Ankara has said military delegations from Turkey, Russia and Ukraine will meet with United Nations representatives on Wednesday to discuss the safe export of Ukrainian grain.
“Military delegations from Turkey, Russia and Ukraine and a United Nations delegation will be conducting talks in Istanbul tomorrow regarding safe transfer of grain waiting in Ukrainian ports to international markets via sea route,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Tuesday.
The talks come at a time of record-high food prices globally, as conflict in Ukraine, the world’s largest grain supplier, has fuelled concerns about food security.
Turkey has played a key role in talks between the UN, Russia and Ukraine on a potential Black Sea corridor to export grain from Ukraine.
Ukraine has struggled to export goods, with many of its ports blocked as war rages along its southern coast. Grain constitutes nearly a fifth of all its exports, official data shows.
Kyiv has accused Moscow of stealing grain from territories seized by Russian forces since their invasion began in late February. The Kremlin, which calls the action a “special military operation”, has denied such accusations.
Ahead of the talks, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “there is still a way to go” in the negotiations to try and resume exports of grain from Ukraine.
“We are working hard indeed, but there is still a way to go,” Guterres told reporters. “Many people are talking about it; we prefer to try and do it.”
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said the issue must be resolved under the auspices of the UN.
“Ukraine advocates that the issue of unblocking Ukrainian grain be resolved under the auspices of the UN,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko told the news agency Reuters.
“In this context, we are grateful to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for his active efforts to find a solution that will guarantee the security of the southern regions of our country,” he said.
A Russian foreign ministry spokesman confirmed the meeting but also insisted that Moscow had a list of demands.
“Another round of expert consultations is planned for July 13 in Istanbul,” Ministry Spokesman Pyotr Ilyichev was quoted as saying by Russia’s Interfax news agency.
“Our understandable conditions include the possibility to control and search the ship to avoid the contraband of weapons, and Kyiv’s commitment not to stage provocations,” Ilyichev said.
The Russian spokesman added that the UN team would act as “observers” at the talks.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tried to use his good relations with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Kyiv’s Western-backed leaders to thrust Ankara into the centre of negotiations about Ukraine.
Turkey has been sending defence delegations to both Moscow and Kyiv in a bid to break the deadlock over Ukraine’s grain.
A plan proposed by the UN would see the shipments start along specific corridors that avoid known locations of mines.
Ukraine has refused to de-mine the area out of fear that Russia might then stage an amphibious assault on cities such as the Black Sea port of Odesa.