Russia and Ukraine signed a deal in Istanbul on Friday to unlock more than 20 million metric tons of grain stuck at Ukraine's blocked Black Sea ports, a deal aimed at reducing soaring grain prices and easing the growing global hunger crisis.

The agreement comes after months of talks and was brokered with the help of the United Nations and Turkey.

The agreement provides a method for exporting Ukrainian wheat abroad and comes after the United Nations gave Russia assurances that it can export its grains and fertilizers, the New York Times reports.

If the deal stands, it could help ease catastrophic food shortages that worsened when Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Ukraine is one of the world's "breadbaskets" and the invasion reverberated throughout the global economy, exacerbating a growing food crisis, contributing to famine in Africa and threatening political unrest in some countries.

"This agreement did not come easily," said Antonio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, at the signing ceremony, calling the agreement a "beacon in the Black Sea."

Russian President Vladimir Putin's willingness to block food exports to gain international influence has led to some of the worst global consequences of Moscow's attack on Ukraine, undermining a global food distribution network already strained by disruptions related to the pandemic and climate change.

Senior United Nations officials said the first shipments of wheat from Odesa and neighboring ports would begin in a few weeks and would quickly bring five million metric tons of Ukrainian grain and other food products to the world market each month.

It would also free up storage space in Ukraine's silo towers for newly harvested grain, officials said.

Stephen E. Flynn, founding director of the Global Sustainability Institute at Northeastern University, said this is a big step forward.

But he warned that it will be difficult to deliver food quickly to where it is needed most.

The mechanics of transporting grain across the Black Sea under conditions of war with little or no trust between the warring parties is extremely complex.

"It's not going to move quickly," he said.

The agreement reached today will expire in 120 days, officials said, but could be continuously renewed to normalize grain exports for the coming months.

This contains an express agreement that commercial and civilian vessels involved as well as port facilities will not be attacked.

But a senior UN official said Russian security guarantees did not extend to parts of Ukraine's ports not directly used for grain exports.

Under the terms of the agreement, Ukrainian captains will guide grain ships from Odesa and the neighboring ports of Chernomorsk and Yuzhne through safe passages designed by the Ukrainian Navy to avoid mines.

A joint command center with Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials will be set up in Istanbul from Saturday, UN officials said, and teams from the three countries and the United Nations will jointly inspect the ships. to ensure that they will not transport weapons to Ukraine after unloading their cargo of grain.

The deal seemed unlikely just two weeks ago, given the deep mistrust between the warring parties and the apparent lack of incentives for Russia to sign it.

But part of the United Nations' work focused on convincing private-sector shipping and insurance companies that they could ship Russian food and garbage out of Russia without running afoul of United States and European Union sanctions.

Here's how the grain deal between Ukraine and Russia will work

There are many moving parts to the grain deal reached by Russia and Ukraine, which officials didn't even know was possible until last week, because the war is ongoing and trust between the parties is extremely low.

Here's what you need to know about the wheat problem and how it can be treated now.

Why was Ukrainian wheat blocked inside the country?

After Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, it deployed warships along Ukraine's Black Sea coast.

Ukraine mined those waters to deter a Russian naval attack.

This meant that ports used to export Ukrainian grain were blocked for commercial shipping.

Russia also looted grain stocks, mined grain fields so they could not be harvested, and destroyed grain storage facilities.

How will the operation work?

Ukrainian captains will steer the ships filled with grain from the ports of Odesa, Yuzhne and Chornomorsk.

Using 'routes' that are not mined they will pilot the ships to Turkey for inspection before the grain goes to buyers around the world.

The returning ships will be inspected by a team of Turkish, Ukrainian, Russian and UN officials to make sure they are empty and not carrying weapons to Ukraine, a key Russian demand.

A joint command center with officials from the four sides will immediately be opened in Istanbul to monitor every movement of the fleets.

The parties have agreed that ships and port facilities used for their operations are protected from threats.

The operation is expected to quickly begin shipping five million tons of grain per month.

At that rate, and considering that 2.5 million tons are already being transported by land and river to Ukraine's friendly neighbors, stockpiles of nearly 20 million tons should be cleared within three to four months.

This will free up space in storage facilities for the new harvest that is already underway in Ukraine.

What are the risks?

No broad armistice has been negotiated, so the ships will travel through a war zone.

Attacks near the ships or at the ports they use could break the deal.

Another risk would be a breach of trust or disagreement between inspectors and joint command officials.

The role of the United Nations and Turkey is to mediate such disputes in the country, and to monitor and implement the agreement.

The agreement is valid for 120 days and the UN hopes it will be renewed.

Will this immediately solve world hunger and lower food prices?

No.

Global hunger is an ongoing problem caused by poor food distribution and price manipulation, hitting parts of the world year after year.

It is often accompanied by conflict and is affected by climate change.

The war in Ukraine (the country that produces much of the world's wheat) added a huge burden to grain distribution networks, driving up prices and fueling famine.

Officials say the deal has the potential to increase the flow of grain to Somalia within weeks, avoiding an outright famine, and should lead to a gradual decline in global grain prices.

But given the fragility of the deal, grain markets are unlikely to return to normal immediately.

/Telegraph/

Translated and adapted by Arigona Bytyçi