Breakthrough in Ukraine grain export talks as heavy shelling continues


  • Turkey says grain deal done; Ukraine and the UN talk about progress
  • A deal next week would help ease the global food crisis
  • Russia wants full control of the separatist region of Donbass

ISTANBUL/UNITED NATIONS, New York, July 14 (Reuters) – Ukraine, the United Nations and Turkey have welcomed progress in talks aimed at resuming Russian-blocked Black Sea grain exports and mitigating the risk starvation facing millions, but the end of the war remained a long way off as heavy shelling continued on Thursday.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Wednesday that an agreement would be signed next week. Ankara will provide security for transit shipments and the parties will jointly check grain shipments at ports, he added. Read more

But UN chief Antonio Guterres said more work was needed before a deal was finalized.

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“We have seen a critical step forward,” António Guterres told reporters in New York. “We still need a lot of goodwill and commitments from all parties,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy sounded optimistic in his late evening comments: “The Ukrainian delegation has signaled to me that there is progress. In the next few days we will agree on the details with the Secretary General of the United Nations.”

Turkey and Ukraine said a joint coordination center with Russia and the United Nations would be set up.

“His task will be to provide general supervision and coordination of navigation safety in the Black Sea,” Zelenskiy Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak said on Twitter.

The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately comment.

In addition to being the world’s leading suppliers of wheat, Russia is also a major exporter of fertilizers and Ukraine a major producer of corn and sunflower oil.

An agreement is seen as vital for food security, especially among developing countries, and for stabilizing markets.

But Guterres warned there was still “a long way to go” before there were peace talks to end the war.

‘MONSTERS, JUST MONSTERS’

Ukrainian officials said there had been sustained shelling in several towns.

Russian forces targeted a number of civilian facilities in the southern city of Mykolaiv on Thursday, Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said on the Telegram messaging app. Rescuers and emergency teams are already working on the ground, he added.

In the industrialized region of Donbass in eastern Ukraine, Russian missiles hit the industrial zone of Kramatorsk and electricity was cut off in parts of the city, Mayor Oleksandr Honcharenko wrote on Facebook.

A Russian strike destroyed a school in the Donbass on Wednesday. No casualties were reported.

Russia denies deliberately attacking civilians.

“It all makes me sick…Monsters, just monsters, there’s no other word for it. A school – if they themselves are okay with growing up stupid, why bomb our schools?” said Oleksandr, a 60-year-old resident.

Daria, 15, told Reuters students hoped the war would soon be over and they would go back to school, but “now there is nothing left to go back to”.

Russian media have reported that the Ukrainian armed forces have launched a new missile attack in a strategically important Russian-held area south of Kherson, which Kyiv hopes to retake.

RIA news agency quoted the Russian-backed Kherson region administration as saying that Russian air defenses shot down five missiles fired at the town of Nova Kakhovka, while debris from two of the missiles fell near a factory.

“According to preliminary information, there was another hit on a Russian munitions factory, in Sokil,” Serhiy Khlan, adviser to the Ukrainian chief of Kherson province, wrote on Facebook.

On Wednesday, TASS quoted a separatist official, Vitaly Kiselyov, as saying that Russian forces and proxies had entered the town of Siversk in Donetsk province and could take it within days.

Donetsk and Luhansk form the Donbass region.

Russia has not carried out any new attacks on the front line that includes Siversk, but the town has come under artillery fire, the Ukrainian armed forces said. Read more

Reuters could not verify the battlefield accounts.

POSSIBLE BREAKTHROUGH

Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine sparked Europe’s biggest conflict since 1945. Millions fled, thousands were killed as cities were reduced to rubble and fears of a wider conflict in the West have increased.

The Kremlin says it is engaged in a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western allies dismiss this as a false pretense and accuse Russia of aggravating a global food crisis and fueling inflation.

Moscow blamed Ukraine, saying it refuses to remove mines it has scattered around its coastline to protect itself from Russian attack and which threaten shipping.

The Kremlin also says Western sanctions are making it harder for Russia to fund and operate its own sea freight services.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Pyotr Ilyichev, head of the international organizations department at the Russian Foreign Ministry, as saying that Russia wanted to control and inspect grain ships itself to rule out arms smuggling.

Before progress in grain export talks was announced, diplomats said the plan under discussion included Ukrainian ships guiding grain ships through mined port waters; Russia agrees to truce while expeditions move; and Turkey – backed by the United Nations – inspecting ships to allay Russian fears of arms smuggling.

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Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay, Ali Kucukgocmen and Reuters bureaus; written by Costas Pitas and Himani Sarkar; edited by Cynthia Osterman and Stephen Coates

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