Representatives of Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey meet with UN officials in Istanbul on 13 July to negotiate safe passage of grain ships in the Black Sea. (Photo credit: TURKISH DEFENCE MINISTRY/via REUTERS)
The results of the UN-brokered, Turkish-mediated talks held in Istanbul on 13 July to negotiate the safe passage of commercial cargo ships carrying Ukrainian grain exports were revealed on 14 July.
Results indicated that a general deal had been agreed to, and that the final deal on the technical issues would follow soon after.
All sides will be represented at a coordination center in Istanbul, according to the Turkish minister of defense. The center would monitor the safe passage of the vessels and assess threat levels.
The general principles of the deal have been agreed to by all sides and are awaiting minor details to be smoothed out.
The impending deal marks a major diplomatic breakthrough after several weeks of UN-led talks between all sides.
“An agreement has been reached on technical issues such as joint controls at the destination points and … the safety of navigation on the transfer routes,” the Turkish defense minister added.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) cited an unnamed western official who claimed that any final deal would have to be signed off by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It is likely that Putin will discuss the subject with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan when the two meet in Tehran on 19 July.
According to sources who spoke to WSJ, the agreement would involve a limited ceasefire which only covers the geographic locations where each ship will sail.
Cargo ships would be escorted by Ukrainian vessels. The Turkish navy would inspect ships in order to address Russian concerns of possible arms smuggling.
The joint coordination center in Istanbul would allow all parties, along with the UN, to monitor all aspects of the processes.
Logistical details are still in the works, including the problem of naval mines placed by Ukrainian armed forces and Azov militants. Mines are dangerous when they are accidentally disconnected from their anchors and drift unseen at sea.
A source who spoke with the UN said that while a final deal and its implementation is on the horizon, it is not imminent.
The refusal of Ukraine to clear naval mines, on the assumption that Russia would launch a naval attack in the absence of mines, have stalled previous agreements for the establishment of safe passage of grain ships.
During a visit to Ankara on 8 June, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for refusing to discuss the clearing of mines.
“We state daily that we’re ready to guarantee the safety of vessels leaving Ukrainian ports and heading for the [Bosphorus] gulf, and we’re ready to do that in cooperation with our Turkish colleagues,” Lavrov said.
“To solve the problem, the only thing needed is for the Ukrainians to let vessels out of their ports, either by de-mining or by marking out safe corridors … nothing more is required,” Lavrov went on to say.
The two officials declared that the Russian and Turkish navies are ready to contribute to the de-mining process, and that Russia would not use the clearing of mines as a pretext to launch attacks on Ukraine.
Russia is also pushing for the relaxation of some western sanctions that directly affect the ability of Russia to export its grains to the global market.
“There are obstacles for the Russian side in the areas of ship insurance, logistics, transportation services, and banking operations due to the sanctions imposed,” a Russian diplomatic source told RIA news agency.
The talks for this deal took place ahead of the expected annual grain harvest for the year 2022, which is currently underway.
The months of July through November typically mark the busiest annual period when both Russia and Ukraine harvest their grain and export their supplies.
The UN-brokered plan seeks to alleviate the global food crisis that has been artificially created as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has halted grain exports.
The Turkish customs detained a Russian-flagged cargo ship in early July due to pressure from Kiev, accusing the ship – the first commercial ship to set sail since the start of the Russian military operation in Ukraine – of carrying a load of stolen grains.
The ship was released on 6 July after Turkish authorities completed their inspection.