Turkish officials say Ukraine and Russia intend to sign an agreement to unlock grain exports and ease the global food crisis as Russia’s important gas pipeline to Europe reopens.
The United States welcomed the deal and urged Russia to honor it.
“We welcome the announcement of this agreement in principle, but now we are focused on holding Russia accountable for implementing this agreement and ensuring that Ukrainian grain can reach world markets,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
“First of all, we should never have been in this position. It was a deliberate decision on the part of the Russian Federation to use food as a weapon,” Price said.
Mr. Price hailed the diplomacy of UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the “hard work of our Turkish allies,” who have often been at odds with the United States in recent years on issues such as Syria and arms purchases from Russia.
He said the United States was aware of the details of the grain deal, which is due to be signed on Friday.
Food prices have skyrocketed around the world, hurting poor countries the most since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a major grain exporter.
Up to 25 million tons of wheat and other grains have been blocked in Ukrainian ports by Russian warships and anti-personnel mines that Kyiv has planted to prevent a dangerous amphibious assault.
Secretary General António Guterres believes that an agreement on the admission of Ukrainian grain to international markets with a security guarantee will be signed on Friday. According to him, this will be the first important step towards ending the conflict. Source: Getty / Pacific Press/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Ge
UN Secretary-General António Guterres was scheduled to arrive in Turkey on Thursday for a grain deal signing ceremony at Istanbul’s opulent Dolmabahce Palace on the Bosphorus.
This is the first major agreement between the warring parties since Russia’s February invasion of the neighboring country.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, tweeted that the agreement would be signed Friday in Istanbul under the auspices of Turkish leader Mr. Guterres and the Ukrainian and Russian delegations.
In further good news for global markets, Russia on Thursday restored critical gas supplies to Europe via Germany via the Nord Stream gas pipeline after 10 days of maintenance.
However, suspicions persisted that the Kremlin would provoke an energy crisis on the continent this winter.
Germany, heavily dependent on Russian gas, feared that Moscow would not reopen the pipeline after planned work and accused Moscow of using energy as a “weapon”.
The resumption of gas supplies came a day after Europe unveiled emergency measures to circumvent Russian energy blackmail.
Klaus Müller, head of Germany’s energy regulator, said gas flows should have returned to 40 percent of the pipeline’s capacity by late morning, the same reduced level as before the maintenance work.
The clash comes amid the most tension in years over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
EU states have accused Russia of cutting supplies in response to Western sanctions over the war.
Despite the bloc’s efforts to reduce reliance on Russian energy supplies, Moscow’s closest ally in the European Union, Hungary, announced on Thursday that it is seeking to increase gas supplies from Russia.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would “consider” Budapest’s request for more gas this year after his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjártó visited Moscow on Thursday.
“Stay in the shelters!”
In Kharkiv, prosecutors said the Russian missile attack had killed three people and injured 23 others.
“The enemy is firing chaotically and violently at the city. Stay in cover!” Oleg Sinegubov, the governor of the region, wrote about this on the social network.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the Kharkiv deaths were “the latest in a string of Russian atrocities,” promising to bring those responsible to justice.
In Kramatorsk, in the Donbass of eastern Ukraine, where some of the fiercest fighting took place, a school was also hit, which Ukrainian officials say was being used as a storage point for food aid.
Nuclear “disaster” averted
Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24, and the war has claimed thousands of lives, forced millions to flee their homes and raised fears of a nuclear holocaust.
On Thursday, Moscow accused Ukrainian forces of shelling Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which is in Russian-controlled territory, and said a “catastrophe” was averted “by a stroke of luck.”
Ukraine, without responding to the accusations, said that Russia was storing heavy weapons and ammunition at the Zaporozhye plant and that any accident there could lead to a crisis worse than the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Some 15,000 Russians have died in the five-month-long invasion of Ukraine, US and British intelligence chiefs have said as they estimate President Vladimir Putin has suffered far more casualties than expected.
Richard Moore, head of Britain’s MI6 intelligence service, said on Thursday that 15,000 dead was “probably a conservative estimate” and meant a “very bloody nose” for Putin, who expected a quick victory.
In an exclusive interview with AFP, Alexander Lukashenko, the powerful leader of Belarus and a close ally of the Kremlin, meanwhile urged Moscow and Kyiv to resume negotiations to avoid a nuclear escalation.
“Further (ahead) lies the abyss of nuclear war. You don’t have to go there,” said the leader of Belarus, which in February was used by Russian forces as a launching pad for an attack on Ukraine.
“Other” war goals for Russia”
Western powers have increased arms supplies to Ukraine, but President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked for more supplies and faster deliveries.
The UK was the latest country to announce on Thursday that it will supplement military shipments of artillery, “hundreds of drones and hundreds more anti-tank weapons” for Ukraine in the coming weeks.
The announcement came a day after Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said Washington would send four more M142 (Himars) highly mobile artillery missile systems, which have markedly strengthened Kyiv’s capabilities.
As a result of the shelling, at least three people were killed in the north-east of the Saltovsky district of Kharkov, Ukraine, 07/20/2022. Source: Getty / Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Russia has warned about the arms transfer and said it means Moscow will no longer be focused solely on wresting control of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine, which have been partly controlled by pro-Moscow rebels for years.
In its latest package of sanctions this week, the EU imposed an embargo on Russian gold imports and froze assets in Russia’s largest bank.
Following this on Thursday, the bloc froze assets and banned visas for 10 Syrians, accusing them of recruiting mercenaries to fight for Russia.