Reuters: Ukraine, Russia almost reached Black Sea shipping agreement in March

Ukraine and Russia negotiated for two months on a deal to ensure the safety of merchant shipping in the Black Sea and reached agreement on a text in March, but Kyiv pulled out of the talks "at the last minute," Reuters reported on April 16, citing four unnamed people familiar with the matter.

The talks were mediated by Turkey after being pushed by the U.N., the sources told Reuters.

In July 2023, Russia pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, effectively collapsing the deal. The agreement, brokered by Turkey and the UN in July 2022, played a crucial role in mitigating a global surge in food prices partially caused by Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine by allowing Kyiv to export its agricultural products via the Black Sea despite the ongoing invasion.

Immediately after the collapse of the deal, Russia started targeted attacks on ports in southern Ukraine.

The text of the draft agreement, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, said that Ukraine and Russia would reportedly provide security guarantees to merchant ships in the Black Sea, pledging not to strike, seize or search them if they are either empty or had declared non-military cargo.

"These guarantees do not apply to warships, civilian vessels carrying military goods (with the exception of maritime transportation agreed upon by the Parties within the framework of international missions)," the agreement said.

Although Kyiv did not officially sign the document, Ukraine gave its consent for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to announce it on March 30, the sources told Reuters.

Read also: Explainer: What’s up with the ‘grain deal’ and Russia?

"At the very last minute, Ukraine suddenly pulled out, and the deal was scuttled," one of the sources said, which was confirmed by three other news agency's sources.

The sources said to Reuters they did not know the reasons for Ukraine's alleged decision.

Ukrainian officials did not comment on these reports.

As Russia canceled the grain deal in July 2023, Kyiv opened a new corridor the following month. Initially envisioned as a humanitarian corridor to allow the departure of ships stranded there since the start of the full-scale war, it has since grown into a full-blown trade route.

As of early April, over 36 million metric tons of goods have been reportedly shipped through it since its opening in August 2023.

The route doesn’t lead directly through international waters to the Bosphorus Strait but hugs the coastlines of Ukraine and NATO members Romania and Bulgaria, allowing ships to bypass the effective blockade imposed by Moscow.

In late February, President Volodymyr Zelensky told in an interview with CNN that Ukraine would be unable to defend a Black Sea shipping corridor without new U.S. military aid.

Read also: Timothy Ash: Solutions need to be found for grain exports

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