With its first ship loaded with grain in months on the way, Ukraine is preparing for more

Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

BRUSSELS – The grain deal reached by Russia and Ukraine has many moving parts, which officials did not even think possible before mid-June, not least because the war continues and the trust between the parts is extremely low.

Here’s what to know about the grain problem and how it could now be solved.

Why was Ukrainian grain stuck inside the country?

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, it deployed warships along Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. Ukraine mined these waters to deter a Russian naval attack. This meant that ports used to export Ukrainian grain were blocked for commercial shipping. Russia also stole grain stocks, mined grain fields so they could not be harvested, and destroyed grain storage facilities.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

How will the operation take place?

Ukrainian captains will lead grain-laden ships out of the ports of Odessa, Yuzhne and Chornomorsk.

A joint command center with Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish and UN officials will be set up immediately in Istanbul to monitor every movement of the flotillas.

Note: The arrow highlights the general direction of movement; it does not represent a

exact route. Source: EU officials and other governments

Note: The arrow highlights the general direction of movement; it does not represent a

exact route. Source: EU officials and other governments

The vessels will head to Turkish waters, to be inspected by a joint team of Turkish, UN, Ukrainian and Russian officials, then deliver their cargo to destinations around the world, returning for another inspection by the joint team before returning in Ukraine.

The agreement specifies that the main responsibility of the inspection team is to check “unauthorized cargo and personnel on board vessels entering or leaving Ukrainian ports”. A key Russian demand was that returning ships not carry weapons to Ukraine.

The parties have agreed that ships and port facilities used for their operations will be protected from hostilities.

The operation is expected to quickly begin shipping five million tonnes of grain per month. At this rate, and considering that 2.5 million tonnes have already been transported by land and river to Ukraine’s friendly neighbors, the stocks of nearly 20 million tonnes should be cleared within three to four months. This will free up space in storage facilities for the new crop already underway in Ukraine.

What are the risks ?

No general ceasefire has been negotiated, so the ships will pass through a war zone. Attacks near the ships or in the ports they use could undo the deal. Another risk would be a breach of trust or disagreement between inspectors and Joint Command officials.

The role of the United Nations and Turkey is to arbitrate such disagreements on the spot, and to monitor and enforce the agreement. The agreement is valid for 120 days and the UN hopes it will be renewed.

Credit…Sergei Bobok/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Will this immediately solve world hunger and bring down food prices?

No. World hunger is an ongoing problem caused by poor food distribution and price manipulation, hitting parts of the world year after year. It is often aggravated by conflicts and has also been affected by climate change. The war in Ukraine, which produces much of the world’s wheat, has strained grain distribution networks enormously, driving up prices and fueling hunger.

Officials say the deal has the potential to increase the flow of wheat to Somalia within weeks, averting widespread famine, and should lead to a gradual decline in world grain prices. But given the fragility of the deal, grain markets are unlikely to return to normal immediately.

What’s in it for Russia?

Russia is also a major exporter of cereals and fertilizers and the agreement should facilitate the sale of these products on the world market.

The Kremlin has repeatedly claimed that its stockpiles cannot be exported due to sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union.

The measures do not in fact affect these goods, but private shipping companies, insurers, banks and other businesses have been reluctant to help Russia export grain and fertilizers, fearing they will violate sanctions or that doing business with Russia harms their reputation. .

To reassure, the European Union issued a legal clarification of its sanctions on July 21 indicating that various banks and other companies involved in the grain trade were in fact not banned.

The UN said that, armed with similar assurances from the United States, it had held talks with the private sector and that trade from Russia – particularly from the Russian port of Novorossiysk – should accelerate.


July 22, 2022

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the process agreed by Ukraine and Russia for grain vessels. The ships will transport their cargo to various destinations and return to Ukrainian ports, stopping for inspections in Turkey. Their cargo will not necessarily be unloaded in Turkey to be forwarded to their destinations by other vessels.

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