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Exports at the crossroads: Debate to continue over unlocking Ukraine grain routes

Earlier, various parties have put forward seven ways to export grain from the country

TASS, June 22. For more than two months now, Ukraine, the UN, the EU and intermediaries have been debating the problem of exporting grain blocked in the country due to the ongoing conflict.

Various parties have put forward seven ways to export grain from Ukraine: via the ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol, through Odessa, by rail through Romania, Hungary and Poland, and to Lithuania across Belarus or Poland. However, no final decision has been made so far on how to export anywhere from 20 to 25 million tonnes of grain, according to different estimates.

The next attempt at possibly unlocking Ukraine grain export may come as early as next week in Istanbul. According to Turkish mass media, a meeting is planned with participating representatives of the UN, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey, which took on the role of an intermediary.

TASS has put together key scenarios for the potential export of Ukrainian grain.

By sea through Odessa

- This option of grain export will become possible only after the port area is de-mined and vessels sunk by the Ukrainians are hoisted from the bottom of the Black Sea.

- Talks between Russia and Turkey have been dedicated to grain export via Odessa. In particular, Ankara plans to establish a special coordination center in Istanbul. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that Moscow is said to insist on inspecting ships coming to Odessa over potential arms deliveries.

- Turkish officials said they can provide guarantees for the safety of grain export supplies. Local mass media reported, citing sources in the administration of the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the mechanism to implement the roadmap of Ukrainian grain deliveries is 80-90% ready and can be launched shortly if agreements are reached. This item is planned to be discussed at the meeting between Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, and the UN in Istanbul.

- Russia is ready to ensure the safe passage of ships from Odessa controlled by Ukrainian forces. Russian President Vladimir Putin assured Moscow would not take advantage of the situation for a hypothetical attack against the city from the sea.

- Kiev strongly objects to such proposals, demanding the termination of hostilities and the withdrawal of forces as a condition.

By sea via Berdyansk and Mariupol

- Russia is ready to unconditionally provide for grain export from the Berdyansk and Mariupol ports under the control of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Russian forces.

- Moscow is ready to extend guarantees on peaceful transportation and ensure the safety of approaches to Berdyansk and Mariupol. Furthermore, Russia promises to support vessel traffic in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

- Mine clearance operations in the waters of these ports are almost close to completion.

Westbound by rail

- Foodstuffs can be exported from Ukraine by rail to Western states via Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Poland.

- The procedure is complicated by the need to change railcar bogies due to the difference of the railway gauge in Ukraine (1,520 mm) and in Europe (1,435 mm). It takes several hours to swap bogies.

- All bogie change points are able to clear 175 railcars per day tops with an average freight train length of 75 railcars, taking the maximal throughput into consideration.

- Trains can be directed to Hungary and Slovakia via the Esen crossing point (capable of handling 30 railcars daily). Budapest is ready to clear grain via the territory of Hungary and launch two hubs for this purpose (bogies are changed at the Zahony and Yasen stations).

- Romania can become another hub. This is the route President of France Emmanuel Macron has highlighted. Trains can be directed to Romania via Vadul-Siret (capable of handling 40 railcars daily). Freight can be further directed by rail or over the Danube to Constanta, Romania’s key port.

- Trains can go to Poland via two bogie change stations, Jahodin (able to service 28 railcars per day) and Mostyska (18). They can travel further from these stations to the Polish ports of Gdansk and Gdynia. The first dry cargo ships with food have have already sailed from the smaller ports of Swinoujscie and Kolobrzeg.

- A route is available through Poland to the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda. Lithuanian Railways has tested out the route. However, the travel time does not fit into the framework of profitability and railcars remain in short supply: neither Lithuania nor Ukraine has the needed 4,000 railway cars.

By rail via Belarus

- Klaipeda can be reached through Belarus. Here changing bogies would not be needed.

- Neither the West nor Ukraine is happy with this option at present because it would involve removing sanctions from the Belarusian authorities.

Positions of countries

- Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, expressed hope on Monday, that Russia, Turkey and Ukraine would eventually clinch an agreement on seaborne export of Ukrainian grain with the UN’s mediation.

- The UN continues proactively discussing the issue of grain exports from Ukraine, but it is too early to speak about any sort of deal reached, said Stephane Dujarric, official spokesman for the UN Secretary-General. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky also pointed to the absence of progress during the course of the negotiations.

- However, as the Turkish newspaper Milliyet reports, citing sources in the Erdogan administration, talks among Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN to establish a grain export corridor will be held in Istanbul next week. President Erdogan of Turkey and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres might take part in them. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, commenting on this report that contacts between Moscow and Ankara on creating a safe corridor for grain export from Ukraine will go along the lines of the Defense Ministry. Russian President Vladimir Putin does not intend to participate in such a meeting.

- Putin reiterated in his speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum last week that Moscow is not hindering the deliveries of food from Ukraine.