The Grain Deal in Istanbul: Hopes and Expectations

Grain fields backdropped by a power plant in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 22, 2022. (AP)
Grain fields backdropped by a power plant in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 22, 2022. (AP)
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The Grain Deal in Istanbul: Hopes and Expectations

Grain fields backdropped by a power plant in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 22, 2022. (AP)
Grain fields backdropped by a power plant in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 22, 2022. (AP)

A deal has been reached to allow grain from Ukraine to be exported unhindered through what is called a safe corridor in the Black Sea. If this agreement can be implemented, 20-25 million tons of Ukrainian grain will not rot in silos and will be shipped to their destinations.

The signing ceremony took place in Istanbul with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and President Recep Tayyib Erdogan of Turkey as host and facilitator. Present were, representatives from Ukraine (Minister of Infrastructure), Russia (Minister of Defense) and Turkey (Minister of Defense).

A couple of notes about the signing ceremony: The Russians and Ukrainians signed different texts (with the UN and Turkey) and not with each other. There are two separate, but complementing agreements.

There was no press conference after the signing ceremony. The message was that this is a unique arrangement to overcome a food crisis, which is a humanitarian issue. Apart from that, the two sides do not want to talk to each other and the war continues.

According to this arrangement, which will be valid for an initial period of four months (that will be extended automatically unless there is objection from either side), a “joint coordination center” and a joint committee responsible for implementation will be set up in Istanbul.

Odessa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhne will be the Ukrainian ports where grain will be loaded.

There will be one safe corridor so as not to complicate matters.

Ukraine will be responsible to guide grain ships through mines, which it has laid outside the ports against Russians. There will be no naval mine removal operation.

Russia will refrain from military action in the area while ships are on the move.

There will be an inspection mechanism whereby outbound (from Ukrainian ports) and returning ships will be inspected for any possibility of shipments other than grain as there is a major Russian concern that ships on their way back could be bringing weapons. Russia will be able to export fertilizers.

The implementation of the deal will be effective as soon as possible, hopefully in a couple of weeks. Operational procedures will have to be finalized first.

Technical level delegations from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations have met several times and were able to come up with an arrangement. It must have been a very difficult exercise.

I assume that any remaining problems were dealt with in Tehran three days ago at the highest level when Presidents Erdogan and Vladimir Putin met.

One question that comes to mind is whether the agreement on the safe corridor was a part of a package including maybe Syria-related issues, sanctions against Russia and gas exports.

The Istanbul agreement came at a time when Turkey has been blamed for the shelling and killing of civilians in Zaho in the Duhok province in the administrative boundaries of the boundaries of the Kurdistan region of Iraq on July 20.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement rejecting the accusations and blaming the attack on the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Turkey stated its readiness to take necessary steps to dig for the truth and invited the Iraqi government to conduct a joint investigation. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi had harsh words for Turkey. Nechirvan Barzani, President of the region, also condemned the attack but stood short of pinning the blame on Turkey.

Back to Istanbul on Friday, even the news that a deal could be signed led to a two percent fall in wheat prices. Governments of developing and underdeveloped countries in need of grain to feed their populations must be much more hopeful for the future, following the signing of the agreement.

It should be noted that despite the signing, all countries involved and affected in one way or another by the war in Ukraine, continue to work on alternatives, such as improvements of certain border crossings, roads, railways and ports in Moldova and Romania.

The other major problem which the war in Ukraine has caused is energy security. Russia has been using its natural gas resources to retaliate against sanctions.

Europe receives around 40 percent of its gas from Russia and the major importer of Russian gas in the continent is Germany. Ten days ago, Russia stopped gas transactions through Nord Stream 1 pipeline due to maintenance work. Now, the pipeline has become operational once again but at a reduced level.

Winter is coming and the EU is trying hard to diversify its sources. European countries have been called upon by EU officials to cut off, by a certain percentage, their use of gas.

Despite the deal in Istanbul, it seems that we are still in for an extended war in Ukraine.

With all sanctions and limitations, Russia is faced with draining of its resources but it still seems able to keep things running for quite some time more.

Against Russia’s aggression, Ukraine is determined to fight on and does not have the intention to give up its territories. Counter offensives are taking place and arms from the West keep coming in.

What about public opinion?

In Russia, objections to government policies usually end up at the tip of a police baton and in jail. On the other hand, even though police batons can also come into play, the western public opinion has a say on matters and can influence the policies of their government.

As an anecdote, a former Turkish diplomat, who knows Russia well, said: “Russians, other than those living in Moscow, St Petersburg and maybe a few more cities, are living their normal lives as if they are under sanctions. Therefore, I am not sure if they are even aware that they are under sanctions because of the invasion of Ukraine”.

The Istanbul agreement is a much-needed diplomatic success for Turkey, which is now in a position to argue that keeping talking terms with Russia has enabled this outcome.

The grain deal is the first agreement where Ukrainian and Russian negotiators sat around the same table since the start of the war. If this agreement could be reached, why not others?

But we need to bear in mind that territorial and other issues would most probably be much more complicated than grain issues.

Signing the grain corridor deal is a major achievement but it is not the end. The two sides distrust each other and dynamics of the war are in play. Ukraine and Russia are both concerned that the other side may use the arrangement to serve military purposes.

What needs to be seen is the implementation of the arrangement. On a last note, what was achieved in Istanbul is important but fragile.



Trump Blasts Immigrants for Taking Jobs

Former US President Donald Trump (AFP)
Former US President Donald Trump (AFP)
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Trump Blasts Immigrants for Taking Jobs

Former US President Donald Trump (AFP)
Former US President Donald Trump (AFP)

Donald Trump blamed immigrants for stealing jobs and government resources as he courted separate groups of Black voters and hardcore conservatives in battleground Michigan on Saturday.

The Republican former president also made several new baseless claims attacking the nation's voting system.

But Trump's fiery comments on illegal immigration, long a staple in his unapologetic message, marked a connecting theme in downtown Detroit as he sought to stitch together a delicate political coalition at both a Black church and a group known to attract white supremacists.

"The people coming across the border — all those millions of people — they're inflicting tremendous harm to our Black population and to our Hispanic population," Trump told a cheering crowd of thousands of conservative activists packed into a vast convention hall, The AP reported.

“They're not human beings. They're animals,” he said later in referencing members of violent immigrant gangs.

Trump’s diverse weekend schedule underscores the evolving political forces shaping the presidential election this fall as he tries to deny Democratic President Joe Biden a second term.

Few states may matter more in November than Michigan, which Biden carried by less than 3 percentage points four years ago. And few voting groups matter more to Democrats than African Americans, who made up the backbone of Biden’s political base in 2020. But now, less than five months before Election Day, Black voters are expressing modest signs of disappointment with the 81-year-old Democrat.

Trump, who turned 78 on Friday, is fighting to take advantage of his apparent opening.

His crowd was far smaller, but also warmly receptive, when he visited the 180 Church earlier in the day. Derelict vehicles sat outside the modest brick building with “Black Americans for Trump” signs affixed. Rap music and barbecue smoke wafted from a pre-event gathering organized by the Black Conservative Federation group.

“It’s a very important area for us,” Trump told the church crowd, which included a significant number of white people. He promised to return “some Sunday” for a sermon.

He argued that the Black community “is being hurt” by immigrants in the country illegally.

“They’re invading your jobs,” he said.

Trump offered a similar message later in the day while addressing the “People's Convention” of Turning Point Action, a group that the Anti-Defamation League says has been linked to a variety of extremists.

Roughly 24 hours before the former president spoke, well-known white supremacist Nick Fuentes entered the hall surrounded by a group of cheering supporters. Security quickly escorted him out, but Fuentes created political problems for Trump after attending a private lunch with the former president and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West at Trump’s Florida estate in 2022.

Turning Point has emerged as a force in GOP politics in the Trump era, particularly among his “Make America Great Again” movement, despite the Anti-Defamation League’s warning that the group “continues to attract racists.”

“Numerous individuals associated with the group have made bigoted statements about the Black community, the LGBTQ community and other groups,” the ADL, an international anti-hate group, wrote in a background memo. “While TPUSA (Turning Point USA) leaders say they reject white supremacist ideology, known white nationalists have attended their events.”

Turning Point spokesperson Andrew Kolvet dismissed the ADL’s characterization as “smears and lies.” He added that Turning Point has been blocking Fuentes from attending its events for “years.”

“The ADL is a scourge on America, which sows poison and division. They’ve completely lost the plot,” Kolvet said, describing the ADL’s criticism as “a badge of honor.”