Erdogan visits Putin in Russia’s Sochi in bid to revive Ukraine grain deal

Putin says the deal that allowed Ukraine to export grain will not be restored until the West lifts embargo on Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on September 4, 2023, in Sochi, Russia [Handout: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO via Reuters]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have held talks on Ukrainian grain exports at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Monday’s meeting came nearly two months after Russia quit a UN- and Turkey-brokered agreement that allowed Ukraine to export grain and other commodities from three of its Black Sea ports during the war with Russia.

Erdogan said after talks that it would soon be possible to revive the deal.

“As Turkey, we believe that we will reach a solution that will meet the expectations in a short time,” he said.

On his part, Putin said at a news conference with Erdogan that Russia was ready to return to the deal “as soon” as restrictions on its own exports were lifted.

“We will be ready to consider the possibility of reviving the grain deal,” he said.

“And we will do it as soon as all the agreements on lifting restrictions on Russian agricultural exports are fully implemented,” he added.

Putin said Western claims that Russia had stoked a global 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.

Delivering to Africa

Since pulling out of the deal, Russia has been keen to ally African concerns about the impact of the deal’s collapse on food security.

On Monday, he said Russia was close to a deal with six African countries over a plan to supply Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea with up to 50,000 tonnes of grain.

He said that Russia would supply the food and carry out logistics free of charge, adding that deliveries “would begin in the next couple of weeks”.

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Reporting from Sochi before the meeting, Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari said Putin and Erdogan “have been friends for a long time, and this meeting is a critical point for both to reach an agreement, especially on the grain deal, which affects world food supplies”.

Analysts expected tough negotiations in Sochi.

“My gut feeling is that Putin recognises the leverage he has by using food as an economic weapon and thus will fight for all he can get in terms of concessions on his wish list,” said Tim Benton, a food security expert at the Chatham House think tank.

Those may include Russia’s own grain, fertiliser exports or wider issues, he said.

The abandoned deal was aimed at alleviating a global food crisis by allowing grain from Ukraine to leave ports while the conflict is ongoing.

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

Workers load grain at a grain port in Izmail, Ukraine, on April 26, 2023.
Workers load grain at the Danube River port of Izmail in western Ukraine [File: Andrew Kravchenko/AP Photo]

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that he had sent Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “a set of concrete proposals” to revive the deal.

But Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Saturday that Russian demands implied by the agreement had yet to be implemented under the previous deal. She did not give details.

Since quitting the grain deal in July, Russia has targeted Ukrainian ports with missile and drone strikes and threatened to treat all vessels on the Black Sea as potential military targets.

Ukraine has announced a “humanitarian corridor” as an alternate route. It hugs the coast of neighbouring Romania and Bulgaria.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies