How long will the Ukraine-Russia grain deal last?

Turkey and the UN brokered deal last week to resume grain exports from Ukrainian ports

Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, makes an appearance in Odesa on Friday after twin grain deals were brokered
(Image credit: Ukrainian Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A ship carrying grain has set off from the port of Odesa for the first time in months, in a “crucial test” of a grain export deal between Russia and Ukraine designed to ease sharply rising global food prices.

The Financial Times said that the ship is the “first such vessel to depart from Odesa since late February” when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Until now, the Russian navy has “blockaded Ukraine’s commercial sea routes, launched missile strikes on its ports and grain storage infrastructure, and attacked civilian grain transport ships”, said the paper.

But after weeks of intense negotiations, a deal brokered by Turkey and the UN meant that 26,000 tonnes of Ukrainian corn left the Black Sea Port at 9.48am local time today, according to Turkey’s defence ministry.

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The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship, the Razoni, was headed for Tripoli in Lebanon via Istanbul, Turkey, where it will be inspected before being allowed to proceed onwards.

How was the deal made?

Twin deals were brokered by Turkey and the UN last week in order to resume much-needed grain exports. Ukraine and Russia signed two separate agreements with Turkey and the UN “as they currently refuse to engage directly with each other”, explained ITV.

It is hoped the deal will enable Ukraine to export some “22 million tons of grain and other agricultural products that have been stuck in Black Sea ports due to the war”, continued the broadcaster.

What does it mean for the global food crisis?

The World Food Programme said as many as 47 million people across the globe are at risk of acute hunger due to the Russia-Ukraine war. Ukraine has long been known as “the breadbasket of Europe” due to its status as the world’s fifth largest exporter of cereal, said the FT.

“It accounts for 80 per cent of Lebanon’s wheat imports and is a big supplier for countries including Somalia, Syria and Libya,” said the paper.

While the deal will alleviate “immediate pressures” on the global food market, with the war showing little sign of abating “there are fears many of Ukraine's farms will be unable to plant their next crops”, said ITV.

Many farms have been “destroyed by shelling” throughout the war while thousands of farm workers have “signed up to fight in the conflict”, meaning there could be a “drastic reduction” in the amount of food Ukraine produces next year.

Many nations that rely on Ukraine for exports are already in crisis, such as Kenya, where more than 18.4 million people “are already on the verge of starvation, about half of them children”, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

And in Nigeria, breadmakers are contending with “soaring production costs”, said ITV.

Will the deal last?

While the grain deal brokered by Turkey and the UN is significant, the first departure of a grain shipment from Ukraine’s shores is “more of a testing of the waters than an unblocking of a major supply route”, said the BBC. The grain issue also “loomed large” in talks between the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, on Friday, the first time the men have spoken since the war began.

The complexities of the agreement “have set off a slow, cautious start”, said Euronews, but the deal is “only good for 120 days”, and shipping companies have been reluctant to rush to export the millions of tons of trapped grain in Ukraine, mainly due to explosives still “lurking in the waters” around Ukraine’s ports.

And it’s not hard to imagine how easily things could go “awry”, added the news site. Hours after the deal was signed on Friday, Russian missiles struck Odesa.

“The balance of power on this agreement still sits with Russia,” said Munro Anderson, head of intelligence at maritime security company Dryad. “Any Ukrainian ports outside the agreement face increased risk of attack.”

He suggested Russia wants to be seen “as the state that controls the narrative within the Black Sea”.

Nevertheless, the deal “represents the first diplomatic breakthrough in the five-month-long war”, said Foreign Policy. It offers “the first glimmer of hope for humanitarian officials scrambling to address the global food crisis”.

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 Sorcha Bradley is a writer at The Week and a regular on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. She worked at The Week magazine for a year and a half before taking up her current role with the digital team, where she mostly covers UK current affairs and politics. Before joining The Week, Sorcha worked at slow-news start-up Tortoise Media. She has also written for Sky News, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and Grazia magazine, among other publications. She has a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London, where she specialised in political journalism.