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First grain ship could leave Ukraine on Monday, says senior Turkish official

Joint command centre in Istanbul will probably complete work on the exporting routes very soon, presidential spokesperson says
Both Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of grain and fertilisers and supply large quantities of wheat to various parts of the Middle East (Reuters)

The possibility of the first grain-exporting ship leaving Ukraine's ports on Monday is high, a spokesperson for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.

"If all [details] are completed by tomorrow, it seems like there is a high possibility that the first ship will leave the port tomorrow... We will see ships leaving the ports the next day at the latest," Ibrahim Kalin said.

Speaking in an interview with Turkish broadcaster Kanal 7, Kalin said a joint command centre (JCC) in Istanbul will probably complete the final work on the exporting routes very soon.

But Kalin added there were still "one or two subjects to be settled in the negotiations with the Russians".

"Preparations have reached a point to allow the ships to leave the port of Odessa," he said.

"The ships have been loaded, they are ready to leave, but we need good logistical coordination."

The resumption of exports was also discussed in talks between the Turkish and Ukrainian defence ministers, Ankara said on Sunday.  

"It is planned to begin transport as soon as possible," the Turkish ministry said in a statement. 

'Package' deal

Russia and Ukraine are major global wheat suppliers, and the Turkish- and UN-brokered agreement they signed in Istanbul last week is intended both to ease the food crisis and reduce global grain prices that have risen since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.

Russia and Ukraine sign breakthrough grain deal brokered by UN and Turkey
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The United Nations and Turkey had been working for two months to broker what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called a "package" deal to resume Ukraine's Black Sea grain exports and facilitate Russian grain and fertiliser shipments.

The agreement aims to allow safe passage for an estimated 22 million tonnes of wheat and other crops, in and out of Chornomorsk, Odessa and the port of Pivdennyi. 

Moscow blames Ukraine for stalling shipments by mining the port waters.

The Russian and Ukrainian authorities have committed themselves not to target merchant ships, civilian vessels and the ports, but it is reported that the Ukrainians have not sought any specific security guarantees.

Scepticism

The JCC will ensure that everything goes according to the agreement, which is valid for 120 days with automatic renewal. Any complaints about the operation will be assessed and resolved through the JCC. 

Inspection teams that include officials from Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and the UN will board ships in a Turkish port before sailing to the southwestern Ukrainian port city of Odessa and two neighbouring ports and ensure that the ships are not carrying contraband or weapons. 

Many experts are sceptical about whether Russia will honour its word, but UN officials have underlined that Moscow will also get something out of the deal by being able to export its own grain and fertilisers through a separate agreement with the UN. 

Moscow denies that its actions have led to the price of grain skyrocketing across the world and has said western sanctions have led to the food crisis.