Ukraine and Russia have signed “mirror” deals which will allow Kyiv to resume exports of grain through the Black Sea.
The agreement will allow millions of tonnes of grain, currently trapped in Ukraine by the war, to be exported.
The world shortage of Ukrainian grain since Russia’s 24 February invasion has left millions at risk of hunger.
However, Kyiv has refused to sign a direct deal with Moscow, and has warned “provocations” would be met with “an immediate military response”.
Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak explained on Friday that then country would instead sign an agreement with Turkey and the United Nations (UN), which have brokered the deal, while Russia would sign an identical agreement.
According to diplomats, under the terms of the deal:
Russia will not target ports while shipments are in transit.
Ukrainian vessels will guide cargo ships through waters that have been mined.
Turkey – supported by the United Nations – will inspect ships, to allay Russian fears of weapons smuggling.
Russian exports of grain and fertiliser via the Black Sea will be facilitated.
However, there was still scepticism from the Ukrainian side ahead of the signing.
An MP for Odesa, the centre of Russia’s grain blockade in Ukraine, said he still did not trust the Kremlin because of past behaviour.
Oleksiy Goncharenko told BBC World News “we don’t believe Russians” – adding that Russia would only sign a deal if they felt there was no other option.
Russia has always denied blockading Ukraine’s ports – it blames Ukraine for laying mines at sea and Western sanctions for slowing Russia’s own exports.
In a piece aimed at newspapers in Africa, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed the West and Ukraine for “absolutely groundless” allegations that Russia was exporting hunger. He praised the “balanced position of the Africans regarding what is happening in Ukraine and around it”.
Ukraine, however, says the Russian navy prevents it shipping grain and other exports and accuses Russian occupation forces of stealing grain from Ukrainian farms.
But amid the scepticism, there are positive signs: just the prospect of the unblocking of more than 20 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain led to a 2% drop in wheat prices on Friday.
The blockade of Ukraine’s grain has caused a global food crisis with wheat-based products like bread and pasta becoming more expensive, with cooking oils and fertiliser also increasing in price.
Former UN Deputy Secretary-General Lord Malloch-Brown told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme the deal was “an important start”. (BBC)