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“If Russia starts shelling ships, there will be tougher sanctions”: Ukrainian expert on state of grain deal

A caravan of 16 ships that left Ukrainian ports on October 31 is currently approaching Turkey, as part of the grain deal brokered by the UN and Turkey. Russia pulled out of the deal on October 30, with Vladimir Putin claiming Kyiv had used the grain corridor to strike ships in Sevastopol. Experts fear that current grain exports may be hindered either by Russian pressure on Turkey, trapping the ships in Istanbul, or by strikes that Russia might launch on the ships that have left Odesa. Denys Marchuk, deputy head of the Ukrainian Agrarian Council, told The Insider that an attack on grain-carrying vessels would have more serious consequences for Russia than shelling civilians in Ukraine. 

“The passage of the ships will also determine the further fate of Ukraine’s grain exports. Ukraine signed an agreement with Turkey and the UN, and when Russia suspended its participation in the grain corridor, there were talks between the signatory countries and the Ukrainian side. The parties decided that the export would continue, as we’ve made a commitment to provide a food corridor to those countries that need Ukrainian grain. This has been guaranteed by Turkey and the United Nations, and this has been confirmed by the fact that the ships have left for the Bosporus and are headed there to be inspected as part of the work of the coordinating council.

This does not negate the fact that Turkey, on its part, continues to negotiate for Russia to return [to the deal] and cooperate within the framework of their agreements.

If that isn’t achieved, our partners – the UN and Turkey – will look at other options to get exports moving. We have already heard threats from Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said that since Russia has stopped participating [in the grain agreement], it is not taking on security guarantees.

Let's imagine a situation where Russia suddenly shells a naval caravan on its way to the Bosphorus – let’s say that caravan contains a ship operating under the World Food Program. That will lead to even greater consequences [for Russia] than the bombing of civilians in Ukraine. The world would react even more strongly, and there would be serious sanctions and confrontation. This could lead to Ukraine getting more serious weaponry, which could be a guarantee of safety for ships in the Black Sea.

It’s hard to predict right now, but we don’t rule out the possibility that we and our partners will return to talking about these vessels being escorted by military forces from one country, or different countries. This was discussed even before the ports started working – an allied state, which supports Ukraine in exports that guarantee food security, would [potentially] be able to escort the ships to the Bosporus.”

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