Russia and Ukraine on Friday signed a U.N.-backed deal to resume exports of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.
The agreement, which will be implemented in the next few weeks, was signed in the Turkish city of Istanbul and was brokered by the government in Ankara.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was in attendance along with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Russian and Ukrainian officials sat at separate tables to sign the documents.
Millions of tons of wheat have been stuck in the war-torn nation. Grain exporters in Ukrainian port cities like Odesa have been unable to ship their goods due to the conflict, fueling a global shortage of the commodity and pushing up food prices.
Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest wheat exporters, and Russian forces have been blocking the Black Sea, where the grain silos at key Ukrainian ports are located.
The deal is significant for global food supplies, but also as it’s the first major agreement between the two sides since Moscow launched it’s unprovoked onslaught on Feb. 24.
‘Beacon of hope’
While the details of the deal are currently unknown, it was expected to allow Ukrainian vessels to guide ships through mined waters, with a localized truce in place so Russia does not attack. Turkish officials are also expected to inspect the shipments to rule out any weapons smuggling.
International onlookers are cautious on the deal and Russia will be closely watched to make sure it upholds its side of the agreement. Moscow, which blames Ukraine for laying the mines, is also expected to restart its own grain exports in the Black Sea under the agreement.
Erdogan said at the signing Friday that the deal would prevent billions of people from facing famine. He said he hoped the deal would be a turning point in the war and called on both sides to end the conflict.
“We are proud to be instrumental in an initiative that will play a major role in solving global food crisis that has been on the agenda for a long time,” Erdogan said, according to a translation.
Guterres struck an optimistic tone, saying there was now a beacon “on the Black Sea.” “A beacon of hope [and] possibility ... and relief in a world that needs it more than ever.”
Ukraine is one of the world’s top agricultural producers and exporters. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, it is normally the world’s top producer of sunflower meal, oil and seed. it’s also the world’s top exporter of sunflower meal and oil, and the world’s seventh-largest wheat producer.
Top destinations for wheat exports include Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
December futures prices for wheat on the Paris exchange slipped by around 5% after the deal was announced.