Türkiye-based joint coordination centre, which will be operated with Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish and UN officials, aims to ensure safe passage of Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea.
Even as Russian strikes continue to pummel targets in eastern and southern Ukraine, the conflicting countries have signed a landmark Ankara-brokered deal to ensure that Ukraine grain exports make it to the outside world, thanks to the best efforts of Türkiye, a mediating force.
Tasked with overseeing grain shipments from Ukrainian ports through the Black Sea, a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) was inaugurated on Wednesday in Istanbul’s National Defence University (NDU). The NDU is a Turkish military education institute, whose headquarters spans the Istanbul Strait and is hosting the JCC.
“This centre has a meaning for the whole world, and this centre will work for humanitarian purposes,” said Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar at the facility’s opening ceremony, referring to how the JCC will monitor the Ukraine-Russia grain export deal, which will help alleviate an “aggravated” global food and energy crisis triggered by the military conflict.
One-third of the global wheat supply originates in Ukraine and Russia, the world’s two biggest grain producers. As a result, Moscow’s blockade of Ukrainian ports after the Russian attack on Kiev has increased fears of food security. The JCC will oversee safe shipments of more than 25 millions tons of grain that have been stuck in Ukrainian ports, according to Akar.
If the blockade of Ukrainian grain exports continues, it will have a negative impact on the global network of food supplies, starting from Africa to the Middle East, increasing worldwide hunger and illegal migration and posing serious security problems.
“That’s why, more than 25 millions tons of grain, which have been waiting in Ukrainian ports should be exported to countries in need swiftly and this is an obligation for all of us,” Akar said, referring to the fact that the newly-inaugurated coordination centre will calm growing fears.
Experts also believe that the opening of the JCC is important to secure global food supplies. After the announcement of the opening of the JCC, wheat prices fell sharply, showing the effect of the grain deal on global markets.
It is important to note that there was talk of a looming food crisis before the war. This centre is a crucial step to work towards alleviating the current worsening of the crisis,” says Gregory Simons, an associate professor at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Uppsala University.
Global praise for Türkiye
Both the UN, whose officials will work alongside Turkish, Ukrainian and Russian counterparts in the JCC, and the US praised Turkish efforts to convince Russia and Ukraine to reach the grain deal and implement it.
“The swift opening of the Joint Coordination Centre was made possible with the invaluable support from Türkiye in providing the parties with a physical platform to help operationalise the Black Sea Grain initiative,” said Martin Griffiths, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator in the UN.
“I am hopeful that their swift collective action will translate quickly and directly into much-needed relief for the most vulnerable food insecure people around the world,” he added.
The opening of the JCC also increased hope across the world that it can function as a confidence-building measure between Ukrainians and Russians, whose officials work and eat together at the monitoring facility, according to Turkish sources, helping them to find a peaceful resolution to their differences and end their hostilities.
Türkiye’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu echoed a similar view, saying, "now it is time to focus on brokering a ceasefire" between Russia and Ukraine.
Cavusoglu highlighted the ongoing efforts made by Russia and Ukraine to find common ground with the help of Türkiye.
“Actually, this (grain center) is not only a step toward lifting obstacles to food exports,” Cavusoglu added.
Foreign policy analyst Gregory Simons also considers the centre to be a necessary bridge between Russia and Ukraine.
“The centre is necessary because there is a lack of trust and no form of functioning cooperation between Ukraine and Russia. Therefore, an honest brokering mechanism is needed to oversee the operational aspects of grain exports,” Simons tells TRT World.
Simons believes that if Russia and Ukraine have a working relationship, it’s so “because of the role of Türkiye as the honest broker in the dispute”. Türkiye is one of the few countries that both parties to the conflict can work with, he says.
“Türkiye played a crucial role in brokering the agreement and will be essential in its implementation as the country, who has a proven record of being able to speak constructively both Russia and Ukraine,” says Matthew Bryza, a former US diplomat and a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“This is really an important diplomatic moment for Türkiye,” Bryza tells TRT World. But the former diplomat is concerned that Russia might not abide by the deal, referring to a missile attack on Odessa, a Ukrainian port city crucial for the country’s grain exports.
Istanbul: the perfect location
The old capital of the Ottoman Empire, which sits on Asian and European continents, is an excellent place for a coordination centre on the grain deal, according to experts. Both Ukrainian and Russian ships carrying grain need to pass the Istanbul Strait to reach the outside world.
“Istanbul is the most logical choice for the Joint Coordination Centre. First of all, Istanbul is the most important geographical location in the entire Turkish straits, which are the most important geographical feature in the flow of Türkiye goods out of the Black Sea,” Bryza says.
“No other location will possibly make as much sense as Istanbul,” views the former diplomat.