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Turkiye struggles to push Russia, Ukraine into grain deal to avert food crisis

Stationary cargo ships and bulk carriers in the Black Sea wait to enter the Sulina Canal on June 4, 2022 [Andrei Pungovschi/Bloomberg via Getty Images]
Stationary cargo ships and bulk carriers in the Black Sea wait to enter the Sulina Canal on June 4, 2022 [Andrei Pungovschi/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

Turkish efforts to ease a global food crisis by negotiating safe passage for grain stuck in Black Sea ports met resistance as Ukraine said Russia was imposing unreasonable conditions and the Kremlin said free shipment depended on an end to sanctions, Reuters reports.

The war between Russia and Ukraine, the world's third and fourth largest grain exporters respectively, has added to food price inflation and put global food supplies at risk.

Russia has seized large parts of Ukraine's coast in nearly 15 weeks of war, and its warships control the Black and Azov Seas, blocking Ukraine's farm exports and driving up the cost of grain.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine could lead to bread shortages across parts of the Arab world - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Russia's invasion of Ukraine could lead to bread shortages across parts of the Arab world – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Ukraine and the West accuse Moscow of weaponising food supplies. Russia says Ukrainian mines laid at sea and international sanctions on Moscow are to blame.

Speaking alongside his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, Turkiye's Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said talks on Wednesday in Ankara were fruitful, and restarting Ukrainian grain exports along a sea corridor was reasonable.

Lavrov said the onus was on Ukraine to de-mine its ports as a precondition for safe shipment

Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters Russian grain volumes could only be delivered to international markets if sanctions were lifted. He said there were "no substantive talks about this yet".

'Insufficient force'

The United Nations is working on plans with Kyiv and Moscow to restart grain exports from Ukraine's Black Sea ports, with Turkiye possibly providing naval escorts to ensure safe passage.

"A food crisis that was already affecting several areas of the world risks, with the war in Ukraine, degenerating into a global food crisis if action is not taken now," Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, told a news conference in Rome.

Among the many challenges, Ukraine's ambassador to Turkiye said on Wednesday that Russia was putting forward unreasonable proposals, such as checking vessels.

A Ukrainian official also cast doubt on Turkiye's power to mediate the free passage of blocked Ukrainian grain.

"Turkiye as a guarantor is an insufficient force in the Black Sea to guarantee the safety of cargo," director of Ukrainian grain traders' union, UGA, Serhiy Ivashchenko, told an online conference on Wednesday.

He said it could take at least two to three months to remove mines from Ukrainian ports and that the Turkish and Romanian navies should be involved.

Ukrainian leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said this week Ukraine had discussed with Britain and Turkiye the idea of a navy from a third country guaranteeing safe passage for Ukraine's grain exports through the Black Sea.

Ukraine exported up to 6 million tonnes of grain a month before Russia launched its invasion on 24 February.   Moscow calls its action a special military operation.

READ:  Turkiye working to facilitate safe shipping corridor for Ukraine grain exports

Volumes have since fallen to about 1 million tonnes as Ukraine, which used to export most of its goods through seaports, has been forced to transport grain by train via its western border or via its small Danube river ports.

Even with increased loading and handling capacity, the State railway, Ukrzaliznytsia, said Danube ports and trains cannot compensate for the lack of seaports.

Valerii Tkachov, Deputy Director of Ukrzaliznytsia commercial department, told Wednesday's online grain conference the maximum volume of grain it can deliver to exports could rise to 1.5 million tonnes a month over the coming weeks, from around 800,000 tonnes in May.

But he said there was a significant build-up of grain wagons at border crossings and the cargo might have to wait at least a month to cross them.

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