Turkey wants to negotiate a “grain corridor” with Russia in the Black Sea. In addition, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is coming to Ankara this Wednesday. The plan envisages the establishment of a UN operations center in Istanbul to coordinate the transport of millions of tons of grain to world markets.
In principle, according to Turkish information, Russia and Ukraine are willing to cooperate. However, important issues such as security guarantees for Ukrainian ports are controversial.
Russia and Ukraine are among the most important grain exporters in the world. The Russian attack on Ukraine is causing exports to fall and global grain prices to rise. A Russian naval blockade off Ukraine’s Black Sea coast is preventing the export of around 20 million tons of grain, according to Ukrainian sources. In some countries in the Middle East and Africa, staple foods such as flour, bread and pasta are becoming scarce.
Kyiv also accuses Russia of stealing and exporting grain from captured Ukrainian ports. The US government has alerted Turkey and 13 other countries – most of them in Africa – that Russia is trying to sell stolen Ukrainian grain, according to The New York Times.
According to media reports, Russia has so far sent at least one shipload of 27,000 tons of wheat from Ukraine to its ally Syria. According to the Ukrainian embassy in Ankara, stolen wheat also finds buyers in Turkey itself. Ukrainian authorities have called on Turkey to stop Russian ships in the Bosphorus they suspect are carrying stolen cargo. So far, Ankara has not responded.
Turkey sees itself as a mediator in the Ukraine war and watches over the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles – the only shipping route from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. The state news agency Anadolu reported that the course of the planned sea corridor and the clearing of sea mines in front of Ukrainian ports should be clarified in talks between the UN, Turkey and the two warring parties.
According to the Reuters news agency, Turkish government circles are optimistic that progress can be made during Lavrov’s visit. The distribution of sales proceeds should also be discussed. Ankara is therefore ready to have Ukrainian freighters escorted by ships of the Turkish Navy on their way through the Black Sea.
Lavrov last visited Turkey in March for talks with his Ukrainian colleague Dmytro Kuleba. Ankara does not participate in Western sanctions against Moscow and keeps its airspace open to Russian civilian aircraft. That is why Lavrov can travel undisturbed to Ankara on Wednesday – a planned visit by the Russian minister to Serbia on Monday failed because Serbia’s neighboring countries do not allow Russian aircraft to pass through their airspace.
Turkish mediation efforts in the Ukraine war have so far been unsuccessful. With the talks about the “grain corridor”, the Turkish government is trying to initiate new contacts between the warring parties.
However, the great distrust between Ukraine and Russia could derail the plan. Kyiv will only agree to the plan if it is ensured that Russia does not use demining to attack the Ukrainian coast from the sea, Istanbul security expert Yörük Isik told the Tagesspiegel.
“What happens if you suddenly change your mind?” asked Isik, referring to the promises made by Russian politicians. For example, Russian warships could attack the Ukrainian port of Odessa once the mines have been cleared. According to Isik, Ukraine is likely to insist that states such as Turkey or Great Britain undertake to intervene militarily if Russia uses the “grain corridor” for new attacks. Such guarantees would entail the risk of skirmishes between NATO countries and Russia. So far, the West has avoided such commitments to Kyiv.
Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s first visit to Turkey this week will also deal with the war in Ukraine and in particular with Turkey’s resistance to Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Baerbock will be in Turkey on Thursday and Friday.