« Turkish and Russian leaders hold talks as Moscow continues to attack Ukrainian grain-exporting ports » said The Guardian on its issue of the 4th of september
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has concluded face-to-face talks with Vladimir Putin by claiming a deal to export Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea could be revived.
But there was no evidence of a breakthrough as the Russian leader again accused the west of reneging on promises.
Putin claimed there had been no crisis in global grain markets since Moscow pulled out of the deal two months ago over what it said was the west’s failure to keep its side of the bargain covering Russian food and fertiliser exports. He said prices were falling and there was no evidence of food shortages.
His stance suggests he believes Russia has benefited from withdrawing from the grain deal and then bombing Ukrainian ports that previously exported Ukrainian grain. He said he would be willing to “reanimate the deal” when all Russian demands were met.
It was the first in-person meeting between Erdoğan, the chief negotiator behind the initial deal, and Putin since the deal collapsed.
The immediate backdrop to the meeting in Sochi, Russia, on Monday was another Russian drone strike on a Ukrainian grain-exporting port, which damaged warehouses and set buildings on fire. Romania, a Nato member, denied Ukrainian claims that Russian drones fell and detonated on its territory in the attack.
Russian drones have been systematically attacking Ukrainian grain stores since Moscow’s withdrawal from the deal, and the latest attack on the Danube River port of Izmail, in Ukraine’s southern Odesa region, hit warehouses and production buildings. More than 220,000 tonnes of Ukrainian grain have been destroyed in the Russian assaults, Ukraine says.
Erdoğan, who previously played a significant role in convincing Putin to stick with the deal, and the UN are trying to persuade Putin to return to it. “As Turkey, we believe that we will reach a solution that will meet the expectations in a short time,” Erdoğan said in Sochi.
He said Ukraine should soften its negotiating position against Russia over the grain deal. If wider peace talks ever start, Erdoğan is likely to be a leading intermediary.
Putin has said Russia could return to the grain deal if the west signs a memorandum to facilitate Russian food and fertiliser exports. “We will do this as soon as all the agreements on lifting restrictions on the export of Russian agricultural products are fully implemented,” he said in Sochi.
The west says it has already issued comprehensive guidance to underline the wide exemptions in its sanctions against Russia’s food exports. It previously tried to reassure Putin that Russian grain and fertiliser exports were not subject to western sanctions.
Russia exported 56m tonnes of grain products under the Black Sea grain deal, earning $41bn in the process, the west claims. Moscow said that in practice continued restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance had hindered shipments, leaving western undertakings unfulfilled.
Moscow also wants the Russian Agricultural Bank to be reconnected to the Swift international payments system. The west cut off the bank in June 2022 as part of sanctions imposed in response to the invasion, but the restrictions do not apply to new debt or equity.
The Kremlin is also keen to restart a critical ammonia pipeline that runs to Pivdennyi in the Odesa region, something US and European officials are increasingly open to should Kyiv allow it, given ammonia’s role as a key fertiliser ingredient.
The disputes, involving complex detail, have become a significant propaganda battleground as Russia and the west seek to convince poorer countries and the more powerful Brics nations that their opponent is to blame for the resulting inflation and grain shortages.
As a sweetener, Russia has offered to supply up to 1m tonnes of Russian grain to Turkey at reduced prices for subsequent processing at Turkish plants and shipping to countries most in need. Inflation in Turkey is at 60%, not helped by food prices.
Before the suspension, the deal brought nearly 33m tonnes of grain exports to global markets from Ukraine, with well over half of that grain and two-thirds of the wheat reaching developing countries. The US claims approximately 20m tonnes of that grain went to developing countries. Russia’s contribution to fighting world food hunger is questionable since it is only the 34th largest contributor to the UN World Food Programme, even as it expects a record harvest.
The deal focused on allowing commercial food and fertiliser (including ammonia) exports from three key Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea: Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi, formerly known as Yuzhny.
A joint coordination centre (JCC) was established to monitor the implementation of the initiative. The JCC is hosted in Istanbul and includes representatives from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the UN. The UN acts as the centre’s secretariat.
Ukrainian vessels guided cargo ships into international waters of the Black Sea, avoiding mined areas. The vessels then proceeded towards Istanbul along the agreed maritime humanitarian corridor. Ships heading to and from the Ukrainian ports were inspected by JCC teams comprising Russian, Turkish, Ukrainian and UN inspectors. At their peak in October, the number of inspections reached an average of 10.6 a day.
Since the collapse of the deal, Ukraine has sent three commercial shipments of grain out of the Black Sea without Russian permission along new humanitarian corridors. Moscow has threatened to attack the ships but has not yet done so.
Land routes through Poland that could be used to export grain are more expensive, carry less grain and take longer.