Turkey Hosts Russia-Ukraine Grain Export Talks as Hunger Rises

Turkey Hosts Russia-Ukraine Grain Export Talks as Hunger Rises

Ankara has favored the idea of a “Black Sea corridor” to serve as a safe zone for Ukrainian ships.

Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar announced on Tuesday that the Turkish government would mediate talks between Russia and Ukraine intended to create a pathway for the safe export of Ukrainian grain—an industry that was substantially affected by Russia’s invasion, leading to a burgeoning food crisis around the world.

“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,” Hulusi said.

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both Russia and Ukraine were two of the world’s largest grain producers, together accounting for roughly one-third of global wheat exports. The conflict has slashed Ukrainian grain exports due to the destruction of some Ukrainian ports and the presence of a Russian blockade of Ukraine in the Black Sea. Western sanctions on Russia have also affected its exports, preventing grain from entering global markets and sharply increasing prices around the world.

Russia has denied attempting to curtail Ukrainian grain exports, insisting that blame lay instead with Ukraine’s decision to mine its coastal waters and the West’s decision to sanction Russia. Ukraine has refused to de-mine its waters, citing the dangers of a Russian amphibious invasion. Kyiv has also accused Russia of stealing grain from silos in occupied Ukrainian territory and attempting to sell it abroad.

Grain constituted roughly one-fifth of Ukraine’s total exports prior to the war, and the absence of revenue from grain exports has impacted the Ukrainian economy.

Turkey, which controls access to the Black Sea, has attempted to mediate between Russia and Ukraine throughout the conflict. Ankara has favored the idea of a “Black Sea corridor” to serve as a safe zone for Ukrainian ships during the conflict. So far, negotiations have made little progress; UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that there was “still a way to go” before an agreement on Ukrainian exports could be reached, but he claimed that the international organization was “working hard indeed” to bring one about.

“Many people are talking about it,” Guterres added. “We prefer to try and do it.”

Ukraine had previously insisted that any agreement on grain relief should be resolved through the action of the UN, and Ukrainian Foreign Ministry officials thanked Guterres for his participation in the negotiations, according to Reuters.

Russia has also agreed to the negotiations, but it has insisted on a set of inviolable conditions, including allowing Russian forces to search incoming and outgoing ships for weapons—ensuring that Kyiv would not attempt to take advantage of the safe zone to import war materiel. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Pyotr Ilyichev also insisted that the UN would act only as “observers” rather than participants in the talks.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters.