Ukraine Grain Deal: Meeting between Putin and Erdogan

Meeting between Putin and Erdogan
Credit: Sputnik/Vladimir Smirnov/Pool via REUTERS
In a high-stakes rendezvous, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan seeks to sway Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin into reconsidering a critical Ukraine grain export pact, pivotal in alleviating a global food crisis. The stage for this diplomatic tango is set in Russia’s picturesque Black Sea retreat of Sochi, scheduled for Monday.

Russia’s abrupt departure from the accord last July, merely a year after its painstaking negotiation under the United Nations and Turkey’s auspices, raised eyebrows. Moscow cited impediments to its own food and fertilizer exports, coupled with concerns over insufficient Ukrainian grain reaching nations in dire need.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the pivotal tête-à-tête between Putin and Erdogan, where the latter previously played a pivotal role in keeping the deal afloat, is slated for the midday hours, Moscow time.

Akif Cagatay Kilic, Erdogan‘s chief foreign policy and security advisor, affirmed their resolve: “We play a leading role here,” he shared in an exclusive interview with A Haber television channel. “The current status of the grain deal will be thoroughly discussed at the summit on Monday. We approach this with caution, yet we remain hopeful for a successful resolution.”

The crux of the matter is to facilitate the flow of Ukrainian grain to global markets via the Black Sea route, a move that initially aimed to alleviate the global food crisis exacerbated by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February the prior year.

Both Russia and Ukraine are formidable agricultural powerhouses, wielding immense influence in the wheat, barley, maize, rapeseed, rapeseed oil, sunflower seed, and sunflower oil markets.

Putin has hinted at Russia’s willingness to return to the grain pact under a condition: the West’s fulfillment of a separate memorandum inked with the United Nations, aimed at easing Russian food and fertilizer exports.

While Western sanctions in the wake of Russia’s invasion don’t directly target its food and fertilizer exports, Moscow contends that restrictions on payments, logistics, and insurance have significantly hampered their shipments.

As Erdogan’s talks loomed on the horizon, Ukrainian officials reported a startling development—an overnight aerial assault by Russia on one of Ukraine’s key grain export hubs.

A drone attack that spanned three and a half hours descended upon the Danube River port of Izmail in Ukraine’s Odesa region. This audacious strike impacted warehouses and production facilities, with drone debris sparking fires in several civilian infrastructure buildings, according to the governor of the Odesa region.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres stepped into the fray, announcing that he had dispatched a set of concrete proposals to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a bid to rekindle the dormant agreement.

Moscow, on its part, is adamant about the reconnection of the Russian Agricultural Bank to the SWIFT international payment system—a connection severed by the EU in June 2022 as part of sweeping sanctions levied in response to the invasion.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, in no uncertain terms, stated that the implied obligations of the agreement had been left unfulfilled the last time around. Russian state television underscored the importance of delivering on promises made to Russia in its coverage of the upcoming Erdogan meeting.

Meanwhile, Putin has been engaging in discussions about a groundbreaking initiative—to supply up to 1 million tonnes of Russian grain to Turkey at reduced prices, destined for further processing at Turkish facilities and onward shipment to nations in dire need.

For Russia, Erdogan remains an indispensable broker—personally esteemed by Putin. This summit marks their first face-to-face encounter since October.

As anticipation builds on the outcome of Monday’s meeting, U.S. wheat prices dipped on Friday. The market grapples with the dichotomy of tight global stocks versus the potential surge in Russian wheat production and renewed efforts to revive the ailing grain deal.

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