Ukrainian grain ship navigates safe waters, but economy remains stagnant

Officials from the Joint Coordination Center are seen aboard the Sierra Leone-flagged freighter Razoni, carrying Ukrainian grain, during an inspection in the Black Sea off Kilyos, near Istanbul, Turkey, on Aug. 3.TURKEY MINISTRY OF DEFENSE/Reuters

Ukraine on Wednesday dismissed comments by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that Russia wanted a “negotiated solution” to the war, saying any talks would be conditional on a Russian ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Schroeder, a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and increasingly derided in Germany for his pro-Russian stance, said last month’s deal on grain shipments from Ukraine, aimed at easing the global food crisis, could offer a way forward.

The first grain ship since the war began passed through the Bosphorus Strait on Wednesday en route to Lebanon.

“The good news is that the Kremlin wants a negotiated solution,” Schroeder told the Stern weekly and RTL/ntv broadcasters, adding that he had met with Putin in Moscow last week. “A first success is the grain deal, maybe that can slowly expand to a ceasefire.”

In response, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak described Schroeder as a “voice of the Russian royal court” and made it clear that the grain deal would not lead to negotiations.

“If Moscow wants dialogue, the ball is in its court. First a ceasefire and troop withdrawal, then a constructive (dialogue),” Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said there was nothing more cynical than “Putin’s henchmen” saying that Russia is ready for peace talks.

“We hear and see this ‘arrangement’ every day: artillery strikes, missile terror against civilians, mass heinous crimes. Russia is still focused on the war, everything else is just a smokescreen,” she wrote on Twitter.

The grain deal, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, has been hailed as a rare diplomatic success in the more than five months of war since Putin sent his troops across the border in what he calls a “military operation.” special military. Tentative efforts at peace talks in the early stages of the conflict went nowhere.

But Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky downplayed its importance on Wednesday, saying the shipment was a fraction of the crop Kyiv must sell to help save its shattered economy.

The ship, Razoni, left Odessa on the Black Sea on Monday morning with 26,527 tons of corn for the Lebanese port of Tripoli.

Zelensky, speaking via video to students in Australia, an interpreter, said more time was needed to see if other grain shipments would follow.

“Recently, thanks to the UN in partnership with Turkey, we had a first grain delivery ship, but it’s still nothing. But we hope that it will be a trend that will continue,” he told the students.

He said that Ukraine, one of the world’s leading grain producers before the war, needed to export a minimum of 10 million tons of grain to help urgently reduce its budget deficit, which was running at $5 billion a month.

A senior Turkish official said three ships could leave Ukrainian ports daily after the Razoni’s departure, while Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said 17 more ships had been loaded with agricultural products and were waiting to sail.

Ukraine’s forecast for its 2022 wartime harvest has been raised to 65 million-67 million tons of grain from 60 million tons, Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said on Wednesday.

In a Telegram message, he praised farmers for going ahead with the harvest, even in areas where shelling continues.

Ukraine, known as Europe’s bread basket, expects to export 20 million tons of grain stored in silos and 40 million tons of the current crop, initially from Odessa and nearby Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk.

“The war… is almost killing the economy. He is in a coma,” Zelensky said. “The blockade of the ports by Russia is a great loss for the economy.”

Zelensky has repeatedly warned that Moscow may try to obstruct exports despite signing the deal.

Russia, which blocked the ports after the February 24 invasion, has said it wants more to be done to facilitate exports of its own grain and fertilizer.

It has denied responsibility for the food crisis, saying Western sanctions, which view the war as an unprovoked imperial-style Russian land grab, have curbed its exports.

Russia also said that the United States was directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine because American spies were sanctioning and coordinating Ukrainian missile attacks against Russian forces.

US President Joe Biden has said he wants Ukraine to defeat Russia and has supplied billions of dollars worth of weapons to Kyiv. But the United States does not want a direct confrontation between American and Russian soldiers.

Ukraine and Russia traded accusations over a missile attack or explosion on Friday that apparently killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war in the frontline town of Olenivka held by Moscow-backed separatists east of Donetsk.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday he would launch a fact-finding mission into the deaths, which he said had been requested by both sides.

Ukraine said on Wednesday that Russia had begun creating a military strike force targeting Kryvyi Rih, Zelensky’s hometown, and warned that Moscow may be preparing new offensive operations in southern Ukraine.

Russia has parts of southern Ukraine that it captured in the early stages of its invasion, but Kyiv has said it will mount a counteroffensive. He said on Tuesday that he had already recaptured 53 villages in the occupied Kherson region.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that his country was ready to start grain shipments from Black Sea ports again and was waiting for a signal from the United Nations and Turkey to begin. Standing near a cargo ship docked in the city of Chornomorsk, the president said it was the first cargo ship since the start of the conflict with Russia.

Reuters

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