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UN Chief Cites 'Broad Agreement' on Ukrainian Grain Exports


FILE - A farmer uses a combine harvester to harvest wheat on a field near Izmail, in Ukraine's Odesa region, June 14, 2022, amid Russia's invasion of its neighbor.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday there is “broad agreement” on a deal between Russia and Ukraine, with Turkey and the United Nations, to export millions of tons of Ukrainian grain stuck in silos since Russia’s invasion on February 24.

“Today is an important and substantive step,” Guterres told reporters of developments at talks in Istanbul among the four parties. “A step on the way to a comprehensive agreement.”

The U.N. chief broke his public silence on the negotiations, pointing to a statement from Turkey’s defense minister, who said there is agreement on major points, including the creation of a coordination center with Russia, Ukraine and the U.N.; agreement on controls for checking grain at ports; and ensuring the safety of cargo ships carrying the grain out of Odesa.

“Of course, this was a first meeting,” Guterres noted. “The progress was extremely encouraging. Now, the delegations are coming back to their capitals, and we hope the next steps will allow us to come to a formal agreement.”

While Guterres would not predict when the final agreement would be ready, he said he hoped the parties would reconvene next week and have a final agreement. Whenever it is, he said, he would be ready to go to Istanbul to sign it.

A U.N. official with knowledge of the talks said there was an important meeting of the Russians and the Ukrainians where they were able to make a lot of progress on sticking points.

More than 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain are being stored in silos at the Black Sea port of Odesa, and dozens of ships have been stranded because of Russia's blockade. Turkey said it has 20 merchant ships waiting in the region that could be quickly loaded and dispatched to world markets.

The grain deal has been in the works for months, with U.N. officials raising the alarm nearly immediately after the war started about the consequences for global food security if Ukraine, which is one of the world’s top grain exporters, is unable to get its harvests out.

“Truly, failure to open those ports in Odesa region will be a declaration of war on global food security,” World Food Program chief David Beasley warned at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on May 19. “And it will result in famine and destabilization and mass migration around the world.”

WFP says 276 million people worldwide were facing acute hunger at the start of this year. They project that number will rise by 47 million people if the conflict in Ukraine continues, with the steepest increases in sub-Saharan Africa.

Fighting continues

Meanwhile, the war rages on. Russia shelled Ukrainian cities across the industrialized eastern Donetsk province, part of the Donbas region that Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes to capture after failing earlier in the war to topple the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or take the capital, Kyiv.

Ukrainian official Kyrylo Tymoshenko said Russia also struck 28 settlements in the Mykolaiv region bordering the Black Sea, killing at least five civilians.

Zelenskyy told a conference in Asia via video link that Russia had launched 2,960 missiles on Ukraine's cities so far during the 4½-month war.

"Of course, this is Russia's tactic ... directed at chasing people out of our cities so that every Ukrainian feels fear," he said.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday it expects Russian forces to focus on taking small towns near the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk as it tries to take control of the eastern Donbas region.

“The urban areas of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk likely remain the principal objectives for this phase of the operation,” the ministry said.

A local resident, 79, reacts next to his house destroyed by alleged Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, July 13, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A local resident, 79, reacts next to his house destroyed by alleged Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, July 13, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Zelenskyy said in his nightly address late Tuesday that “Russian shelling does not stop for a single day.”

“In the Donbas, offensive attempts do not stop, the situation there does not get easier, and the losses do not get smaller. We must remember this. We must see this, draw attention to this,” he said.

Ukraine said Tuesday that 52 Russians were killed in a long-range missile attack on an ammunition dump in southern Ukraine. Moscow disputed the claim, saying seven civilians had been killed.

Kyiv said the attack in the town of Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region came after the United States supplied Ukraine with advanced HIMARS mobile artillery systems, which Ukraine said its forces were using with greater accuracy.

"Based on the results of our rocket and artillery units, the enemy lost 52 (people), a Msta-B howitzer, a mortar and seven armored and other vehicles, as well as an ammunition depot in Nova Kakhovka,” Ukraine’s southern military command said in a statement.

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the aftermath of a Ukrainian strike on a Russian ammunition depot in Nova Kakhovka, Ukraine, July 12, 2022.
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the aftermath of a Ukrainian strike on a Russian ammunition depot in Nova Kakhovka, Ukraine, July 12, 2022.

The region Ukraine hit is one that Russia seized after launching its invasion on February 24. With access to the Black Sea, the area is of strategic importance.

A Russian-installed official in Kherson gave a different version of events, saying at least seven people had been killed, and that civilians and civilian infrastructure had been hit.

Russia’s Tass news agency quoted Vladimir Leontyev, head of the Russia-installed, Kakhovka district military-civilian administration, as saying at least seven people had been killed in the attack and about 60 wounded.

“There are still many people under the rubble. The injured are being taken to the hospital, but many people are blocked in their apartments and houses,” Leontyev said in the Tass account. He was also quoted as saying that warehouses, shops, a pharmacy, gas stations and a church had been hit.

Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of indiscriminately killing civilians in the war. The United Nations human rights office said Tuesday that 5,024 civilians had been killed in Ukraine since the invasion began, while adding that the actual toll likely was much higher.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.