Russia and Ukraine will sign a deal on Friday to reopen Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to grain exports, Turkey said, raising hopes that an international food crisis caused by Russia’s invasion could be eased.
Ukraine and Russia, both among the world’s biggest exporters of food, did not immediately confirm Thursday’s announcement by the office of the Turkish presidency.
But in a late-night video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hinted his country’s Black Sea ports could soon be unblocked.
The blockade by Russia’s Black Sea fleet has reduced supplies to markets around the world and sent grain prices soaring since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into neighbouring Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Full details of the agreement were not immediately released. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was going to Turkey, a U.N. spokesperson said. The agreement was due to be signed on Friday at 1330 GMT, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s office said.
Zelensky, whose address mainly focused on Ukrainian forces’ potential to make gains on the battlefield, said: “And tomorrow we also expect news for our state from Turkey – regarding the unblocking of our ports.”
Moscow has denied responsibility for worsening the food crisis, blaming instead a chilling effect of Western sanctions for slowing its own food and fertiliser exports and Ukraine for mining its Black Sea ports.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Washington would focus on holding Moscow accountable for carrying out the agreement.
The United Nations and Turkey have been working for two months to broker what Guterres called a “package” deal – to resume Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports and facilitate Russian grain and fertiliser shipments.
Russia on Thursday said the latest round of European Union sanctions would have “devastating consequences” for security and parts of the global economy.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement that the 27-nation bloc proposed to ease some earlier sanctions in a bid to safeguard global food security, and Moscow hoped this would create conditions for the unhindered export of grain and fertilisers.
Zelensky met senior commanders on Thursday to discuss weapons supplies and intensifying attacks on Russians.
“(We) agreed that our forces have the strong potential to advance on the battlefield and inflict significant new losses on the occupiers,” Zelensky said in his video address.
Ukraine has accused Russia of stepping up missile strikes on cities in recent weeks to terrorise its population. Moscow denies attacking civilians and says all its targets are military.