Ukraine reportedly ended Black Sea shipping deal talks at the last minute – Reuters

According to sources who spoke to Reuters, Kiev abruptly withdrew from a new Black Sea shipping deal that Russia and Ukraine had nearly finalized after two months of negotiations mediated by Turkey. The agreement would have taken effect on March 31st.

The freight route has been without an official agreement since last July, when Moscow declined to renew the original Turkey- and UN-mediated Black Sea Grain Initiative. Russia said that the US and EU had not fulfilled their part of the deal, blocking exports of Russian food and fertilizer.

The recent talks were brokered by Turkey at the UN’s request, and a tentative deal to “ensure the safety of merchant shipping in the Black Sea” was reached last month, sources said. While Kiev did not formally sign, it had agreed that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could announce the pact the day before Turkey’s March 31 local elections, with it taking effect immediately upon announcement.

“At the very last minute, Ukraine suddenly pulled out and the deal was cancelled,” according to Reuters’ sources.

According to a draft seen by Reuters, Ankara had mediated agreements between Moscow and Kiev “on ensuring free and safe navigation of merchant vessels in the Black Sea,” in line with maritime conventions. The guarantees would not apply to “warships, civilian vessels carrying military goods,” except with approval from all parties, the document stated.

Both Russia and Ukraine were to offer security assurances to commercial vessels in the Black Sea, pledging not to attack, seize or search them, provided they were unladen or declared non-military cargo, the draft indicated. The reasons for Kiev’s withdrawal are unclear, but President Vladimir Zelensky had accused Russia of targeting grain export infrastructure during the original deal, putting vulnerable nations at risk.

Speaking to reporters earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied that Moscow ever struck Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea during the grain deal. One reason Moscow did not return to the Black Sea Grain Initiative was Kiev’s misuse of the shipping passage during the agreement, he said. “The Ukrainians used these free secure passages to launch their naval drones,” damaging Russian ships and ports, Lavrov stated. He added under the old agreement, only 3% of shipped Ukrainian grain went to countries on the UN World Food Programme’s list of states in greatest need.

Since then, Moscow has donated 200,000 tons of grain to six African nations, with the last shipments arriving in January of this year.