UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday said a “critical step” had been reached as Russia, Turkey and Ukraine closed in on a deal that would ensure the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports.
“Today in Istanbul, we have seen a critical step, the step forwards to ensuring the safe and secure exports of Ukrainian food products through the Black Sea,” Mr Guterres told reporters.
“Next week, hopefully, we'll be able to have a final agreement. But, as I said, we still need a lot of goodwill and commitments by all parties.”
Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in a statement that an agreement had been reached to create a co-ordination centre in Turkey, where Black Sea exports of Ukrainian grain would be safely conducted along agreed upon routes.
Dozens of ships are stuck in Ukrainian Black Sea ports and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy estimates there are at least 22 million tonnes of grain in the country ready for export.
Mr Akar said there would be a meeting between Ukrainian, Russian and UN delegations next week to review and potentially sign a formalised agreement on the issue, including joint controls at harbours.
The developments are a “ray of hope” for the global food supply chain, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues to wreak havoc on wheat exports, sparking concerns of a food crisis, particularly in the developing world.
“We have a ray of hope, a ray of hope to ease human suffering and alleviate hunger around the world; a ray of hope to support developing countries and the most vulnerable people; a ray of hope to bring a measure of much needed stability to the global food system,” Mr Guterres said.
“But it's not yet fully done,” he added.
“Since the war started, I've been underlining the importance of having Ukraine's food products and Russian food and fertilisers fully available in world markets,” Mr Guterres said.
Turkey — which has good relations with both Ukraine and Russia — and the UN chief have been involved in lengthy talks over the movement of Ukrainian grain, as the conflict continues into its fifth month.