Landmark agreement between Russia and Ukraine

UN and Turkey facilitated the signing of the historic deal in Istanbul


Rustam Shah Mohmand July 25, 2022
The writer is a former chief secretary K-P and former ambassador

After two months of hard and difficult negotiations, Russia and Ukraine, the two warring neighbours, have finally signed an agreement that would allow food grain export from Ukraine through the Black sea ports. UN and Turkey facilitated the signing of the historic deal in Istanbul. UN Secretary General António Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were both present during the signing of the agreement. Guterres said, “there is a beacon of hope and possibility in a world that needs it more than ever.”

An elaborate mechanism has been put in place to monitor the implementation of the complex deal and ensure that any bottlenecks that may arise are quickly taken care of. Russia and Ukraine are among the biggest exporters of food. Russia’s invasion led to a de-facto blockade of the Black Sea, which in turn led to Ukrainian exports dropping to a sixth of their pre-war level. The deal means that around $10 billion worth of grain would become available for sale. About 20 million tonnes of food — a left over from last year’s harvest could now be exported if no hurdles are encountered in executing the deal. A group of Turkish, Ukrainian and UN staff will monitor the loading of the food grain into vessels at Ukrainian ports. Once loaded, the vessels would keep to the mutually agreed route that is clear of mines to allow safe passage to the ships. Ukrainian pilot vessels will guide commercial vessels carrying grain in order to ensure the ships keep away from the mined areas. The vessels would then cross the Black Sea towards Turkey’s Bosphorus strait while being closely monitored. The concerns of Russia and Ukraine will be addressed by a joint coordination center in Istanbul that will have representatives from UN, Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey. A notable feature of the deal is that both Russia and Ukraine would not attack any of the commercial vessels or ports engaged in the transport of food grain.

The blockade of ports has disrupted global supply chains. This along with Western sanctions on Russia has caused inflation in food prices. The deal is therefore being welcomed with cautious optimism because of the many ifs and buts tied to it. There is a deep trust deficit between Moscow and Kyiv. The US has warned that, “Russia will be held accountable for any lack of progress on the implementation of the agreement” — clearly a very partisan view of a grim situation. But so much is at stake if the deal is not carried out with full sincerity and clarity. More than 850 million people face hunger in the world. Forty-five million children are faced with severe malnutrition. Conditions in the horn of Africa are becoming worse by the day. Millions face starvation in the region. Climate change and ensuing droughts have caused a catastrophic situation in East Africa besides many other regions all over the world. About 10% of the world’s population faces food insecurity.

Faced with these daunting challenges, the deal offers a glimmer of hope. UN and Turkey need to be applauded for bringing about the agreement under very difficult conditions. The UN chief has achieved a remarkable success. This was UN diplomacy at its best. No wonder Guterres called the deal as the most important achievement in his career. Equally important was the role played by Turkey and President Erdogan. Erdogan showed immense foresight and patience, and demonstrated his resolve in making the two warring countries reach a compromise deal that will bring visible relief to millions around the world. The agreement could also help create an environment for long sought negotiations to end the conflict.

There is a lesson to be learnt from the deal. No matter how complex and difficult the situation is, diplomacy backed by sincere endeavours can deliver positive outcomes. The coming weeks will test the acumen of leaders on both sides of the conflict on whether they can overcome the likely obstacles that may be encountered in implementing the deal. The role of UN and Turkey will be critical in not only monitoring progress but also vigorously intervening to achieve full implementation of the deal.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2022.

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