Turkey on Wednesday formally opened a joint coordination center for Ukrainian grain exports under a UN-backed deal aimed at resuming shipments for the first time since Russia’s February invasion of its neighbor, Agence France-Presse reported.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar unveiled the center at a ceremony held five days after Moscow and Kyiv put their names to a deal designed to deliver wheat and other grain across the Black Sea from three designated Ukrainian ports.
The center will be staffed by civilian and military officials from the two warring parties and delegates from Turkey and the UN.
Their primary assignment involves monitoring the safe passage of Ukrainian grain ships along established routes and overseeing their inspection for banned weapons on the way into and out of the Black Sea.
“The staff working at this center are aware that the eyes of the world are upon them,” Akar told reporters in his opening address.
“It is our hope that the center will make the greatest contribution possible to humanitarian needs and peace.”
The blockage of deliveries from two of the world’s biggest grain exporters has contributed to a spike in prices that has made food imports prohibitively expensive for some of the world’s poorest countries.
UN estimates say nearly 50 million people began to face “acute hunger” around the world as a direct consequence of the war.
Wheat prices fell sharply hours after the grain deal was signed.
But a Russian missile strike on Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa on Saturday put the agreement under renewed doubt.
Akar said one-third of the world’s wheat supply came from Russia and Ukraine.