After beginning the first sea shipment of Ukrainian grain since the war began in February, Turkey is expecting more ships to depart. Preparations for further shipments from three Ukrainian ports are underway, explained Turkish Rear Admiral Özcan Altunbulak, head of the Istanbul Joint Coordination Center for Grain Deliveries. On Monday, the freighter “Razoni” set sail from Odessa with 26,000 tons of corn on board bound for Lebanon. According to Altunbulak, the ship made slower progress than planned due to adverse weather conditions and was only expected on the Turkish coast near Istanbul on Wednesday night. The Ukrainian government has expressed reservations about further transports.
The journey of the “Razoni” was made possible by the Istanbul Grain Agreement, which was signed on July 22 by Turkey, the UN, Russia and Ukraine. The agreement, which provided for the establishment of the Joint Coordination Center, obliges Russia not to attack Ukrainian freighters. The ship arrived near Istanbul on Tuesday afternoon off the Turkish coast, data from satellite-based shipping tracking services showed.
Representatives of the four parties are to screen the Sierra Leonean-flagged vessel before it enters the Bosphorus before it is allowed to proceed to the Mediterranean. Freighters heading in the opposite direction to Ukraine to pick up cargo are also checked in Istanbul; Russia wants to ensure that no weapons are transported.
In addition to the port of Odessa, the ports of the cities of Chornomorsk and Pivdenny are intended for transport. According to Ukrainian sources, more than a dozen freighters with a total of more than half a million tons of cargo on board are waiting for permission to sail. In Ukraine, one of the most important grain suppliers in the world, more than 20 million tons of grain from last year’s harvest are stored, which could not be exported so far. According to Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukrainian farmers have already brought in more than six million tons of the new crop. Exports are vital for Ukraine. Kubrakov estimates that his country can earn around a billion dollars in foreign exchange from exports by ship.
Ukraine does not want to rely completely on the Istanbul grain deal. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday evening that it was first necessary to wait and see whether the sea transports were really safe. Russia has “the last word,” Minister Kubrakov told the Kyiv Post. Russia had attacked the port of Odessa just a day after the Istanbul Accords were signed; Russian missiles hit the port city of Mykolaiv on Sunday. The uncertain situation makes insurance premiums higher for freighters bringing grain from Ukraine. The journey of the “Razoni” is therefore something like a test drive.
The success of the Istanbul agreement also depends on whether Moscow sees its interests protected. In addition to the grain agreement, Russia had signed its own agreement with the UN in Istanbul. It aims to ensure that the sea transport of Russian grain, fertilizer and raw materials for fertilizer production is not delayed by indirect consequences of Western sanctions.