UN sees progress in talks to free up Ukraine grain exports

·5 min read

ISTANBUL (AP) — The United Nations reported “positive” results Wednesday from the first face-to-face talks in months between Russia and Ukraine on a U.N. plan to ship millions of tons of grain blocked in Ukraine because of the war to world markets and enable Russia to also send out grain and fertilizer.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was to brief reporters Wednesday afternoon on the outcome of the grain meeting in Istanbul. His deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, said: “The important point is we believe this is something positive and he will talk to you at some length about why that is.”

The war has trapped about 22 million tons of grain inside Ukraine, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. U.N., Turkish and other officials are scrambling for a solution that would empty the silos in time for upcoming harvest in Ukraine. Some grain is being transported through Europe by rail, road and river, but the amount is small compared with the Black Sea routes.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says the war in Ukraine is endangering food supplies for many developing nations, raising food prices globally and could worsen hunger for up to 181 million people.

Russia said meanwhile, it had presented a package of proposals for a “practical and quick solution” to unblock the export of Ukrainian grain but did not elaborate.

The Russian and Ukrainian officials, dressed in civilian clothes, faced each other around a large square table, along with Turkish military officials and U.N. envoys.Turkey's Defense Ministry announced the talks had ended about 90 minutes after it confirmed that they had begun.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion and war has disrupted production and halted shipments across the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

Turkey has offered to provide safe Black Sea corridors and worked with the U.N., Russia and Ukraine to reach an agreement. The U.N. would establish a center in Istanbul to control the shipments, Turkish officials have said.

Speaking before the talks, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told The Associated Press that grain exports from his country’s ports won’t resume without security guarantees to ship owners, cargo owners and to keep Ukraine as an independent nation.

Any agreement needs to ensure that Russia “will respect these corridors, they will not sneak into the harbor and attack ports or that they will not attack ports from the air with their missiles,” he said.

Russian and Ukrainian officials have traded accusations over the stuck grain shipments.

Moscow claims Ukraine's heavily mined ports are causing the delay. Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged that Moscow wouldn’t use the corridors to launch an attack, if the sea mines were removed.

But Ukrainian officials have blamed a Russian naval blockade for holding up the exports and causing the global food crisis. They are skeptical of Putin's pledge not to take advantage of cleared Black Sea corridors to mount attacks on Ukrainian ports, noting that he insisted repeatedly this year that he had no plans to invade Ukraine.

Ahead of the talks, a senior Russian diplomat said Moscow was willing to ensure safe navigation for ships to carry grain from Ukrainian ports but would press for its right to check the vessels for weapons.

Pyotr Ilyichev, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s department for ties with international organizations, said Russia's military had repeatedly declared its willingness to allow safe shipping corridors in the Black Sea.

Seventy vessels from 16 countries have remained stuck in Ukrainian ports, Ilyichev said, alleging that Ukrainian authorities had barred them from departing.

“Our conditions are clear: We need to have a way to control and check the ships to prevent any attempts to smuggle weapons in, and Kyiv must refrain from any provocations,” Russia's Interfax news agency quoted Ilyichev as saying.

Guterres has worked for months to secure a deal that would allow Ukraine to export wheat and other commodities from Odesa, the country's largest port, and also enable Russia to export its grain and fertilizer to global markets.

Western sanctions on Russia do not ban exports of food or fertilizer. But Moscow argues that Western sanctions on its banking and shipping industries make it impossible for Russia to export those goods and are scaring off foreign shipping companies.

Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Kyiv-based Penta Center think-tank, said a key issue at the talks was what country would offer security guarantees and send warships to escort vessels carrying grain.

Ukraine also wants to set up a control mechanism to ensure that Russia doesn’t ship grain from the territories it seized in Ukraine to global markets, he said.

“Ukraine is demanding to work out a transparent and clear mechanism of international control,” he said. “The Ukrainian authorities are using the talks in Turkey to urge international partners not to buy what was stolen or pay to Kyiv for it.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador last week after Turkish authorities briefly detained a Russian ship suspected of transporting stolen grain but allowed it to leave and return to a Russian port. A Turkish official said authorities were not able to determine that the ship carried stolen grain.

NATO-member Turkey has retained close ties to both Moscow and Ukraine.

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Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara. Edith Lederer in New York contributed.

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Follow AP's coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Ayse Wieting And Suzan Fraser, The Associated Press

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