Turkey has called on all parties to keep to their responsibilities under a deal they signed regarding the export of Ukraine’s grains from its Black Sea ports, something that would help ease global food shortages.
Russia and Ukraine signed identical deals Friday with the United Nations and Turkey in Istanbul aimed at allowing safe passage for ships going in and out of three Ukrainian Black Sea ports that have been blocked by Russia since Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion.
“We expect them to own up to the deals they signed and to act according to the responsibilities they undertook,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told an interview with public broadcaster TRT Haber on Monday.
Erdoğan said the “operational aspect” of the mechanism would be coordinated from a center in Istanbul, with representatives from all parties.
The Joint Coordination Centre (JCC), established as part of the landmark deal, has started work in Istanbul, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday. It will oversee the scheduling and searches of cargo ships.
The center will be officially opened in a ceremony on Wednesday, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said separately on Tuesday. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar will attend the opening that will be held at the National Defense University in Istanbul, it added.
The Russian delegation to the JCC was expected to arrive in Istanbul on Tuesday and begin work in a four-way format, alongside Turkey, Ukraine and the U.N., the Russian ministry said in a statement posted on social media.
The Russian delegation will be headed by rear admiral Eduard Luik, Moscow said.
“The main task of Russian specialists in the JCC will be the prompt resolution of all necessary issues for the initiative to enter the stage of practical implementation,” the Defense Ministry said.
The grain deal was tested just hours after being signed after Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa. The Kremlin said the strike only targeted military infrastructure.
Erdoğan said the attack “saddens” Turkey, adding that “a failure here would work against all of us.”
Separately, Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın also said Ankara urged all sides to respect the agreement and noted that there were close contacts with both Moscow and Kyiv.
“These kinds of attacks must be avoided, and we will be monitoring very closely,” Kalın told CNN in an interview Monday.
He stressed that grain shipment was “in the interest of the global markets in terms of food security.” He added that they were counting on Russia to implement the agreement, adding that is “at least what we hear from their side.”
But both Moscow and Kyiv have said they will try to push forward with the deal – the first major diplomatic breakthrough in the conflict now in its sixth month.
The deal seeks to clear the way for the shipment of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain and some Russian exports of grain and fertilizer that have been blocked by the war.
The plan involves Ukrainian pilots guiding grain ships along safe channels in its territorial waters with a minesweeper vessel on hand as needed. Ships entering and leaving will be inspected in a Turkish port to allay Russian fears they could smuggle weapons.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion and naval blockade of its ports halted shipments.
Erdoğan said the grain agreement would help ease the effects of the global food crisis, which he said had reached serious dimensions.
Moscow’s invasion sent food prices soaring, stoking a global food crisis the World Food Programme (WFP) says has pushed some 47 million people into “acute hunger.”
Ukraine and the U.N. on Monday said the first shipments of Ukrainian grain could leave Black Sea ports within days.
Senior Ukrainian government officials told a news conference in Kyiv that they hoped the first grain shipment would depart from the port of Chornomorsk this week, and that shipments could be made from all ports included under the deal within two weeks.
The deal signed on Friday in Istanbul was hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough that could restore Ukrainian grain shipments to prewar levels of 5 million tons a month.
Ukraine’s Kubrakov said there were no limits on how much grain could be exported and resuming shipments would bring Ukraine at least $1 billion a month.
“We believe that over the next 24 hours we will be ready to work to resume exports from our ports. We are talking about the port of Chornomorsk, it will be the first, then there will be Odessa, then the port of Pivdeny,” Deputy Infrastructure Minister Yuriy Vaskov said.
The Kremlin on Monday called for the U.N. to secure the removal of curbs on Russian fertilizer and grain exports as part of the deal, saying it was still too early to say whether the agreement would be a success.
Kalın said the deal may eventually lead to a resumption of cease-fire talks between Russia and Ukraine.
“I don’t want to sound too optimistic here, but this grain agreement actually may lay the foundations for the kind of trust that we are talking about earlier – that may lead to a resumption of the cease-fire talks, prisoners exchange, perhaps eventually to a peace agreement,” Kalın told the CNN in an interview on Monday.
He said it was too early to say what might transpire but stressed the need to build on the agreement.
Kalın called on the international community to not just simply congratulate the agreement but try to build on it “through positive action.”
“We are hoping that first ships will start sailing in the next couple of weeks. Sooner the better of course. But it depends on how quickly Russian and Ukrainian sides will be ready to start sending their ships,” Kalın said.
On the demining of the ports in the Black Sea, he said: “...I understand that they don't want to demine entire Odessa fearing that Russians try to go in...”
He said if Ukraine asks for help from Turkey, Ankara is ready to help and clear the corridor, adding: “...but so far it looks like they are managing themselves.”