Canada is working to help get much-needed grain out of Ukraine to famine-threatened parts of the world, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday, now that the embattled country and Russia have signed deals to allow that to happen.
Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements Friday with Turkey and the United Nations, clearing the way for the export of millions of tons of desperately needed Ukrainian grain — as well as Russian grain and fertilizer.
Speaking to journalists during a visit to Prince Edward Island, Trudeau cautioned that Russia has shown nothing but bad faith, adding his faith in the country is “pretty much nil.”
“They have precipitated a global energy crisis, a global food crisis with their illegal invasion of Ukraine and the rest of us have been working very, very hard to try and mitigate those issues around the world,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau added Canada has been working with other countries and the UN to share its grain storage and shipment expertise for several months and he’s feeling optimistic about the effort.
The latest development ends a wartime standoff that had threatened food security around the globe.
“Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said after signing separate deals with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov.
“A beacon of hope, a beacon of possibility, a beacon of relief in a world that needs it more than ever.”
The UN World Food Program has warned that millions of people in the developing world and conflict zones are in danger of starvation.
Russian and Ukrainian officials also signed deals with Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, and the ceremony was witnessed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Before the war, Russia and Ukraine produced about 30 per cent of the world’s exported grain.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion of the country and naval blockade of its ports have halted shipments. Some grain is being transported through Europe by rail, road and river, but the prices of vital commodities like wheat and barley have soared during the nearly five-month war.
The new arrangement allows for the safe passage of ships. It foresees the establishment of a control centre in Istanbul, to be staffed by UN, Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials, to run and co-ordinate the process, Turkish officials have said. Ships would undergo inspections to ensure they are not carrying weapons.
Russian and Ukrainian officials have blamed each other for the blocked grain shipments. Moscow accused Ukraine of failing to remove sea mines at the ports to allow safe shipping and insisted on its right to check incoming ships for weapons. Ukraine has argued that Russia’s port blockade and launching of missiles from the Black Sea made any shipments unviable.
Ukrainian authorities have also accused Russia of stealing grain from eastern Ukraine and deliberately shelling Ukrainian fields to set them on fire.
Ukraine has sought international guarantees that the Kremlin wouldn’t use the safe corridors to attack the Black Sea port of Odesa.
Trudeau said Canada and its allies will be watching closely to make sure the agreements do not put Ukraine at risk of being further invaded and attacked by Russia.
“The G7 is working closely with partners like Turkey and others to ensure that we can get that grain out of Ukraine to places around the world where it’s needed without putting at risk Ukraine’s sovereignty protection.”
The prime minister was seized with the global repercussions of the war in Ukraine during his recent trip to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, last month, where he met with leaders whose nations were already feeling the effects of the grain shortage.
The Canadian government pledged $50 million a few days later during the G7 meeting in Germany to ship grain storage equipment to Ukraine so farmers there could store the year’s harvest and hopefully get it to market if the ports reopened.
At the time, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Canada was prepared to partner with the UN to send ships to Romania to get grain out of Ukraine.
“We need to free the wheat,” she said.
—Laura Osman, The Canadian Press