Security Exchange News

Ukraine Situation Report | 4 November 2022

04 November 2022

A Russian U-turn has allowed the UN-brokered grain deal to continue with the assurance of safety for grain ships exporting via the safe corridor agreed in the Black Sea. Moscow suspended its participation in the deal – called the Istanbul agreement – earlier this week following a drone attack on its Black Sea fleet based out of Sevastapol, Crimea. The Kremlin accused Kyiv of orchestrating the attack and of using the corridor for military action, despite the US insisting no ships had been in the safe corridor at the time of the attack. Despite Russia temporarily halting support for the deal and the threat of a blockade, the UN, Turkey, and Ukraine continued to send ships anyway, with a record amount of grain leaving Ukrainian ports on Monday.

The Istanbul agreement was brokered by the UN and Turkey back in July, bringing to an end a five-month Russian blockade which prevented Ukrainian ports from exporting millions of tonnes of grain and sunflower oil – sending global food prices soaring. The deal enables Ukrainian grain ships access to a safe corridor and requires all ships to undergo inspection by a special co-ordination team in Turkey, from where they can then sail through the Bosphorous Strait.

UN figures indicate that since the deal was reached in August, more than 400 shipments transporting over 9.8m tonnes of grain, oil, and soya beans had been shipped. On Monday alone – in the absence of Russia’s participation in the deal – a record 354,000 tonnes left Ukrainian ports. Russia had been threatening to suspend its participation in the deal for a while before eventually announcing over the weekend that it was halting support, blaming Ukraine for the Crimea drone attack. Kyiv dismissed the move as a “false pretext”, suggesting Moscow had been planning the move for weeks. After demanding a detailed investigation into the drone attack and reassurances from Ukraine not to use the corridor for military purposes, Moscow reportedly confirmed its intention to resume the deal in a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, just four days after suspending support. Russian news agencies claimed that written guarantees had been received from Kyiv that both the safe corridor and Ukrainian ports wouldn’t be used for military activity.

Currently due to end on 19 November, the UN, Turkey, Ukraine, and Russia have yet to negotiate an extension; however, the latest developments have lent credibility to theories Russia no longer has the resource or diplomatic leeway to justify enforcing another a blockade. Following the announcement of Russia’s U-turn decision to restart its participation in the agreement, German officials claimed the development highlighted what the international community could achieve if it refused to be blackmailed by Russia. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock emphasised that Moscow had backed down, having “tried to use hunger as a weapon”. Political observers have similarly indicated that some signs pointed to Russia having backed itself into a corner, with the Kremlin allegedly falling into a trap it didn’t have the leverage to get out of.

Meanwhile, on Ukrainian land, Russia has continued to increase waves of aerial attacks targeting energy infrastructure in main cities, leading to black outs and sparking concern families may face critical power shortages in the lead-up to winter. In the last month alone, it’s claimed a third of the country’s power stations have been destroyed, prompting authorities to urge civilians to use energy sparingly. In response to the raids, Ukrainian resident Volodymyr Zelensky has accused the Kremlin of resorting to "energy terrorism", and claims the attacks come as Russian troops make minimal territorial gains on the battlefield. Ukrainian officials have insisted they believe Russian troops are likely to soon withdraw from the key southern city of Kherson after suffering a series of defeats there.