Ukraine optimistic on deal to reopen Black Sea

Of all the shockwaves sent around the world by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for many the effect on food prices has been the most dramatic.

Millions of tonnes of wheat, barley, oil and other agricultural products were stuck in warehouses, unable to be exported. In normal times, much of it would have been sold to the developing world, where some of the poorest people on Earth were now finding it increasingly difficult to feed themselves.

So what is the solution? In short, reopening the Black Sea. That would allow commercial shipping to resume from the port of Odesa. But that is easier said than done.

The Russian Black Sea fleet was said to be stopping anything getting in or out, and there was mounting evidence that Russian forces have stolen Ukrainian grain too. Western governments have accused the Kremlin of weaponising hunger.

There was also the issue of sea mines thought to have been deployed by both sides.

Navigating these issues was the main aim of talks taking place in Istanbul on Wednesday, with delegations from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations trying to find a way through.

Ukraine’s infrastructure minister thinks a deal can be done. “I hope we will achieve some results, some practical results very soon,” Oleksandr Kubrakov told me from his operational centre in Kyiv. “I hope we will see this green corridor appear in the Black Sea.”

That so-called green corridor would create a safe path for shipping to and from Odesa, clearing mines from a specific section of sea. There had been fears it would take months, even years to demine the channel, but Mr Kubrakov said it could be done much faster. “I think it will take weeks, not months,” he said.

Asked whether that meant exports could in theory be resumed within weeks, he replied: “Weeks, yes, you’re absolutely right. If we see there are some guarantees of safety navigation in the Black Sea”.

But that was all dependent on the success of these negotiations, which was far from guaranteed. So, what if they do fail?

According to the Infrastructure Ministry,16 foreign cargo ships have arrived at Ukrainian ports since the estuary was reopened, but dozens more were waiting to be let in through Romania’s Sulina Canal. -BBC

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