served as a mediator in the grain dispute.

Source: Reuters

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