Russia-Ukraine Black Sea Shipping Deal Was Almost Reached Last Month

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Russia and Ukraine negotiated for two months with Turkey on a deal to ensure the safety of shipping in the Black Sea and reached an agreement on a text that was to be announced by Ankara but Kyiv suddenly pulled out, four people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The negotiations were mediated by Turkey after nudging by the United Nations, according to the sources who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of such talks.

About the deal

A deal was reached in March “to ensure the safety of merchant shipping in the Black Sea”, and though Ukraine did not want to sign it formally, Kyiv gave its assent for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to announce it on March 30, the day before critical regional elections, the sources said.

Three other people confirmed that version of events. Russia, Ukraine and Turkey declined to comment. It was not immediately clear why Ukraine pulled out. The people who spoke to Reuters said they did not know what had prompted Kyiv’s decision.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in February that without new U.S. military aid, Ukraine would not be able to defend a Black Sea shipping corridor hugging its western Black Sea coast near Romania and Bulgaria.

The talks on the shipping deal, which have not been reported before, offer a glimpse of the quiet diplomacy going on behind closed doors on ways to bring the two warring sides to negotiation, if only, at first, about merchant shipping.

The Black Sea is a key route for both Russia and Ukraine to get bulk products such as grain, fertilizer, and oil to world markets, though sea shipping volumes have fallen significantly since the war.

Russia-Ukraine talks

The text of the deal, a copy of which Reuters has seen, said that Turkey “as part of its mediation efforts” had reached agreements with Ukraine and Russia “on ensuring free and safe navigation of merchant vessels in the Black Sea” in compliance with the Montreux Convention of the Regime of the Straits.

That 1936 deal gives Turkey control over the Bosphorus and Dardanelles and the power to regulate the transit of naval warships.

It also guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime and restricts the passage of ships not belonging to Black Sea countries.

Under the deal almost announced on March 30, both Moscow and Kyiv would have offered security guarantees to merchant vessels in the Black Sea, committing not to strike or to seize or search them as long as they were either empty or had declared a non-military cargo.

Turkey and the United Nations helped mediate the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal struck in July 2022 that allowed the safe Black Sea export of nearly 33 million metric tons of Ukraine grain.

Russia withdrew from the agreement in July 2023, complaining that its own food and fertilizer exports faced serious obstacles.

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Source: Reuters