Turkey’s President Erdogan believes the Black Sea grain deal can be reinstated shortly
Tuesday September 5, 2023
In a meeting between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Monday, Erdogan expressed his optimism about the revival of the grain deal. This deal, initially brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, played a crucial role in alleviating a food crisis by facilitating the export of Ukrainian grain to the market.
Russia withdrew from the agreement in July, citing obstacles to its own food and fertilizer exports. Both Erdogan and the United Nations are now working to persuade Putin to reconsider his position.
Erdogan, who played a pivotal role in persuading Putin to uphold the deal in the past, stated in Sochi, a Black Sea resort, that he believes a solution to the impasse can be reached soon. He emphasized the need to address Russia’s concerns and eliminate any shortcomings, revealing that Turkey and the United Nations have prepared a new package of proposals.
Erdogan also suggested that Ukraine should adopt a more conciliatory stance towards Russia in the negotiations to revive the deal and focus on exporting grain to Africa rather than Europe.
However, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba maintained that Kyiv would not change its position, although it would take into account Turkey’s account of the Sochi talks. Kuleba asserted that Ukraine should not be held hostage to Russian pressures and emphasized the importance of defending their principled positions, particularly regarding sanctions against Russia.
During the joint press conference with Erdogan, Putin reiterated that Russia is open to reviving the grain deal, but under the condition that the West stops impeding Russian agricultural exports. A separate memorandum agreed upon with the United Nations calls for measures to facilitate Russia’s food and fertilizer exports.
To address concerns that Russia’s exit from the deal contributed to a food crisis, Putin argued that there is no physical shortage of food and refuted claims that prices rose following their withdrawal. While Western sanctions do not directly target Russian food and fertilizer exports, logistical obstacles and restrictions on payments and insurance have hindered shipments.
Putin accused the West of blocking the supply of grain and fertilizers from Russia to global markets and alleged that rich countries received over 70% of the grain exported under the deal, thus accusing them of deceiving Russia. Both Russia and Ukraine are major agricultural producers, particularly in wheat, barley, maize, rapeseed, rapeseed oil, sunflower seed, and sunflower oil.
According to Putin, Russia anticipates a grain harvest of 130 million tonnes this year, of which 60 million tonnes could be exported. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has sent concrete proposals to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in an effort to revive the deal.
One of Russia’s key demands is the reconnection of the Russian Agricultural Bank to the SWIFT international payments system. The bank was cut off by the EU in June 2022 as part of broader sanctions imposed in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Putin clarified that a plan to supply up to 1 million tonnes of Russian grain to Turkey at reduced prices as part of subsequent processing and shipment to countries in need is not an alternative to the grain deal.
Furthermore, Russia is close to finalizing a deal with six African countries to provide Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea with up to 50,000 tonnes of grain each, free of charge.
Reported by Guy Faulconbridge; additional reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne, Orhan Coskun and Ece Toksabay in Ankara, and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; edited by Robert Birsel, Philippa Fletcher, and Ron Popeski