Russia rejoins wartime deal on Ukrainian grain exports
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Diplomatic efforts salvaged a wartime agreement that allowed Ukrainian grain and other commodities to reach world markets, with Russia saying Wednesday it would stick to the deal after Ukraine pledged not to use a designated Black Sea corridor to attack Russian forces.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that Ukraine formally committed to use the established safe shipping corridor between southern Ukraine and Turkey “exclusively in accordance with the stipulations” of the agreement.
“The Russian Federation believes that the guarantees it has received currently appear sufficient, and resumes the implementation of the agreement,” the ministry said, adding that medition by the United Nations and Turkey secured Russia's continued cooperation.
Russia suspended its participation in the grain deal over the weekend, citing allegations of a Ukrainian drone attack against its Black Sea fleet in Crimea. Ukraine did not claim responsibility for the attack, which some Ukrainian officials blamed on Russian soldiers mishandling their own weapons.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed Turkey's defense minister that the deal for a humanitarian grain corridor would “continue in the same way as before” as of noon Wednesday.
Erdogan said the renewed deal would prioritize shipments to African nations, including Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan, in line with Russia’s concerns that most of the exported grain had ended up in richer nations since Moscow and Kyiv made separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. in July.
U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said Monday that 23% of the total cargo exported from Ukraine under the grain deal went to lower or lower-middle income countries, which also received 49% of all wheat shipments.
Ships loaded with grain departed Ukraine on Tuesday despite Russia halting its support for the agreement, which aimed to ensure safe passage of critical food supplies meant for parts of the world struggling with hunger. But the United Nations had said vessels would not move Wednesday, raising concerns about future shipments.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered separate deals with Russia and Ukraine in July to ensure Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia would receive grain and other food from the Black Sea region during Russia’s eight month-old war in Ukraine.
Ukraine and Russia are key global exporters of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food to developing countries where many are already struggling with hunger. A loss of those supplies before the grain deal was brokered in July surged global food prices and helped throw tens of millions into poverty, along with soaring energy costs.
The grain agreement brought down global food prices about 15% from their peak in March, according to the U.N. Losing Ukrainian shipments would have meant poorer countries paying more to import grain in a tight global market as places like Argentina and the United States deal with dry weather, analysts say.
After the announcement of Russia rejoining the deal, wheat futures prices erased the increases seen Monday, dropping more than 6% in Chicago.
At least a third of the grain shipped in the last three months was going to the Middle East and North Africa, and while a lot of corn was going to Europe, “that’s the traditional buyer for Ukraine corn. It’s not like that was so unusual,” Joseph Glauber, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, said.
He added that more wheat was going to sub-Saharan Africa and Asian markets that have become increasingly important buyers of Ukrainian grain.
In Ukraine on Wednesday, thousands of homes in the Kyiv region and elsewhere remained without power, officials said Wednesday, as Russian drone and artillery strikes continued to target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Kyiv region Gov. Oleksiy Kukeba said 16,000 homes were without electricity and drones attacked energy facilities in the Cherkasy region south of the capital, prompting power outages.
Although power and water were restored to the city of Kyiv, Kuleba didn't rule out electricity shortages lasting “weeks” if Russian forces continue to hit energy facilities there. In a Telegram post, he accused Russian forces of trying to prompt a serious humanitarian crisis.
Power outages were also reported in the southern cities of Nikopol and Chervonohryhorivka following “a large-scale drone attack," Dnipropetrovsk Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko said.
The two cities are located across the Dniper River from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest nuclear facility. Russia and Ukraine have for months traded blame for shelling at and around the plant that U.N.'s nuclear watchdog warned could cause a radiation emergency.
Continued Russian shelling across nine regions in southern and eastern Ukraine resulted in the deaths of at least four civilians and the wounding of 17 others between Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The shelling also pounded cities and villages retaken by Ukraine last month in the northeastern Kharkiv region, wounding seven people.
Russian fire damaged a hospital, apartment buildings in the Donetsk region city of Toretsk. Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said Wednesday Ukrainian and Russian forces continued to fight for control of the cities of Avdiivka and Bakhmut, both key targets of a Russian offensive in the region.
In southern Ukraine, Russian-installed authorities in the occupied Kherson region relocated civilians some 90 kilometers (56 miles) further into Russian-held territory in anticipation of a major Ukrainian counterattack to recapture the provincial capital of the same name. Russian forces dug trenches to prepare for the expected ground assault.
The Kherson region's Kremlin-appointed officials on Tuesday expanded an evacuation area to people living within 15 kilometers (9 miles) of the Dnieper River. They said 70,000 residents from the expanded evacuation zone would be relocated this week, doubling the number moved earlier.