BRUSSELS — There are so many moving parts to the grain deal reached by Russia and Ukraine that officials didn’t even think was possible until last week, not least because trust between the parties is so low as the war continues.
What to know about the grain problem and how to solve it now.
Why is Ukrainian grain stuck in the country?
After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, it stationed warships off Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. Ukraine mined those waters to prevent a Russian naval attack. That means ports used to export Ukrainian grain were blocked for commercial shipping. Russia also looted granaries, cutting up grain fields and destroying grain storage facilities so they could not be harvested.
How does the operation work?
Ukrainian captains will unload ships laden with grain from the ports of Odessa, Yuzhne and Chornomorsk.
Using uncut passages, they would pilot ships to unload at Turkish ports, where the grain would then be shipped to buyers around the world.
The returning ships will be inspected by a team of Turkish, UN, Ukrainian and Russian officials to ensure they are empty and not carrying weapons to Ukraine, a key demand of Russia.
A joint command center with officials from the four parties will immediately be set up in Istanbul to monitor every movement of the flotillas.
The Parties agree that ships and port facilities used for their operations shall be protected from hostilities.
The move is expected to enable rapid dispatch of five million tonnes of grain per month. At that rate, considering that 2.5 million tons are already being transported by land and river to Ukraine’s allies, a stockpile of nearly 20 million tons should be cleared within three to four months. This will free up space in storage facilities for the new harvest already underway in Ukraine.
What are the risks?
No broad armistice was negotiated, so ships would sail through the war zone. Attacks near the ships or on the ports they use could unravel the treaty. Another risk is a breach of trust or disagreement between inspectors and joint commanding officers.
The role of the United Nations and Turkey is to mediate such differences on the spot and monitor and implement the agreement. The agreement is valid for 120 days and will be renewed, the UN said.
Will it instantly solve world hunger and lower food prices?
No. Global hunger is a persistent problem caused by poor distribution and price manipulation of food that affects parts of the world year after year. It is often compounded by conflict and affected by climate change. The war in Ukraine, which produces most of the world’s wheat, has put a heavy burden on grain supply networks, driving up prices and fueling hunger.
Officials say the deal will allow Somalia to increase wheat supplies within weeks, avoid outright famine and lead to a gradual decline in global grain prices. But given the fragility of the deal, grain markets are unlikely to return to normal any time soon.
What’s in it for Russia?
Russia is also a major exporter of grains and fertilizers and the deal should facilitate that Those products should be sold in the world market.
The Kremlin has repeatedly said it cannot export its stock because of sanctions imposed by the US and EU.
The measures do not actually affect those goods, but private shipping companies, insurers, banks and other businesses are reluctant to help export grain and fertilizer to Russia. Doing business with Russia will harm their reputation.
Reassuringly, the European Union on Thursday released a legal explanation for its sanctions, saying the various banks and other companies involved in the grain trade were not actually banned.
Armed with similar pledges from the United States, it negotiated with the private sector, and the United Nations said it would need to pick up the pace from Russia — particularly the Russian port of Novorossiysk.