Putin to meet Erdogan amid push to revive Ukraine grain deal

The announcement of Monday’s meeting in Sochi comes amid international efforts to patch up the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a news conference following their talks in Moscow on March 5, 2020 [File: Pavel Golovkin/Pool via Reuters]

Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, next week as Ankara and the United Nations seek to revive a Ukraine grain export deal that helped ease a global food crisis.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that Putin and Erdogan would meet on Monday in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The announcement ended weeks of speculation about when and where the two leaders might meet next as international efforts continue to patch up the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which shipped grain and other food to parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia where hunger is a growing threat. It ended when Russia unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in July.

Ukraine and Russia are major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other farm commodities that developing nations rely on.

Turkey, together with the UN, brokered the deal in July 2022. It allowed Ukraine to resume shipping foodstuffs from three of its Black Sea ports during the war with Russia. Under the initiative, ship and cargo inspections were overseen from Turkey, and vessels sailed to and from Ukraine from there. Almost 33,000 tonnes of grain left Ukraine while the agreement was in effect.

Peskov said Erdogan, who had previously played a significant role in persuading Putin to stick with the deal, would hold talks with the Kremlin chief in Sochi on Monday but gave no further details.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan met Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu in Moscow on Friday ahead of the Erdogan-Putin meeting.

‘Not our fault’

Shoigu said Russia was not to blame for the grain deal failure and repeated the Russian position that Moscow would return to it if all the promises made to Russia were fulfilled.

“It’s not our fault today, but it’s stopped,” Shoigu said in a statement released by the Ministry of Defence. “Here we can say only one thing, that if everything that was promised to Russia is fulfilled, the deal will be extended.”

“It turned out that it is more difficult to do this than to build new corridors, new ground routes,” said Shoigu, who attended the signing ceremony for the Black Sea deal in Istanbul in 2022.

The Black Sea grain deal was intended to combat a global food crisis that the UN said had been worsened by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022,  which Russia calls a “special military operation”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday that he had sent Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “a set of concrete proposals” aimed at reviving the agreement.

Turkey’s foreign minister said at a briefing in Moscow on Thursday that reviving the deal was important for the world.

US wheat prices rose on Friday, a day after Lavrov said Russia saw no sign that it would receive the guarantees needed to revive the grain deal.

Lavrov said the West was hyping the talk of a global food crisis as prices remained around 2021 levels and had ignored Putin’s pledge to supply Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea with up to 50,000 tonnes of grain each free of charge.

To persuade Moscow to approve the original deal, a three-year accord was struck at the same time under which UN officials agreed to help Russia with its own food and fertiliser exports.

But Moscow said the memorandum had not been honoured due to the treachery of the West.

Lavrov said he had discussed Putin’s initiative to supply up to 1 million tonnes of Russian grain to Turkey at reduced prices for subsequent processing at Turkish plants and shipping to countries most in need. That proposal is also being discussed with Qatar.

While Russian exports of food and fertiliser are not subject to Western sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion, Moscow has said restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance have hindered its shipments.

Two cargo vessels left a port near Odesa, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said on Friday. They were the third and fourth to transit from deep-water Ukrainian ports through the Black Sea since Russia withdrew from the safe passage deal. They are sailing a new route that hugs the coast of Romania and Bulgaria.

Source: News Agencies