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Talks on Ukrainian grain exports entered the “final phase” on Wednesday as top officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations met in Istanbul to address the global food crisis.
“We are two steps away from an agreement with Russia,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in an interview with Spanish publication El Pais. “We are in the final phase and now everything depends on Russia.”
International officials have been sounding the alarm that the blockade on Black Sea exports will have monumental impacts on food supplies around the globe, particularly in areas that are already vulnerable to food shortages, like nations in the Middle East and Africa.
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Ukrainians have pointed the blame squarely on Russia for not only stocking the Black Sea full of roughly 400 explosive mines but for barring merchant ships from safely passing through.
Russia in turn has accused Ukraine of deploying mines and called on them to demilitarize in order for Moscow to permit shipping vessels to pass – a suggestion Kyiv has flatly rejected amid Russia’s deadly invasion.
“If they really want to, grain exports will begin soon,” Kuleba said in an interview translated by Pravda.
The war, which began in February, has sent shockwaves worldwide as prices of grains, cooking oil, fertilizer and fuel skyrocketed.
Turkey, a NATO ally with diplomatic ties to Russia, has been facilitating talks between Kyiv, Moscow and the U.N. ever since.
Officials remain tight-lipped regarding specifics in the talks, but U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters on Tuesday, “We are working hard indeed, but there is still a way to go.”
Details on negotiations appear to center around securing a truce from Russia in order to allow Ukrainian vessels to guide merchant ships through the mine-filled waters.
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Turkey, which controls access to key straits that connect the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, will also inspect all ships with the support of the UN to placate Russian concerns over shipping lanes being used to “smuggle” weaponry, reported Reuters.
But Kuleba warned Wednesday that Russia could still drag out the talks in an attempt to gain some sanction relief imposed by Western nations.
“If they use this to continue playing their ‘Hunger Games’, they will continue to insist on the importance of negotiations,” Kuleba said.
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Ukraine said Tuesday that it could begin some grain exports through the Danube River, which opens into the Black Seas and runs through central and southeastern Europe, first reported Reuters.
The latest development has reportedly been made possible by Russia’s withdrawal from the infamous Snake Island earlier this month.