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Erdoğan says Black Sea grain deal can be restored soon

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said Ukraine should soften its negotiating position against Russia in talks over reviving the grain deal Reuters/Handout
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said Ukraine should soften its negotiating position against Russia in talks over reviving the grain deal

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said after talks with Russia’s Vladimir Putin that it would soon be possible to revive the grain deal that the United Nations says helped to ease a food crisis by getting Ukrainian grain to market.

Russia quit the deal in July – a year after it was brokered by the UN and Turkey – complaining that its own food and fertiliser exports faced serious obstacles.

Erdoğan, who previously played a significant role in convincing Putin to stick with the deal, and the UN are both trying to get Putin to return to the deal.

“As Turkey, we believe that we will reach a solution that will meet the expectations in a short time,” Erdoğan said in the Black Sea resort of Sochi after his first face to face meeting with Putin since 2022.

Erdoğan said that Russia’s expectations were well-known to all and that the shortcomings should be eliminated, adding that Turkey and the UN had worked on a new package of suggestions to ease Russian concerns.

Erdoğan said Ukraine should soften its negotiating position against Russia in talks over reviving the deal and export more grain to Africa rather than Europe.

“Ukraine needs to especially soften its approaches in order for it to be possible for joint steps to be taken with Russia,” he told reporters.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, speaking later on Ukrainian television, said Kyiv would not alter its stand, but would take note of Turkey’s account of the Sochi talks.

“We should not continue to be hostages to Russian blackmail, where Russia creates problems and then invites everyone to solve them,” Kuleba said.

“It is clear that we will stand in defence of all principled positions, especially regarding sanctions pressure on the Russian Federation.”

Standing beside Erdoğan, Putin restated Russia’s position that it could return to the deal but only if the West stopped restricting Russian agricultural exports from reaching global markets. A separate memorandum agreed with the UN calls for conditions to facilitate Russia’s food and fertiliser exports.

Reviving the Deal

“We will be ready to consider the possibility of reviving the grain deal and I told the President about this again today – we will do this as soon as all the agreements on lifting restrictions on the export of Russian agricultural products are fully implemented,” Putin said.

He said Western claims that Russia had stoked a food crisis by suspending participation in the grain deal were incorrect as prices did not rise on its exit from the deal.

“There is no physical shortage of food,” Putin said.

While Russian exports of food and fertiliser are not subject to Western sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Russia exported record amounts of wheat last year, Moscow and agricultural exporters say restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance have hindered shipments.

“The West continues to block the supply of grain and fertilizers from the Russian Federation to world markets,” Putin said, adding that the West had “cheated” Russia over the deal because rich countries got more than 70 percent of the grain exported under the deal.

Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s key agricultural producers, and major players in the wheat, barley, maize, rapeseed, rapeseed oil, sunflower seed and sunflower oil markets.

Putin said Russia expected a grain harvest of 130 million tonnes this year of which 60 million tonnes could be exported.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said on Thursday that he had sent Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “a set of concrete proposals” aimed at reviving the deal.

One of Moscow’s main demands is for the Russian Agricultural Bank to be reconnected to the Swift international payments system. The European Union (EU) cut it off in June 2022 as part of sweeping sanctions imposed in response to the invasion.

Putin said that a plan to supply up to one million tonnes of Russian grain to Turkey at reduced prices for subsequent processing at Turkish plants and shipping to countries most in need was not an alternative to the grain deal.

He also said Russia was close to a deal with Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea to supply up to 50,000 tonnes of grain to each country free of charge.