Ukraine and Russia have inked a deal designed to free millions of tons of grain blocked at Black Sea ports.

The agreement, signed Friday in Istanbul, Turkey, and negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations, “also paves the way for Russian grain and fertilizer to reach global markets, [which] will help to stabilize spiraling food prices worldwide and stave off famine, affecting millions,” the UN said in a news release.

The Russian invasion that began Feb. 24 “has sparked record food and fuel prices, as well as supply chain issues, with millions of tons of grain stocks stuck in silos,” the UN said. “The initiative specifically allows for significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea – Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres “also announced the establishment of a Joint Coordination Centre to monitor implementation of the Black Sea initiative,” the UN said.

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Twitter that Ukraine did “not sign any documents with Russia.” Instead, the country signed an agreement with Turkey and the UN and will “undertake obligations to them. Russia signs a mirror agreement with Turkey and the UN.”

Mikhail Podolyak also said there would be “no transport escort by Russian ships and no presence of [Russian] representatives in our ports. In case of provocations, [there will be] an immediate military response.”

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Lastly, Podolyak said, “All inspections of transport ships will be carried out by joint groups in [Turkish] waters in the event of such a need.”

The humanitarian group Mercy Corps lauded the initiative but warned that it won’t solve the global food crisis. 

“If respected and enacted in good faith, today’s deal to protect Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea will help ease grain shortages, but let’s be clear – this will not end or significantly alter the trajectory of the worsening global food crisis,” said Mercy Corps CEO Tjada D’Oyen McKenna.

“Unblocking Ukraine’s ports will not reverse the damage war has wreaked on crops, agricultural land and agricultural transit routes in the country,” she said. “It will not significantly change the price or availability of fuel, fertilizer, and other staple goods that are now beyond the reach of many, particularly in lower-income countries; and it will certainly not help the majority of the 50 million people around the world inching closer to famine stave off starvation.”

Senior UN officials told reporters Friday the deal would be operational within a few weeks, according to Reuters.

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