Ukraine, the United Nations and Turkey welcomed progress at talks in Istanbul with Russia aimed at resuming grain exports from the Black Sea and reducing the risk of starvation for millions, but an end to the war has remained a long way since the heavy shelling continued.
Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said an agreement would be signed next week. He said Ankara will ensure the safety of shipments during transit and the parties will jointly inspect grain shipments at ports. But UN chief Antonio Guterres said more work was needed before an agreement could be signed.
“We saw a crucial step forward,” Guterres told reporters in New York. “We still need a lot of good will and commitments from all sides,” he said.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was optimistic in late-night comments: “The Ukrainian delegation reported to me that progress is being made. In the coming days we will coordinate the details with the UN Secretary General.”
Turkey and Ukraine announced that they would set up a joint coordination center with Russia and the United Nations.
“Your task will be to carry out general supervision and coordination of safe navigation in the Black Sea,” Andriy Yermak, Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, said on Twitter.
Russia did not immediately comment.
In addition to being a major global wheat supplier, Russia is also a major fertilizer exporter, and Ukraine is a major producer of corn and sunflower oil.
The conclusion of an export liberalization agreement is seen as crucial for food security, particularly in developing countries, and for stabilizing markets.
But Guterres warned there was “a long way to go” before there would be peace talks to end the war.
Several Ukrainian cities have reported massive Russian shelling, and while Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba did not link a grain deal to progress in talks to end the war, he has previously been pessimistic about the prospects for peace.
Ukrainian officials said there has been sustained Russian shelling across the Donetsk province, which Moscow is seeking to capture to complete the conquest of the industrialized Donbass region in eastern Ukraine.
Russian state news agency TASS on Wednesday quoted a Separatist official, Vitaly Kiselyov, as saying Russian and proxy forces had entered the city of Siversk in Donetsk province and could take it in a few days.
In their evening briefing note, Ukrainian forces said Russia had not launched any new attacks on the front line that includes Siversk, but that artillery shelled the city.
Russia, which says it is not targeting civilians, said Wednesday it shot down four Ukrainian military jets, an announcement dismissed as propaganda by Ukraine’s air force.
Russia has also attacked 28 settlements in the Mykolayiv region bordering the Black Sea, killing at least five civilians, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office.
Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield accounts.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 caused Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II.
Millions have fled and thousands have been killed as cities have been reduced to rubble and fears of a larger conflict in the West have increased.
The Kremlin says it is involved in a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine.
Both Kyiv and Western nations say this is a pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of exacerbating a global food crisis and fueling inflation by hampering attempts to supply grain to poorer countries.
Moscow has accused Ukraine of refusing to remove mines it has spread along its coast to protect itself from Russian attack and which pose a threat to shipping.
Russia has also cracked down on the West for imposing sanctions on a number of sectors that make it difficult for Russia to fund and insure its own sea freight services.
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Pyotr Ilyichev, head of the international organizations department at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, as saying Russia wants to control and inspect grain ships itself to rule out arms smuggling.
Before announcing progress in the talks, diplomats said that the plan under discussion included an idea for Ukrainian ships to guide grain ships in and out of mined port waters; Russia agrees to ceasefire as supplies move; and Turkey — backed by the United Nations — inspecting ships to allay Russian fears of arms smuggling.
Russia’s RIA news agency quoted an unnamed diplomatic source as saying Russia’s demands in the grain talks included removing “export barriers” created by Western sanctions and naming the areas of “shipping insurance, logistics, transportation services and banking.”
A senior UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said most sticking points in talks to resume Ukraine’s Black Sea exports had been overcome, describing the discussions in Istanbul as a “breakthrough”.
Grain export talks break through in Ukraine as heavy shelling continues – SABC News
Source link Grain export talks break through in Ukraine as heavy shelling continues – SABC News