The ministers of both countries signed an agreement mediated by the UN and Turkey in Istanbul.
Russia has so far blocked maritime access to these ports, meaning that millions of tons of Ukrainian grain have not been exported to the many countries that depend on it.
“Today there is a lighthouse on the Black Sea. A beacon of hope – a beacon of opportunity – a beacon of help – in a world that needs it more than ever,” Guterres said on Friday.
“Promoting the welfare of mankind has been the driving force behind these negotiations,” he said. “The question was not what is good for one side or the other. The focus was on what matters most to the people of our world. And let there be no doubt – this is an agreement for the whole world.
Guterres said the deal would bring relief to developing countries and help stabilize global food prices, “which were already at record levels even before the war – a real nightmare for developing countries.”
The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that 47 million people have gone into severe starvation as a result of the war in Ukraine, and Western officials have accused Russia of using food as a weapon during its invasion.
The deal will also ensure unimpeded access of Russian fertilizers to world markets. Russia is a major producer of fertilizer, which is vital to maximizing food production, and the cost of the product has skyrocketed since the invasion.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that as a result of the deal, “millions of people will be spared this danger of starvation.”
“In the coming days, we will see the start of shipping, and many countries will get a breath of fresh air,” Erdogan said.
How will this deal work?
Under the agreement signed on Friday, grain carriers will pass through a safe corridor in the Black Sea, led by Ukrainian pilots, and then pass through the Bosphorus Strait – an important shipping corridor in northwest Turkey – in order to enter world markets.
Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish officials will check ships before they arrive in Ukraine to make sure weapons are not being smuggled into Ukraine.
The courts will be monitored by a Joint Coordinating Center (JCC), which will be established immediately in Istanbul and will include representatives from Ukraine, Russia and Turkey.
Both sides agreed that neither side should attack any of the ships leaving these ports from the territorial waters into the Black Sea.
Before signing the deal, the Ukrainian government warned Russia against any provocations. “No transport escort by Russian ships and the presence of Russian representatives in our ports,” Mikhail Podolyak, an adviser to the head of the presidential administration of Ukraine, tweeted on Friday.
“In case of provocations, an immediate military response,” he added.
Podolyak also added that Ukraine is not signing an agreement with Russia, but with Turkey and the UN. He also said that inspections of ships would be carried out in Ukrainian waters, if necessary, by joint teams.
The Black Sea will not be cleared of mines; a long and complex process that, according to UN mining experts, as well as Turkey and Ukraine, has not begun. Sea mines in the Black Sea have become a serious obstacle to the resumption of grain exports, while Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of mining the waters.
Why is grain export so important?
Ukraine and Russia are important food suppliers in the world. In normal times Ukraine, known as one of the world’s breadbaskets, would export about three-quarters of its grain production. According to the European Commission, about 90% of these exports were shipped by sea, from the Ukrainian ports of the Black Sea.
Thus, the war and its impact on grain exports have serious consequences, especially in the global South, which is heavily dependent on them. The United Nations warned last month that by disrupting Ukrainian agricultural production and blocking the export of remaining produce, Russia’s war in Ukraine could lead to starvation or famine-like conditions for 49 million people.
Storage problems also hampered farmers; Last month, a grain storage silo was destroyed in the city of Nikolaev, which Ukraine says Russia launched air-launched cruise missiles.
The UN hopes that, in accordance with the agreement, 5 million tons of grain will be exported from the ports every month, which is comparable to the pre-war level.
How did the war affect the harvest in Ukraine?
While the ability to export grain to the Black Sea is a major breakthrough, the amount Ukraine can ship has been severely affected by the war.
President of the Ukrainian Grain Association Mykola Gorbachev said on Friday that unblocking Ukrainian ports is the only way to prevent a global food crisis and save Ukrainian agricultural producers. According to him, the Russians stole about 500 thousand tons of grain in the occupied territories, and about 1 million tons of grain remain in the elevators under the control of the occupiers.
Agriculture Minister Taras Vysotsky said the grain harvest could reach at least 50 million tons, compared to 86 million tons in 2021. According to the union, at least half of this crop is intended for export.
Wheat production and exports in an already tough global market could be at the highest risk. French consultancy Agritel said this month that it expects Ukraine to harvest 21.8 million tons of wheat this summer, up from 32.2 million tons last year.
Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov called the deal, which he signed at a ceremony in Istanbul, “great support for the Ukrainian economy.”
Will Russia stick to the agreement?
Western officials have accused Russia of deliberately strangling the global supply chain during the country’s war in Ukraine. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the food was part of the Kremlin’s “arsenal of terror” and the US accused him of “turning food into a weapon.”
The US and other Western countries welcomed Friday’s agreement. But US State Department spokesman Ned Price warned on Thursday, as the agreement in principle was reached, that Washington would focus on “holding Russia accountable for honoring this agreement.”
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Friday: “The UK and our allies are working hard to get to this point. Now this agreement must be implemented, and we will ensure that Russia’s actions are in line with its words.”