Freighter with Ukrainian grain cleared for transit

The Razoni was inspected on Wednesday before Turkey allowed it to pass through the Bosphorus Strait

The Turkish Defense Ministry has released images showing an inspection of the Razoni, the first cargo ship in months carrying Ukrainian grain to an overseas customer. The delivery is being conducted under a scheme negotiated with Russia last month.

The checks on Wednesday were carried out by a joint team, which confirmed that the vessel was in compliance with the terms of the arrangement. The Razoni, a Sierra Leone-flagged dry cargo ship, is transporting over 26,000 tons of maize to Lebanon.

The inspection lasted about three hours, according to the UN, after which the freighter sailed on towards its destination, Tripoli.

The ship set out from the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Monday in what is hoped to be the first of many voyages meant to alleviate surging global food prices. So far the Razoni is the only freighter to leave the three Ukrainian ports permitted to operate shipments under the deal, with Kiev offering no explanation for the delay.

Ukrainian exports of grain, one of its main internationally traded products, were put on hold in the Black Sea after Russia attacked the country in late February. Kiev claimed Russia was barring civilian ships from leaving, while Moscow said Ukraine was responsible for the stoppage, having placed sea mines near its ports to fend off possible Russian amphibious assaults. Turkey and the UN helped negotiate a compromise arrangement, which allowed maritime traffic to resume.

Ankara’s role as a mediator stems from its control of two straits that all ship need to pass through to get from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea or vice versa. Turkey hosts a joint coordination center for all the four stakeholders. Inspections of vessels are meant to ensure that they are not used to smuggle weapons into Ukraine or haul out cargo not covered by the deal.

Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, citing Kiev’s failure to implement the Minsk agreements, designed to give the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk special status within the Ukrainian state. The protocols, brokered by Germany and France, were first signed in 2014. Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has since admitted that Kiev’s main goal was to use the ceasefire to buy time and “create powerful armed forces.”

In February 2022, the Kremlin recognized the Donbass republics as independent states and demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join any Western military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked.

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