WLD_220803 Ukraine (Lead)-1659523414055
The Joint Coordination Centre officials checking the Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni, carrying Ukrainian grain, during an inspection in the Black Sea off Kilyos, near Istanbul, Turkey, on August 3, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Kyiv/Istanbul: Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy dismissed the importance of the first grain export shipment from his country since Russia invaded, saying it was carrying a fraction of the crop Kyiv must sell to help salvage its shattered economy.

His downbeat comments, via video to students in Australia on Wednesday, came as an inspection of the ship was completed in Turkey before it continues to its final destination in Lebanon under a deal aimed at easing a global food crisis.

The ship, Razoni, departed from Ukraine’s Odesa port on the Black Sea early on Monday carrying 26,527 tonnes of corn to Lebanon’s Tripoli. It followed a UN-brokered grain and fertiliser export agreement between Moscow and Kyiv last month — a rare diplomatic breakthrough in a drawn-out war of attrition.

But Zelenskiy, speaking via an interpreter, said more time was needed to see whether other grain shipments would follow.

“Just recently, thanks to the UN in partnership with Turkey, we had a first ship with the delivery of grain, but its still nothing. But we hope it’s a tendency that will continue, he told the students.

He said Ukraine had to export a minimum 10 million tonnes of grain to urgently help bring down its budget deficit which was running at $5 billion a month.

A senior Turkish official said three ships could leave Ukrainian ports daily after the Razoni’s departure, while Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said 17 more ships had been loaded with agricultural produce and were waiting to set sail.

Known as Europe’s breadbasket, Ukraine hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain held in silos and 40 million tonnes from the harvest now underway, initially from Odesa and nearby Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk.

Corn ship bound for Lebanon in Turkey

The exports from Ukraine, one of the world’s top grain producers, are intended to ease price rises and shortages, with famine looming in some parts of the world.

Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the grain deal might offer a way forward out of conflict.

“The good news is that the Kremlin wants a negotiated solution,” Schroeder told Stern weekly and broadcasters RTL/ntv on Wednesday, adding he had met Putin in Moscow last week.

“A first success is the grain deal, perhaps that can be slowly expanded to a ceasefire.” Ukraine’s General Staff on Wednesday catalogued continued heavy Russian shelling of Kharkiv and other towns and villages in its vicinity, as well as air and missile strikes on civilian objects. Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians, something which it accuses Kyiv of doing.

Russia’s defence ministry said its missiles had destroyed a depot containing weapons supplied by Poland in Ukraine’s Lviv region.

Russia is battling to take full control of Donbas, the heavily industrialised part of eastern Ukraine.

It said on Tuesday at the United Nations that the conflict did not warrant Moscow’s use of nuclear weapons, but that it could decide to use its nuclear arsenal in response to “direct aggression” by countries of the Nato military alliance.

A Russian and Ukrainian team on Wednesday completed a high-stakes inspection of the first shipment of grain from Ukraine since the war.

The Razoni is due to deliver more than 26,000 tonnes of maize to Lebanon - a crisis-wracked country that imports more than 80 percent of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia.

The ship sailed through a specially designated corridor in the mine-infested waters of the Black Sea before reaching the northern edge of the Bosphorus Strait on Tuesday.

A team of 20 inspectors from the two warring parties and the UN and Turkey strapped on orange helmets and boarded the ship early Wednesday for a check that officials said lasted less than 90 minutes.