In the military theatre, 28 Russian rockets hit the southern Ukrainian town of Mykolaiv, not far from the Black Sea, killing at least five people, while in the east, the locality of Bakhmout, close to the front, again been bombed.

“Really substantial progress” has been made, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told media after the end of Russian-Ukrainian talks in Turkey, who said he hoped a “formal agreement” could be soon concluded.

“Today in Istanbul we saw a momentous milestone, a step forward in ensuring the safe and secure export of Ukrainian food products across the Black Sea,” he continued: “We have a glimmer of hope to alleviate human suffering and alleviate world hunger”.

Cautious optimism also from the side of Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, who pointed out that Russian and Ukrainian military experts had agreed on “joint controls” in the ports and on the means to “guarantee the security of the transfer routes “, in other words secure corridors for the maritime transport of agricultural products.

“It has been agreed that the delegations of Russia and Ukraine will meet again in Turkey next week”, he noted, judging that a final agreement on the cereals currently immobilized in the Ukrainian ports of the fact of the Russian invasion launched on February 24 could then intervene.

“The Ukrainian delegation has informed me that progress has been made. We will agree on the details with the Secretary General of the United Nations in the coming days,” President Volodymyr Zelensky reacted in the evening.

“We are on the verge of an agreement”, had previously estimated the head of Ukrainian diplomacy Dmytro Kouleba.

– Turkey on the move –

The agreement negotiated by Antonio Guterres for more than two months aims not only to bring out through the Black Sea some 20 million tonnes of cereals blocked in Ukrainian silos, in particular in Odessa (south), but to facilitate Russian exports of grain and fertilizer.

So many products that are sorely lacking on the world market.

It was the first time in three months that Russians and Ukrainians met in Istanbul. Organized on the European side of the Bosphorus, in the presence of representatives of the United Nations. The talks lasted three hours in total.

Ukraine is one of the world’s leading exporters of wheat and other cereals and time is running out as rising global food prices pose the risk of famine, particularly in Africa.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, “the Russian delegation has prepared and presented (…) a set of proposals for a rapid response in practice to this question”.

Moscow recalled on Tuesday its demand to “check and search ships to avoid the smuggling of weapons and a commitment from kyiv not to organize provocations”.

Russia also wants Ukraine to demine its ports, which the latter refuses to consider for fear of an amphibious assault on cities such as Odessa.

Turkey, a member of NATO and an ally of the two belligerents, has been increasing diplomatic steps for months to facilitate the resumption of deliveries.

Turkish officials have assured that they have 20 cargo ships in the Black Sea ready to be quickly loaded with Ukrainian grain.

So far, Turkish efforts, made at the request of the UN, have failed to resolve the situation.

The trip to Ankara in early June by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had not led to any progress on this file, in the absence of any Ukrainian representation.

But the Russian presidents, Vladimir Putin, and Turkish presidents, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are to meet on July 19 in Tehran on the sidelines of a summit on Syria, which could provide the framework conducive to the announcement of an agreement.

The Turkish head of state has acted as a mediator since the start of the war, taking care, however, while providing combat drones to Ukraine, not to offend Moscow.

– “Operational break” –

Turkey and its struggling economy, with record inflation of 79% year on year, are heavily dependent on trade with Russia and Russian gas.

Ukraine has even risen several times against the shuttles of Turkish cargo ships across the Black Sea, to and from Ukrainian ports under Russian control.

Russia has not carried out a major ground offensive since it overcame the last pockets of resistance in the Lugansk region in early July, forming with that of Donetsk the Donbass mining basin, partially controlled since 2014 by pro-Russian separatists.

On Thursday morning, the North Korean regime officially recognized these two regions as independent countries, according to the official KCNA news agency.

North Korea is the third country, along with Russia and its ally Syria, to recognize these two territories as independent states.

Analysts speak of an “operational pause” of Russian forces before the assault on the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the administrative center of Donbass still under Ukrainian control, in the Donetsk region.

But the regional governor of Donetsk, Pavlo Kyrylenko, reported Thursday morning “one dead and five injured” in Bakhmut. Result, according to him, of a Russian bombardment on this zone.

For US officials, the Russians are trying to overcome their losses while negotiating the acquisition of hundreds of combat drones with Iran.

For its part, Ukraine is mounting increasingly powerful attacks with new American and European rocket systems targeting arms depots.

And the toll of the Russian strike on Sunday on an apartment building in Chassiv Iar, in the same Donbass basin, rose to 48 dead, according to Ukrainian relief.

In this context, some forty countries including the United States, members of the European Union, the United Kingdom and Asian states called on Russia, on Wednesday in a joint statement made public in New York, to stop “immediately its military operations in Ukraine”.