A United Nations-brokered grain deal between Russia and Ukraine has been renewed during talks in Istanbul. The renewal of the agreement allows Ukrainian grain to enter world markets and is key to averting a further surge in world food prices.
The grain deal was renewed in Istanbul for a further 120 days among the U.N., Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. The deal removes a Russian blockade on Ukrainian ports, allowing safe passage of grain ships to world markets.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the renewal.
"I was deeply moved to know that in Istanbul, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, and the U.N. had come to an agreement for the rollover of the Black Sea grain initiative, allowing for the free export of Ukrainian grain,” Guterres said.
Ukraine is one of the world's biggest grain suppliers, especially to African and Middle East nations. Since the deal first went into effect in July, 11 million tons of grain have been exported.
Russia had threatened to withdraw from the agreement. But Zaur Gasimov, a Russia expert at Bonn University, said Moscow sees the grain deal as one of the last points of leverage that it has over the West in its efforts to ease crippling Western sanctions.
“For Russia, the grain deal is a platform to negotiate with the Western countries, and it is reluctant to withdraw from that completely,” he said.
Gasimov said Russia is using these negotiations to help ease sanctions on some of the banks, like Rosselkhozbank.
“Actually, the U.S. cut out food and fertilizer shipments in a previous deal,” Gasimov said.
It is not clear whether Moscow received any concessions for renewing the grain deal, but U.N. Secretary-General Guterres said he is committed to easing obstacles to Russian agricultural exports.
"I want to express my deep commitment and the commitment of the U.N. to do everything possible for the smooth implementation of these agreements in Istanbul by the joint coordination center and also to remove the remaining obstacles to the unimpeded exports of Russian food and fertilizer essential to avoid a food crisis next year too,” he said.
The renewal of the grain deal is a diplomatic victory for Turkey. Moscow, Kyiv and Guterres have thanked Turkish diplomatic efforts for its success.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was at the forefront of brokering the grain agreement and its continuation.
Political analyst Ilhan Uzgel of the Kisa Dalga news portal said Erdogan will see the renewal of the deal as a vindication of his stance of maintaining close ties with both his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts — a position that has drawn criticism and sparked suspicion in the West.
“Turkey has a kind of balanced position. It’s not a party to the conflict,” Uzgel said. “Although Turkey is a member of NATO, [it] declares it as a war but does not comply with the sanctions. Erdogan is trying to take advantage of the crisis to raise his international profile from troubleshooter to mediator in the region.”
Ankara's Western allies have voiced criticism and concern that Turkey was becoming a backdoor to Russia in Moscow’s efforts to avoid sanctions.
Observers say Erdogan is hoping his diplomatic victory will serve to silence criticism of his ties to Russia.