The Grain Deal: A Humanitarian Agreement Amidst War

Last edited: 22.02.2023

War and Cooperation

After two turbulent years with covid19, political uncertainties, and a declining world economy with high inflation, the world woke up to another crisis on the morning of February 24th, 2022[1]. It has been 10 months since the Russian-Ukraine War started and it is still continuing with its destabilizing effects on the western world. The factors and consequences of the war have been discussed extensively by various analysts. However, amidst this terrible humanitarian crisis, humanitarian cooperation between Ukraine and Russia emerged: The Grain Deal.

In 2022, 47 million people[2] were estimated to be suffering from famine as a result of increasing food costs, covid19, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. African and Latin American countries that relied on imported grain and fuel were hit the most.

Ukraine is among the world’s leading grain exporters and provides more than 45 million tons of grain[3] annually to the global market through its ports. Since the start of the war, 20 million tons of grain had been held up in the Ukrainian city of Odessa[4], a port city where the exporting process is mainly done. 

After the invasion, Russia deployed warships along Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, creating a threat for its valuable ports and trade routes (Including Odessa). To counter, Ukraine mined those waters to deter a Russian naval attack.

The Grain Deal

The Grain Deal between Ukraine and Russia with the guarantor role of Turkey and collaboration with the U.N. was signed on 22 July 2022. The agreement allowed the safe exportation of grain from certain ports to ease the food crisis. By late October (2022) 400 voyages had been made with nearly 9.5 million tons of grain and other food products being carried [5]

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, stated that despite Russia’s war, the agreement “helps avoid global food shortages and brings down prices.” [6]

Geographically, ships need to go through the Istanbul Bosphorus to exit the Black Sea and access the rest of the world. According to the agreement, once the ships are in Turkish waters, they are inspected by a joint team of Turkish, U.N, Ukrainian and Russian officials, then deliver their cargo to destinations around the world, returning for another inspection by the joint team before heading back to Ukraine.     

The inspection team’s main responsibility is to check for unauthorized cargo and personnel while the ship is both heading out and heading back to Ukraine. This clause of the agreement is especially critical for Russia to ensure that ships are not carrying any weapons back to Ukraine.  

Russian – Turkish – Ukrainian relationship 

“At the beginning of this year, Turkey needed its partnership with Russia more than Russia did”, says Alexandra Prokopenko. [7] The majority of visitors to Turkish resorts were Russians, and Turkish diplomats pleaded with Moscow to relax its restrictions on Turkish agricultural products. In the first nine months of this year, Russia and Turkey’s trade volume more than quadrupled from the previous year to exceed $47 billion [8], and by the end of the third quarter, Turkey became one of Russia’s top trading partners, surpassed only by China and Belarus. 

Russian propaganda portrays the development of cooperation with Turkey as evidence that Russia is not acting alone in the world arena. However, Erdogan’s own objectives and interests in foreign policy cannot be disregarded by the Kremlin any longer. To avoid closing the remaining door to the European market, Russian businesses will need to offer their Turkish counterparts hefty discounts.

During the brief time span in which the agreement between the Ukrainian and Russian parties were suspended, it only took Turkish President Erdogan two days to persuade Russia to rejoin the grain deal with Ukraine. This shows just how much Ankara’s influence on Moscow has increased over the past eight months, dramatically tipping the scales in Turkey’s favor. Putin declared that his country will “in any case” not obstruct Turkey’s ability to import grain from Ukraine. In other words, it will still be able to move grain from Ukraine out of Black Sea ports even if Russia once more pulls out of the agreement.

Besides Turkey’s dense economic ties with Russia, Turkey also has deep ties with Ukrainian economic activities. Ukraine imports from Turkey were US$3.15 Billion in 2021.[9] Since the start of the war, Turkey has also been supplying Ukraine war drones (Bayraktar TB2) that have autonomous flight and aerial attack capacity. This helped the Ukrainian army immensely with their defense strategies against the Russian advance. It is also worth mentioning that the supplier of these drones is the son-in-law of President Erdogan. The Turkish economy is currently in a fragile position because of the unorthodox monetary policies followed by the Central Bank. They are currently struggling with inflation which is more than 80% and a highly depreciated currency. To keep the Turkish currency rate stable against foreign currencies, the CBRT sells foreign currency from its currency reserves, however, the reserves are depleted right now.

UN Perspective

The Kremlin’s official justification for opposing the contract in October was that it was allegedly being shipped to Europe in huge quantities rather than the “poorer nations” where it was more required. According to the resources, only around 25 percent of the cargo has gone to low and lower-middle-income countries, such as Egypt, India, and Iran. [10] 

In reality, Putin was unhappy that European businesses did not carry on as normally as their Russian counterparts despite the absence of statutory restrictions. Numerous fertilizer cargoes remained blocked at Baltic ports, banks continued to delay transactions or simply refuse to work with Russian firms, and foreign purchasers looked for suppliers other than Russia. However, the main reason for the suspension of the deal, was a drone assault launched by Ukraine, that Russian authorities called a terrorist attack. Both the attack’s perpetrators and Kyiv’s use of the humanitarian corridor for military purposes are denied. Even Turkey, Russia’s biggest trading partner, is supporting the UN in this decision, as Mr. Erdogan has stated that “While continuing our efforts to find a solution, we remain on the side of our Ukrainian friends”. [11] So they unanimously came to the conclusion that Putin’s actions are an attempt to deflect attention away from its military missteps in Ukraine.

Roughly 30% of the world’s exported wheat and barley, and more than half of sunflower oil come from Ukraine and Russia. Therefore this deal is crucial since Ukraine is a major supplier of grain to the World Food Program. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote on Twitter “It has been clearly seen how important and beneficial this agreement is for the food supply and security of the world.” [12]


Roughly 75 percent of Ukraine’s agricultural exports pass through the Black Sea, but Russia’s maritime blockade prevented critical agricultural goods from leaving the nation, consequently driving up global food prices and deepening food shortages. As a result of the United Nations- and Turkey-brokered grain arrangement, exports were enabled and pressures on more than 345 million people currently suffering food insecurity were lifted. 

Though each government has a different agenda buried underneath its actions, the impact of this agreement will not only reinstate the diplomatic connections that weakened after the Russian-Ukraine conflict but also as Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, stated “the agreement helps avoid global food shortages and brings down prices.” [13]


“Erdogan Throws Turkey’s Support behind Ukraine.” Le, Le Monde, 18 Aug. 2022, 

Kottasová, Ivana. “What Does Russia’s Withdrawal from a Grain Deal with Ukraine Mean for Global Hunger?” CNN, Cable News Network, 1 Nov. 2022, 

Marie Dumoulin, Tefta Kelmendi. “Grain of Truth: Why Russia Rejoined the Ukraine Food Export Deal.” ECFR, 10 Nov. 2022, 

Person, and Michelle Nichols Pavel Polityuk. “U.N., Turkey, Ukraine Press Ahead with Black Sea Grain Deal despite Russian Pullout.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 30 Oct. 2022, 

Prokopenko, Alexandra. “Russia’s Return to Grain Deal Is a Sign of Turkey’s Growing Influence.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 8 Nov. 2022, 

“Security Council Debates Russia’s Decision to Suspend Participation in Crucial Ukraine Grain Deal | UN News.” United Nations, United Nations, 

Seddon, Max, et al. “’One Hand Washes the Other’: Grain Deal Shines Light on Erdoğan’s Ties to Putin.” Subscribe to Read | Financial Times, Financial Times, 4 Nov. 2022, 

Seddon, Max, et al. “Ukraine Black Sea Grain Export Deal Extended.” Subscribe to Read | Financial Times, Financial Times, 17 Nov. 2022, 

Tanis, Fatma. “An Intense Global Scramble Is on to Keep Ukraine Grain Deal Alive, as Russia Pulls Out.” NPR, NPR, 31 Oct. 2022, 

[1] Seddon, Max, Ayla Jean Yackley, and Roman Olearchyk. “Ukraine Black Sea Grain Export Deal Extended.” Subscribe to read | Financial Times. Financial Times, November 17, 2022. 

[2] “47 Million People in the World Are on the Edge of Famine. What Can Be Done?” World Economic Forum. Accessed February 22, 2023. 

[3] “The Black Sea Grain Initiative: What It Is, and Why It’s Important for the World | UN News.” United Nations. United Nations. Accessed February 22, 2023. 

[4] Kirby, Jen. “Why Grain Can’t Get out of Ukraine.” Vox. Vox, June 20, 2022. 

[5] “The Truth: Moscow’s Drive to Destroy Ukrainian Agriculture.” Ukrainian World Congress. Accessed February 22, 2023. 

[6] Deutsche Welle. “Ukraine, Russia Extend Black Sea Grain Deal for 120 Days – DW – 11/17/2022.” Deutsche Welle, November 17, 2022. 

[7] “Russia’s Return to Grain Deal Is a Sign of Turkey’s Growing Influence.” Accessed February 22, 2023. 

[8] “Russia’s Return to Grain Deal Is a Sign of Turkey’s Growing Influence.” Accessed February 22, 2023. 

[9] “Ukraine Imports from TURKEY2023 Data 2024 Forecast 1996-2021 Historical.” Ukraine Imports from Turkey – 2023 Data 2024 Forecast 1996-2021 Historical. Accessed February 22, 2023. 

[10] “The Black Sea Grain Initiative: What It Is, and Why It’s Important for the World.” World Bank. Accessed February 22, 2023. 

[11] Times, The Brussels. “Erdogan Affirms Support for Ukraine, Expresses Concern over Risk of New Chernobyl.” The Brussels Times. Accessed February 22, 2023. 

[12] Deutsche Welle. “Ukraine, Russia Extend Black Sea Grain Deal for 120 Days – DW – 11/17/2022.” Deutsche Welle, November 17, 2022. 

[13] Deutsche Welle. “Ukraine, Russia Extend Black Sea Grain Deal for 120 Days – DW – 11/17/2022.” Deutsche Welle, November 17, 2022. 

Maria Dolgikh
Bora Tenargun
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