Russia open to Ukraine grain exports but demands conditions

Russia open to Ukraine grain exports but demands conditions thumbnail

ANKARA and Turkey — Russia supported Wednesday the creation of a safe maritime corridor through the Black Sea so Ukraine can trade grain to global markets in an escalating world hunger crisis. Russia demanded that the Black Sea be cleared of mining and Turkey stated that allowing Ukraine to export grain should be accompanied with the lifting of Western sanctions against Russia. Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, hosted Sergey Lavrov, the Russian counterpart in Ankara. The discussions were focused on a U.N. proposal that Ukraine’s Black Sea ports be opened and allows 22 millions of tons of grain stored in silos to be shipped.

The two allies seemed eager to dictate terms for Ukraine’s exports, which have been severely affected by Russia’s invasion. They also wanted to cement their control over the Black Sea. The talks were not attended by Ukraine.

Ukraine, one of the largest exporters of sunflower oil, wheat, and corn in the world, was not invited to the talks. The war and a Russian blockade at its ports have halted much that flow, posing a threat to food supplies to many countries in the developing world. Many of these ports are also heavily mined.

Russia urged Ukraine to remove the mines from the area around the Black Sea port Odesa in order to allow safe grain exports. Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged that Russia will not use demined corridors for an attack on Odesa, a key port in Ukraine. However, Putin stated earlier this year that he did not intend to invade Ukraine.

Lavrov stated Wednesday that Russia is ready and able to provide that guarantee for Odesa. The Russian envoy promised that Russia would not “abuse” its naval advantage if Ukraine’s ports were demined and would “take all necessary steps to ensure that the ships can leave there freely.”

Moscow also insisted on its right to check the incoming vessels to be loaded with grain to make sure they don’t carry weapons into Ukraine.

Ukraine was not present at the Ankara meeting and said that the Russian promise to not use safe shipping routes to attack Odesa was not credible. The head of Ukraine’s grain traders group laughed at Turkey’s efforts to negotiate a deal to allow Ukrainian grain exports resume. He said that Ankara was not strong enough to act as a guarantor for Russia.

“Turkey does not have enough power in Black Sea to ensure security of cargo and ports in Ukraine,” Serhiy Ivashchenko, chief of Ukrainian Grain Union, said Wednesday. He stated that it would take three to four months to remove seamines from the area and that it was the Russians who had mined it.

Both Turkey and Russia would be benefited from the export plan. Russia would be able to export its fertilizer and food safely through the same corridor. Turkey claims it will facilitate and protect grain transport in the Black Sea, a move that eliminates other potential shippers.

” We find this plan reasonable, and consider it feasible,” Cavusoglu said at a joint news conference. He said that negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv would be necessary to implement the scheme.

The Turkish minister also backed easing Western sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine if it participates in the plan, saying that seemed “quite legitimate.”

“If the whole world is in need of the products to be exported by Ukraine and the Russian Federation, then a method needs to be established,” he said, adding that he hoped “technical preparations” could be made “as soon as possible.”

While grain exports are exempt from Western sanctions, Russia claims that sanctions on its shipping make it impossible to ship its grain to global markets. Officials from the European Union stressed that sanctions were not imposed on food.

“The Kremlin has been using food supplies to weaponize and surrounding them with lies, Soviet-style,” Charles Michel, President of the European Council, told the European Parliament Wednesday.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry reported Tuesday that Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish President, had discussed the creation a safe sea corridor. The ministry also demanded security guarantees, including a supply of weapons to protect against maritime threats and participation of NATO ships in Black Sea.

Turkish Defense Ministry Hulusi Akar stated that details of the export plan are still being worked out.

” Our efforts continue concerning technical planning on such matters as how it will happen, how the mines are cleared, who will do this, how the corridor will work and who will escort the ships,” Akar stated.

Addressing the possibility of resumed peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow, Cavusoglu said Turkey was “much more optimistic. “

Turkey hosted talks between Russian officials and Ukrainian officials in March, but little progress has been made since then.

” We see an optimistic atmosphere for going back to negotiations table,” Cavusoglu stated, citing recent statements by Zelenskyy. He reiterated Ankara’s offer to supervise a meeting between Zelenskyy, Putin.

Lavrov stated that Russia was open to further negotiations, but he accused Zelenskyy “changing his position every time” in regard to conditions for a leaders summit.

Lavrov arrived at Turkey two days after NATO members Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Bulgaria reportedly refused to let his plane fly through their airspace in order to reach Serbia. Lavrov’s plane flew directly to Turkey via the Black Sea.

Lavrov discussed Turkey’s plans to launch an offensive in northern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish militia, which Ankara considers a security threat. Moscow must approve Turkey’s continued presence in northern Syria despite the fact that it is supporting opposing sides in the civil war in Syria. In 2020, 37 Turkish troops were killed in Russia-backed airstrikes on rebels in Syria.

“Turkey needs Russia’s approval to continue this operation in Syria. Merve Tahiroglu (Project on Middle East Democracy’s Turkey program coordinator) said that they are going to try to win such a concession from Russia.

Lavrov met with the Turkish delegation at Project on Middle East Democracy. This meeting took place as Turkey, a NATO member, expressed strong opposition to Sweden’s and Finland’s recent bids for membership. Moscow also objected the Nordic countries’ candidacy — analysts believe this may play a part in discussions regarding Syria.

Turkey maintains close ties with both Russia and Ukraine. While Turkey has condemned Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, it has not joined international sanctions against Russia.


Ayse Wieting and Andrew Wilks in Istanbul and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this story.


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