As the last ship left a Ukrainian port under the deal which was due to expire on Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Wednesday (May 17) announced a two-month extension of the United Nations-backed deal allowing the war-torn to ship grains across the Black Sea to global markets.
“With the efforts of our country, the support of our Russian friends, the contribution of our Ukrainian friends, it was decided to prolong the Black Sea grain deal for two more months,” said the Turkish president, as quoted by news agency AFP.
In a televised speech, Erdogan also thanked Russian and Ukrainian leaders as well as the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for their help. Russia agreed not to block ships from leaving two Ukrainian harbours, Erdogan said while expressing hope that the deal would be “beneficial for all the parties”.
The decision also comes as officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN which make up a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) gathered in Istanbul, last week, to discuss the extension of the Black Sea pact.
The JCC officials near Turkey typically inspect and authorise ships before it travels to a Ukrainian Black Sea port via a maritime humanitarian corridor to collect their cargo and return to Turkish waters for a final inspection, as per Reuters. However, no vessels had been authorised by the JCC since May 4.
Notably, the UN back in July had agreed to help Moscow with its own agricultural shipments for three years. “There are still a lot of open questions regarding our part of the deal. Now a decision will have to be taken,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, on Tuesday.
This comes as Moscow said restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance have amounted to a barrier to shipments. However, the United States has since rejected these complaints and said that Russia is “exporting grain and fertilizer at the same levels, if not higher, than before the full scale invasion.”
Among thousands of sanctions imposed by the West against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, exports of food and fertiliser have not reportedly been a part of any of such restrictions. According to the data from the UN, the DSM Capella, the last vessel now operating under the deal, had left the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk carrying 30,000 tonnes of corn and was on its way to Turkey.
The UN-Turkey brokered deal allowing the safe passage of ships through the Black Sea began as an initial 120 days in July last year to help tackle a global food crisis which has been exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as the latter is one of the world’s leading grain exporters. In November, last year, the pact was extended after Moscow agreed to a 120-day extension and earlier this year agreed to a 60-day extension, which was to end on May 18.