Russia, Türkiye and Qatar may be ready to discuss a draft agreement to export Russian agricultural products to countries most vulnerable to the threat of famine, according to a tripartite document allegedly being considered by the governments. The deal, which could be an alternative to the now-defunct Black Sea grain deal that collapsed on July 17, would bypass the United Nations and Ukraine to enable Russian grains to reach those in need of urgent humanitarian support, the document says.
In the agreement under consideration, Russia confirms its readiness to send grain to Türkiye for processing and its delivery to countries in need in volume, compensating for the loss of supplies of the World Food Program under the Black Sea Grain Initiative (up to 1 million tons). For its part, Qatar (who was not a party to the original Turkish-UN led grain deal) would agree to finance the “humanitarian project.” That includes payments for grain and supplies of grain from Russia to Türkiye and further supply of processed products to destination countries, which are not named in the draft agreement. The logistics are not spelled out, and PassBlue was unable to fully verify the arrangement.
On Monday, Russia shocked the world by terminating the Black Sea grain initiative signed nearly a year ago among Russia, Türkiye and Ukraine, with the UN as a witness. A separate side deal between Russia and the UN to help enable Russian grain, fertilizers and ammonia to global markets — amid the war and indirect effects of sanctions on Russia — also collapsed officially on July 18 as part of the overall Black Sea plan.
The new alternative deal appears to be part of Russia’s “free grain” to Africa project that it has been promoting this year to little effect. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin of Russia said at a July 21 media briefing in Moscow that “we’re making efforts so that these countries” — those “in need” in Africa — “won’t face with negative consequences” from terminating the “Istanbul agreements.”
“Russia promised that this deliveries might be replaced by Russian goods — I think we’re going to do our best,” Vershinin added, saying later in his briefing, “We haven’t signed any agreements yet, but we are making contacts and we will continue to make contacts and stay in contact.” That includes with Türkiye, he noted. President Vladimir Putin is reportedly traveling to the country in August.
The UN Security Council met on July 21 to address the immediate humanitarian results of Russia’s ending the Black Sea deal and the Russian aerial bombardments on Ukrainian ports this week. “We have now witnessed a further blow to global food security, as Russia for the fourth consecutive day struck Ukraine’s Black Sea ports in Odesa, Chornomorsk and Mykolaiv with missiles and drones, destroying critical port infrastructure, facilities and grain supplies,” said Rosemary DiCarlo, the head of the UN’s Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, at the session.
In the Council, a Turkish diplomat read a statement, saying, in part, that the Black Sea Grain Initiative and its side deal “are crucial for the vulnerable people around the world.” (Turkish and Qatari officials did not respond to requests by PassBlue for a comment.)
As to the possible deal among Russia, Qatar and Türkiye, Stéphane Dujarric, the UN spokesperson, said in an email to PassBlue on July 20: “I have no information on this initiative. For his part, the Secretary-General will not relent in his efforts to ensure that Ukrainian and Russian food and fertilizer are available on international markets as part of his ongoing efforts to fight global hunger and ensure stable food prices for consumers everywhere.”
The new possible agreement states that it is not an international treaty and does not create any rights or obligations under international law. It comes after Putin has continuously criticized the Black Sea deal, which began operating on Aug. 1, 2022. He has claimed that most of Ukraine’s grain exports ended up in ports of well-off countries instead of those countries that need the foodstuffs the most. The UN has disagreed, saying that the initiative helped lower cereal prices globally by 23 percent since March 2022, a month after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said early this week that the Black Sea deal had enabled more than 725,000 metric tons to support operations by the World Food Program, “relieving hunger in some of the hardest hit corners of the world, including Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Yemen.” The deal allowed the shipment of a total of 32 million metric tons of food commodities from Ukrainian ports. The last vessel to depart Odesa, one of the three ports involved in the arrangement, was on July 17, heading to the Netherlands.
It is unclear when the Russian-Turkish-Qatari deal was negotiated or even if it has been presented to all parties. It does not mention the export of Russian fertilizer and ammonia but refers to the processing and transportation of “agricultural products.” The draft agreement, it says, “will become effective from the date of signing by the representatives” of Russia, Türkiye and Qatar. Although it does not have an expiry date, it adds: “The Parties will notify each other in writing [XX] days in advance of the date on which they intend to terminate application.”
On Wednesday, as three of the brokers of the original grain deal — the UN, Ankara and Kyiv — began discussing alternative ways proposed by Ukraine to transport its grain through the Black Sea without Russia’s cooperation — including rumors of an international force that would escort ships carrying the foodstuffs through the waters — Russia’s defense ministry warned that “all vessels sailing in the waters of the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports will be regarded as potential carriers of military cargo . . . [and the] countries of such vessels will be considered to be involved in the Ukrainian conflict on the side of the Kiev regime,” allowing Russia to attack any civilian ships they perceive to be a threat.
In response, Ukraine’s defense ministry issued an equally stark warning on Thursday, stating that from midnight Kyiv time on July 21, “all vessels in the Black Sea waters that head to the ports of the russian federation or to temporarily occupied ports of Ukraine, may be considered for risk assessment as vessels carrying a military cargo.” The statement did not say how Ukraine would respond.
This escalatory exchange comes as Russia’s bombardment of Ukrainian Black Sea ports has been damaging grain silos and critical infrastructure there. The attacks, Russia said, were payback for recent explosions destroying part of the Kerch Bridge, which links Russia to occupied Crimea.
In a media briefing on July 20, Dujarric, the UN spokesperson, said the secretary-general “strongly condemns the Russian attacks against port facilities in Odesa, and other Ukrainian Black Sea ports,” adding that damage to civilian infrastructure could amount to a violation of international humanitarian law.
This is a developing story.
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