Ukraine wants to extend safe shipping passage agreement beyond grain

Three grain ships left Ukrainian ports on Friday while the first inbound cargo vessel since Russia’s invasion was due in Ukraine to load, as Kyiv called for the safe passage deal to be extended to other cargoes such as metals.

The July 22 deal marked a rare diplomatic breakthrough as war rages in eastern Ukraine, with Kyiv trying to rebuild its shattered economy after more than five months of conflict.

Read more: Three more grain ships leave Ukrainian ports under UN deal

“We expect that the security guarantees of our partners from the U.N. and Turkey will continue to work, and food exports from our ports will become stable and predictable for all market participants,” Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Facebook after the ships set off.

The first grain ship left Odesa on Monday.

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“This agreement is about logistics, about the movement of vessels through the Black Sea,” Ukrainian Deputy Economy Minister Taras Kachka told Financial Times. “What’s the difference between grain and iron ore?”

The United Nations and Turkey brokered the safe passage deal between Moscow and Kyiv after U.N. warnings of possible outbreaks of famine due to a halt in grain shipments from Ukraine through the Russian-dominated Black Sea.

READ MORE: Bad weather delays 1st Ukrainian grain shipment since Russian invasion

Fahrettin Altun, a top aide to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, said the safe passage agreement attested to the direct diplomacy between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan, who were meeting again on Friday in the Black Sea city of Sochi.

“The international community cannot end the war in Ukraine by ignoring Russia,” he said.

Putin sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, sparking the biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two and fueling a global energy and food crisis.

On Friday, two grain ships set off from Chornomorsk and one from Odesa, carrying a total of about 58,000 tonnes of corn, the Turkish defense ministry said.

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War-torn hospital near Ukraine’s front lines keeps operating

The Turkish bulk carrier Osprey S, flying the flag of Liberia, was expected to arrive in Chornomorsk on Friday to load up with grain, the regional administration of Odesa said.

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Russia and Ukraine traditionally produce about one third of global wheat and Russia is Europe’s main energy supplier. But Ukraine’s grain exports were down 48.6% year on year so far this season, its agriculture ministry said.

Ukraine hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain in silos and 40 million from its new harvest, economic adviser Oleh Ustenko said in July. The government hopes to earn $10 billion from those volumes but Ustenko said it could take 20 to 24 months to export them if ports are not functioning properly.

Ukraine’s Seaport Authority said on Monday there were 68 ships in Ukrainian ports with 1.2 million tonnes of cargo on board, two thirds of it food.

Buffer zone

After five months of fighting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy this week described the pressure his armed forces were under in the eastern Donbas region as “hell.”

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Moscow is seeking to control the largely Russian-speaking Donbas, comprised of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, where pro-Moscow separatists seized territory after the Kremlin annexed Crimea to the south in 2014.

Zelenskiy spoke of fierce fighting around the town of Avdiivka and the fortified village of Pisky, where Ukraine has acknowledged its Russian foe’s “partial success” in recent days.

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Putin said he launched what he calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine to ensure Russian security and protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine. Kyiv accuses Moscow of an imperial-style war to retake a pro-Western neighbor that shook off Russian domination when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

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In the latest in a sanctions stand-off with the West, Russia banned investors from so-called unfriendly countries from selling shares in key energy projects and banks until the end of the year.

Western countries and allies, including Japan, have piled financial restrictions on Russia since Feb. 24. Moscow retaliated with obstacles for Western businesses and their allies leaving Russia, and in some cases seized their assets.

The war has displaced millions, killed thousands of civilians and left cities, towns and villages in rubble. Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian forces of targeting civilians and war crimes, charges Russia rejects.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Michael Perry and Nick Macfie; Editing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel and Mark Heinrich)

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