Turkey Launches Monitoring Site for Ukraine-Russia Grain Deal
ISTANBUL—Turkey’s defense chief unveiled a new control center where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and United Nations officials are set to monitor exports of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea under an agreement reached last week, and signaled Turkey’s intent to make sure that shipments start moving.
The grain export deal, which could free millions of tons of grain needed to alleviate a global food crisis, is clouded by uncertainty after Russia launched a missile attack on the port of Odessa, one of the key grain-exporting ports covered under the agreement.
Many Ukrainians, including senior government officials, say they don’t trust Russia to uphold its end of the agreement and allow safe passage of grain shipments through the Black Sea and out through the Bosporus. But officials say they are pushing ahead with preparations for ships to begin sailing from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports as Turkey gets the monitoring site up and running.
“This center has a meaning for the whole world, and this center will work for humanitarian purposes,” Turkish Defense Minister
said at the facility on Wednesday.
The deal calls on both Ukraine and Russia not to attack ships exporting grain from Odessa and two other Black Sea ports. Ukrainian pilots are set to guide commercial ships carrying grain and other foodstuffs through the mine fields around the ports and out into the Black Sea.
At the center in Istanbul, which spans the Bosporus, military officials from all three countries, along with the U.N., are set to oversee the exports and resolve any problems that may arise, including attacks on the ships.
Inside the center, located inside the National Defense University in Istanbul, a square table was set up with computer workstations, with one side of the table designated for each participant in the agreement, marked by Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish and U.N. flags. On one wall a large screen displayed a map of the Black Sea.
Uniformed Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish military officials filed into the room and took their places at the table, along with three civilian officials from the U.N. The Russian and Ukrainian officials sat on opposite sides of the table.
Twenty people representing each of the four parties to the agreement will work in the center, Turkish officials said.
An inspection team, also including officials from all three countries and the U.N., is also being prepared to make sure ships traversing the route aren’t carrying military supplies.
“Getting two warring parties to manage a joint project while the war goes on—and that’s what this is about—anywhere is going to be difficult,” said
the U.N.’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, who helped negotiate the deal.
A Turkish official at the opening of the center said: “Both the Russians and Ukrainians are working very professionally. We eat meals together. They talk to each other.”
“Not at the same table perhaps but in the same dining hall,” he added.
Saturday’s missile attack on the port of Odessa, which damaged a rail terminal used to load grain, raised fears that Russian attacks could upend the deal. Russia’s forces have also attacked roads, bridges, farms, storage facilities and other vital infrastructure needed to export Ukraine’s grain. The strike appeared to violate the agreement, which forbids attacks on ships carrying grain or the ports involved in the deal.
Grain traders say they are monitoring the progress of the shipping plan but also considering alternatives in case the Black Sea agreement isn’t fully implemented. In June, Ukraine exported about 2 million metric tons of grain on smaller ships leaving the Danube river and via rail and trucks.
“There are so many unknowns. I have to be blunt: nobody knows. Everybody’s got a story. Everybody’s trying to find out what’s happening,” said Jonathan Grange, a partner at Sunstone Brokers, an agricultural-commodities brokerage working in Ukraine and the Black Sea region.
U.N. officials say the aim is to bring Ukraine’s grain exports up to about 5 million tons of grain a month, the equivalent of prewar levels.
Ukrainian and U.N. officials have said that they expect the first ship carrying grain could depart in the coming days, but it could take up to two weeks to bring exports up to full speed.
Wheat prices fell to their lowest level since before the February invasion of Ukraine following the signing of agreement on Friday, with the most active wheat futures contract trading at $7.59 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade. Prices rose again after the Russian missile attack on Odessa on Saturday.
A Turkish official said the ships would have to move slowly for the first 10 miles of their journey from Ukraine in order to avoid mines. “The rest is easy,” he said.
Write to Jared Malsin at [email protected]
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