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16 Apr, 2024 06:06

Ukraine suddenly walked away from Black Sea deal – Reuters

A day before the agreement would have come into force, Kiev pulled out, sources told Reuters
Ukraine suddenly walked away from Black Sea deal – Reuters

Russia and Ukraine had almost reached a new Black Sea shipping deal in March after two months of negotiations, only for Kiev to abruptly walk away, Reuters reported on Monday, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter.

The official agreement governing the freight route lapsed in July 2023, when Moscow declined to renew the original Türkiye- and UN-mediated Black Sea Grain Initiative. Russia said that the US and EU had not kept their part of the deal, blocking exports of Russian food and fertilizer.

The most recent talks were brokered by Türkiye at the prompting of the United Nations, and a tentative agreement to “to ensure the safety of merchant shipping in the Black Sea” was reached last month, according to Reuters’ sources.

They added that while Kiev did not formally sign, it agreed that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could announce the deal a day before Turkiye’s March 31 local elections, with the pact to take effect immediately upon being made public.

“At the very last minute, Ukraine suddenly pulled out and the deal was scuttled.” 

According to the draft seen by Reuters, Ankara had mediated agreements between Moscow and Kiev “on ensuring free and safe navigation of merchant vessels in the Black Sea,” in compliance with maritime conventions.

The guarantees would not apply to “warships, civilian vessels carrying military goods,” except when agreed upon by all parties, the copy of the document stated.

Both Russia and Ukraine were to offer security guarantees to commercial vessels in the Black Sea, undertaking not to strike, seize or search them, provided they were unladen or had declared a non-military cargo, according to the draft agreement.

The reasons for Kiev pulling out are unclear, but President Vladimir Zelensky accused Russia of targeting grain export infrastructure during the original deal, thereby putting vulnerable countries at risk.

Speaking to reporters earlier this year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied that Moscow ever attacked Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea during the grain deal. One of the reasons Moscow did not return to the Black Sea Grain Initiative was Kiev’s misuse of the shipping passage during the agreement, he said.

The Ukrainians used these free secure passages to launch their weapons in the form of naval drones,” damaging Russian ships and ports, Lavrov stated. He added under the old agreement, only 3% of the shipped Ukrainian grain went to countries on the UN World Food Programme's list of states in greatest need.

Since then, Moscow has donated 200,000 tons of grain to six African nations, with the last shipments arriving in January of this year.

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