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Negotiations over the global food crisis made progress Wednesday as a preliminary agreement was reached between Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations on opening three trade ports in the Black Sea.
“In a world darkened by global crisis, today at last we have a ray of hope,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters in New York. “Today is an important and substantive step, a step on the way to a comprehensive agreement.”
The announcement comes after weeks of negotiation, facilitated by Turkey and in coordination with the UN in an urgent effort to get shipping lanes reopened in the Black Sea as the threat of a global food crisis mounts.
Ukraine, one of the world’s leading exporters in grains and cooking oil, has warned for months that it has millions of tons of grain holed up in storage facilities that have been unable to be exported because of Russia’s naval blockade.
But Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Wednesday that a breakthrough had been reached in the agreements and a coordination center would be established in Turkey that will oversee the comings and goings of merchant vessels.
Officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the U.N. will be involved in the coordinating efforts, the minister said.
According to the preliminary plan, Russia would agree to a cease-fire to allow three Ukrainian ports to be opened in the Black Sea to allow for safe passage, first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The merchant ships would be escorted by Ukrainian naval vessels which would sweep the waters for explosive mines – a precaution made necessary after roughly 400 mines were launched in the Black Sea by Russian forces earlier this year, though Moscow has also accused Kyiv of launching its own mines.
The Turkish navy would then inspect all ships headed for Ukraine to ensure no arms were being smuggled in.
The U.N. will oversee a command and control center in Istanbul to monitor the security situation as Russia’s war continues to rage.
Guterres cautioned that “more technical work will now be needed” to reach a final agreement but added that “the momentum is clear.”
“I’m encouraged. I’m optimistic, but it’s not yet fully done,” he added.
The final hurdle will come in the form of obtaining the go-ahead from Russian President Vladimir Putin who will need to sign off on the agreement.
Officials believe Putin could give his stamp of approval next week when he is set to travel to Iran and will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reported the Wall Street Journal.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised the plan and said in his nightly address, “If they succeed in removing the Russian threat to shipping in the Black Sea, it will reduce the severity of the global food crisis.”
“We will agree on the details with the U.N. Secretary-General in the coming days,” he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.