Turkey on Wednesday said it will sign a deal next week with Russia, Ukraine, and the UN to facilitate the export of grain from Ukraine.
Istanbul hosted negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian officials, the first time the two nations have held face-to-face talks since March. While there was progress on the issue of grain exports, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said there was still a “long way to go” before there would be peace talks to end the fighting.
Guterres was also more cautious than Turkey on the prospect of a grain deal being signed next week. “I’m optimistic, but it’s not yet fully done,” he said from New York. “More technical work will now be needed to materialize today’s progress. But the momentum is clear.”
But a senior UN official speaking anonymously to the media described the talks on grain exports in Istanbul as a “breakthrough.” Under the tentative deal, Ukrainian vessels would guide ships in and out of Ukraine’s heavily mined ports, and Russia would agree not to attack the area while shipments were moving.
Turkey’s role would be to inspect ships to ensure weapons weren’t being smuggled and, Ankara’s mission would be supported by the UN. Turkey has emerged as a broker between Ukraine and Russia and has been calling for diplomacy to end the war unlike most of its NATO allies.
There is still the issue of Russian grain and fertilizer exports as Western sanctions have hindered shipments. The sanctions technically have exemptions for those products, but the measures discourage companies and ports from doing business with Russian ships altogether.
The US has said it would consider writing “comfort letters” to encourage companies to work with Russia on grain and fertilizer exports. The UN says it’s working on a plan to get the shipments moving.