(Updates with additional info)
Ankara/United Nations, Jul 13 (EFE).- Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations on Wednesday in Istanbul reached the initial elements of an agreement to lift Russia’s Black Sea blockade and release millions of tons of grain trapped in war-ravaged Ukraine.
The Turkish Defense Ministry, which is hosting the talks, said in a statement that the delegations reached agreement on basic technical points to unblock Ukraine’s grain exports and that Russia and Ukraine will meet again next week in Turkey to review what has been discussed and sign an accord.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in New York shortly after the Turkish announcement that the progress achieved on Wednesday was “a critical step forward” to help ease the global food crisis, adding however that “more technical work will now be needed” to reach an agreement, “but the momentum is clear … I’m encouraged, but it’s not yet fully done.”
He went on to say that the final objective of the parties is not only to reach an accord between Russia and Ukraine but also an agreement for the entire world. Guterres has been working for months to resolve this issue, which ballooned into a worldwide food crisis after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and blockaded the latter’s ports.
Turkey said that at Wednesday’s meeting the parties agreed on issues such as establishing a coordination center in Istanbul, joint controls on entering and exiting Ukrainian ports and guaranteeing the security of navigation on shipment routes.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Ankara sees that the parties are ready to resolve the overarching problem and the host nation will try and reach a solution in conjunction with the UN.
Turkey, which controls the Bosporus Strait connecting the Black Sea with the Mediterranean, is mediating the talks.
Moscow argues that it must search all cargo vessels to ensure they are not used to ship weapons into Ukraine, an approach Kyiv rejects.
Ukrainian officials have requested security guarantees from Russia in order to clear mines lining Ukraine Black Sea ports, all of which are blockaded or occupied by Russia’s invading forces, rendering them useless to Ukraine.
There are currently more than 20 million tons of grains and sunflower seeds stockpiled in Ukraine that cannot be shipped to international markets.
The global scarcity of these products is also aggravated by the lack of Russian fertilizers, the export of which has halted since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The UN, meanwhile, is trying to enable these sales to resume without obstacles with an eye to alleviating the marked increase in food prices on international markets, where both Russia and Ukraine play key roles, especially for poor countries in Africa and the Middle East.
Before the meeting, the Russian government had said it would present a package of proposals on Ukrainian grain exports to resolve the crisis as quickly as possible.
“The Russian delegation has prepared and presented a package of proposals on the rapid practical resolution of this problem,” said a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry cited by that country’s official TASS news agency.
The Russian Defense Ministry, however, did not reveal the content of that package of proposals, although other Russian sources said that the process of resuming Ukrainian grain exports could take a month if Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN reach an agreement.
“There’s an understanding that this process will not be quick, but there’s a general desire for it not to take longer than a month,” the official told RIA Novosti, the other official Russian news agency.
If an agreement can be reached, Turkey and the UN would supervise implementation of the agreed-on mechanism. “The main thing now is to get to a consensus and create an operational control center in Istanbul,” the source told RIA Novosti.
Ukraine insists that its Black Sea ports must be unblocked because its ability to transport its grain via ports on the Danube River, by rail and through highway control points to its Western frontier is not enough to replace the maritime routes.
In June, Ukraine managed to export some 2.5 million tons of agricultural products via available logistical routes, but it needs to be able to export some eight million tons per month.