Make agreement a step toward ending food crisis

This must be a step toward ending the worsening food crisis and soaring grain prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Due to Moscow’s military blockade of the Black Sea, exports of grain produced in Ukraine have stalled. To solve the problem, four parties — Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations — have signed an agreement to resume grain shipments by sea.

The pillars of the accord are to not attack grain carriers or shipping ports and to let Ukraine navigate safe routes free of sea mines. A joint coordination center will be set up in Istanbul by the four parties to monitor the implementation of the agreement.

This has opened up the prospect of exporting more than 20 million tons of blockaded grain from three ports in southern Ukraine. The agreement is valid for 120 days and can be renewed.

Russia withdrew its request for Ukraine to remove sea mines, and in return, gained a deal smoothing the way for exports of Russian grain and fertilizer.

The United States and European countries, among some other nations, will now exclude from sanctions against Russia transactions for grain and fertilizer, and insurance for ships. This indicates that they concluded there was no choice but to accept a certain level of Russian demands.

Countries in the Middle East and Africa that rely on Ukrainian grains such as wheat and corn are on the brink of famine. The agreement is commendable in that the parties placed top priority on avoiding a humanitarian crisis.

The question is whether it will be implemented without fail. The coordination center needs to closely monitor Russian ships deployed in the Black Sea to make sure they will not break the agreement and disrupt the operation of the carriers.

Since Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine began in February, this is the first time that the two sides have reached a negotiated settlement. It can be said that the consultative framework brokered by the United Nations and Turkey has produced some results.

However, the representatives of Russia and Ukraine avoided sitting at the same table and signed the agreement separately. This shows the depth of mutual distrust. Neither side is willing to negotiate a ceasefire at this stage.

Russia, which launched the invasion, is responsible for settling the situation. The administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently announced a plan to seize control of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south, in addition to eastern Ukraine, and has introduced a system that enables economic control and the reinforcing of national mobilization in preparation for a prolonged war.

Putin’s desire to bring Ukraine under Moscow’s control appears to remain unchanged.

The only way to pave the way for a ceasefire is to convince Putin that the invasion has been a failure. The international community, led by the United States and Europe, should continue to provide assistance to Ukraine and strengthen sanctions against Russia.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 24, 2022)