ANKARA: The comprehensive agreements signed on Friday in Istanbul by Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the UN are expected to unblock the Black Sea for Ukrainian exports of grains and to help prevent a global food crisis following Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
However, serious questions still remain about the implementation phase amid the continuing war in Ukraine.
Russia launched an attack on the key Ukrainian port of Odessa — a key point for wheat exports and the agreement — with Kalibr cruise missiles less than a day after signing a UN-brokered deal to unblock grain exports via the Black Sea.
The attack, which did not damage the grain storage facilities, does however mean a violation of the terms of the agreement, which emphasized that both countries would refrain from attacking port facilities used for grain transport.
Turkey says that it is worried by the Russian attack. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Russia denied involvement and added that the incident would be investigated.
As Turkey acted in a central role in connecting Russia diplomatically to the outside world and negotiating the deal, experts believed that the country’s leadership scored points as Turkey will become one of the hubs to grain coming from Ukraine and Russia.
The historic move, dubbed the Black Sea Initiative, is the result of intense diplomacy efforts between the quartet in brokering a deal between the parties to unblock Ukrainian agricultural exports into global markets by creating a secure food corridor through the Black Sea.
Ukraine and Russia, two major exporters of grains, fertilizers and wheat, signed two memoranda of understanding with the UN and Turkey on July 22 to begin exporting grains and other food products.
The execution of the plan will be controlled through the Joint Coordination Center to be established in Istanbul in the coming days with the presence of officials from Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and the UN to monitor the process together and ensure the maritime safety of the vessels from and to the ports of Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny with a “de facto cease-fire” in the area.
The commercial vessels will be also guided by the Ukrainian navy until they reach a secured corridor in the Black Sea.
Under the deal, which will be valid for 120 days, Ukraine will ship about 25 million tons of much-needed wheat to the world market. Ports are expected to be ready for the shipments in 10 days.
Rich Outzen, senior fellow at Atlantic Council and Jamestown Foundation, sees the deal as a validation of Ankara’s strategy of staying engaged with Russia even while aiding Ukraine.
“I think the Russians are coming under increasing military and economic pressure so were willing to concede a major lever. Their main gain is to rehabilitate their standing as a reasonable actor to some degree. They are less dependent on grain exports so I don’t think they won the transaction in a direct sense,” he told Arab News.
According to Outzen, it is a rare case of leading in diplomacy rather than being stuck between great powers.
“But, the risks attached to the deal might appear in the implementation,” he said.
“Pressure may build in Kyiv to make more deals when Moscow is facing increasing headwinds in military sense. The advantage is that Russia’s acquiescence to an economic and diplomatic process presents their first step away from maximalist military solution and recognition of need for negotiated way out — including a UN role.”
It is still unclear how Saturday’s strikes would affect the deal, but technical preparations are ongoing for the export of Ukrainian agricultural products.
Regarding the latest missile attack to Odessa, Outzen thinks it is too early to assume the end of the grain corridor deal.
“It’s a bad sign . . . but it’s not that unusual for deals to cease or limit operations in one area of an ongoing war to take some time to implement,” he said.
According to the data of the World Food Programme, the blockage over grain exports may push an additional 47 million people around the world into “acute hunger.” The agreement is expected to make available about 18 million tons of wheat and corn that have been trapped at grain silos and Ukrainian ports under the blockage of Black Sea by Russia.
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, thinks that the deal was a quite big diplomtic achievement for Turkey and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Since the beginning of the war, Turkey followed a pro-Ukrainian neutrality, and adopted a neutral attitude by supporting Ukraine militarily and taking steps like closing straits to Russian and Ukrainian ships,” he told Arab News.
“During this whole process, Turkey maintained economic ties and lines of communication open to Russia. This stance made Turkey the only country that had the opportunity to contact the both sides,” Cagaptay said.
According to Cagaptay, Putin is playing the arsonist and the firefighter, except in this case it is the reverse.
“First, he signs under the grain export corridor as a firefighter, but then he undermines it militarily as an arsonist, while denying any foul play,” he said. “The proof of success of the deal will be seen in the implementation.”
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of German Marshall Fund of the US, also agrees that the deal is a win for all parties that are concerned.
“As Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of grain and nutrient oils to world markets, global food prices will be contained and famine will be avoided in developing countries. The UN has demonstrated its capacity to find solutions to humanitarian crises during wartime,” he told Arab News.
“While Ukraine is now able to export its grain, earn revenues, and demonstrate its capacity to provide the world markets even when it is under invasion, Turkey has demonstrated its capacity to mediate between warring parties, gained prestige, and shown an example on why it is maintaining its dialogue with Russia could actually help Ukraine,” Unluhisarcikli said.
According to Unluhisarcikli, Russia has projected benevolence and avoided being perceived as the main culprit for food shortages around the world.
“While this development has mitigated food shortage in the short run, the problem will come back soon as Ukrainian farmers will produce less due to the war and farmers elsewhere will produce less due to the fertilizer shortage, another consequence of the war,” he said.
“All of this is based on the assumption that Russia will abide by the commitments it has made. The breaking news that Russia has targeted the Odessa port one day after the agreement makes this doubtful.”