What to expect following grain corridor deal?

What to expect following grain corridor deal?
Russia launched an attack on the key Ukrainian port of Odesa less than a day after signing a UN-brokered deal to unblock grain exports via the Black Sea. (AFP)
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Updated 24 July 2022

What to expect following grain corridor deal?

What to expect following grain corridor deal?
  • Serious questions still remain about the implementation phase amid the continuing war in Ukraine

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.”


Germans spot ‘Russian forces’ in Mali after French exit

Germans spot ‘Russian forces’ in Mali after French exit
Updated 6 sec ago

Germans spot ‘Russian forces’ in Mali after French exit

Germans spot ‘Russian forces’ in Mali after French exit
  • German ambassador in Bamako has contacted Mali’s foreign minister about ‘the suspected presence of Russian uniformed forces in Gao’
  • France announced in February that it was withdrawing its troops from Mali after a breakdown in relations with the country’s ruling junta

BERLIN: German soldiers in Mali spotted several dozen suspected Russian security forces in the city of Gao just as the last French soldiers left the country, the German government said Wednesday.
The German ambassador in Bamako has contacted Mali’s foreign minister about “the suspected presence of Russian uniformed forces in Gao,” said a foreign ministry spokesman.
Gao is home to a contingent of German soldiers, not far from the former base occupied by the French.
A Russian presence in the city would be a development “that changes the mission environment,” the spokesman said, adding that the government was also discussing the matter with the United Nations.
France announced in February that it was withdrawing its troops from Mali after a breakdown in relations with the country’s ruling junta. That ended a near 10-year deployment against extremist groups that pose a growing threat in West Africa.
The arrival of Russian paramilitaries in the country on the invitation of the government was a key factor in France’s decision to pull its military forces out.
The last French soldiers left Mali on Monday.
Germany’s government was also aware of an aircraft being used by Malian armed forces that “could possibly be an aircraft that was handed over by Russia,” said a defense ministry spokeswoman.
“We have received information that about 20 to 30 persons who were not associated with the Malian armed forces were seen loading and unloading this aircraft in a hangar” on Monday, the spokeswoman said.
The government is “intensively investigating” these reports, which concern a “training and ground combat aircraft of the L-39 type,” she said.
Germany on Friday said it had stopped reconnaissance operations and helicopter transport flights in Mali until further notice after Bamako denied flyover rights to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA.
But MINUSMA resumed contingent rotations from Monday under new approval procedures.
MINUSMA — the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali — was launched in 2013 to help one of the world’s poorest countries cope with a bloody extremist campaign.
It is one of the UN’s biggest peacekeeping operations, with 17,609 troops, police, civilians and volunteers deployed as of April, according to the mission’s website.


First drought, now downpours as storms slam France, England

First drought, now downpours as storms slam France, England
Updated 17 min 56 sec ago

First drought, now downpours as storms slam France, England

First drought, now downpours as storms slam France, England
  • Winds over 100 kph (60 mph) were recorded at the top of the Eiffel Tower during a flash flood Tuesday
  • In southern France, thunderstorms overnight and Wednesday flooded the Old Port of Marseille

PARIS: After a summer of drought, heat waves and forest fires, violent storms are whipping France and have flooded Paris subway stations, snarled traffic and disrupted the president’s agenda.
Winds over 100 kph (60 mph) were recorded at the top of the Eiffel Tower during a flash flood Tuesday, and similar winds were forecast Wednesday in the southeast.
Hail hammered Paris and other regions in Tuesday’s sudden storm. Rainwater gushed down metro station stairwells and onto platforms, and cars sloshed along embankments where the Seine River broke its banks.
In southern France, thunderstorms overnight and Wednesday flooded the Old Port of Marseille and the city’s main courthouse and forced the closure of nearby beaches.
Thunderstorms also appeared in southern England on Wednesday, drenching London tourists and residents after a summer of unusually warm and sunny weather.
The national weather service issued storm warnings for Wednesday and Thursday, advising people to stay alert for possible flooding and power outages.
As scattered storms swept across Belgium on Wednesday, one flooded parts of the historic town of Ghent following weeks of unrelenting drought.
Much of Western Europe has experienced a season of extreme weather that scientists link to human-made climate change.
Amid the storm warnings, French President Emmanuel Macron postponed an event Wednesday on the French Riviera to mark the 78th anniversary of a key Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France. It was rescheduled for Friday.
The dramatic downpours put an end to weeks of historic heat that left much of France parched, rivers dry and dozens of villages without running water.
Across much of Europe this summer, a series of heat waves has compounded a critical drought, creating prime wildfire conditions.
Rainfall in recent days has eased the burden on firefighters facing France’s worst fire season in the past decade, though emergency authorities said scattered wildfires continued to burn Wednesday in southwest France.


Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community
Updated 17 August 2022

Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community
  • Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country
  • The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group

KABUL: The Taliban killed one of their former leaders who was known as the first commander of the group hailing from the minority Shiite Hazara community, officials confirmed on Wednesday, adding that he had rebelled against the de facto government.
Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country, the defense ministry said in a statement.
Mahdi’s appointment as a commander some years ago was touted as an example of the Taliban’s changed on stance on minorities. He was in the spotlight after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the wake of the pullout of western forces last year.
The Taliban are hard-line followers of the Sunni branch of Islam, and were previously almost exclusively associated with the Pashtun ethnicity. More recently, the group had sought to include members of other ethnicities and some Shiites.
The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group. After the Taliban formed a government last year, Mahdi was given the post of intelligence chief in a central province.
The origins of the breach between Mahdi and the Taliban have not been made public, but as far back as June, the defense ministry had spoken of a clearance operation against rebels in northern Afghanistan.
The defense ministry on Wednesday described Mahdi as a the “leader of the rebels” in a district in the northern province of Sar-e-Pol.
A Taliban source told Reuters that Mahdi had fallen out with the Taliban and had revolted against the group’s leadership.
The statement said he was killed in Herat close to the border with Shiite majority Iran, where he was trying to flee.
Reuters was not able to contact representatives of Mahdi for comment.


US to withhold billions of dollars from Taliban over Al-Zawahiri

US to withhold billions of dollars from Taliban over Al-Zawahiri
Updated 17 August 2022

US to withhold billions of dollars from Taliban over Al-Zawahiri

US to withhold billions of dollars from Taliban over Al-Zawahiri
  • Officials: Al-Qaeda leader’s presence in Afghanistan eroded confidence that $3.5bn would not fund terror
  • UN warns 6.6m Afghans face famine this winter without urgent humanitarian intervention

LONDON: Billions of dollars being held by the US will not be transferred to Afghanistan after Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri was killed in Kabul on July 31.

Al-Zawahiri’s presence in Afghanistan meant Washington does not have “confidence” that the country’s central bank “has the safeguards and monitoring in place to manage assets responsibly,” said Tom West, the US special representative for Afghanistan.

“Needless to say, the Taliban’s sheltering of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri reinforces deep concerns we have regarding diversion of funds to terrorist groups.”

The US has held around $3.5 billion intended for Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover of the country last year.

Afghanistan’s economy has struggled since the withdrawal of coalition forces in August 2021, with officials negotiating with US representatives for ways to alleviate the situation.

But West said the US does not see returning funds to the country as a “near-term option” as the Taliban cannot provide guarantees that the money will not be used to fund terrorism.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price, though, said Washington would find alternative, humanitarian uses for the funds to help ease the suffering of ordinary Afghans. 

“The idea that we have decided not to use these funds for the benefit of the Afghan people is simply wrong. It is not true,” he added.

“Right now we’re looking at mechanisms that could be put in place to see to it that these $3.5 billion in preserved assets make their way efficiently and effectively to the people of Afghanistan in a way that doesn’t make them ripe for diversion to terrorist groups or elsewhere.”

US President Joe Biden in February ordered that $7 billion being held by the US for Afghanistan be split between humanitarian aid for the country, and 9/11 victims and their families.

Al-Zawahiri, the successor to Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, was killed last month in a drone strike while standing on the balcony of a house in which he was living in the center of Kabul.

His presence in Afghanistan was a “gross violation” of an agreement struck with Washington for the Taliban not to permit terrorist organizations to operate in the country, the US said.

A UN Security Council report earlier this year said the Taliban takeover had allowed “greater freedom” for foreign fighters to live and operate in the country.

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator and deputy special representative for Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, said the country faces “pure catastrophe” due to its precarious economic state, with 6.6 million people threatened with famine this winter and 24 million in need of humanitarian aid.

He added that poverty is forcing Afghans to make desperate decisions such as “the selling of organs, and the selling of children,” and that despite many spending as much as 90 percent of their income on food, he was still seeing evidence of severely malnourished children nationwide.

Erin Sikorsky, director at the US-based Center for Climate and Security, told the Daily Telegraph: “Poor governance by the Taliban will make things worse. It is likely Afghanistan will see more internally displaced people going forward, as disruptions to ... agriculture intersect with other security risks.”

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Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media
Updated 17 August 2022

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media
  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand
  • Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa will return to the island nation next week after fleeing in July amid mass protests, local broadcaster Newsfirst reported on Wednesday, citing a former ambassador.
Udayanga Weeratunga, a former Sri Lankan envoy to Russia who is related to Rajapaksa, said he will arrive in Sri Lanka on Aug. 24, Newsfirst reported.
Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand, after fleeing Sri Lanka on a military plane to the Maldives and then spending weeks in Singapore.
He resigned from office soon after arriving in Singapore, facing public anger over his government’s handling of Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.
Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka. Reuters was not able to immediately contact him or Weeratunga.
The office of Rajapaksa’s successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who suggested last month that the former president refrain from returning to Sri Lanka in the near future, did not immediately respond for a request for comment.
“I don’t believe it’s the time for him to return,” Wickremesinghe told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on July 31. “I have no indication of him returning soon.”