Vladimir Putin mentioned on Monday that a landmark deal allowing Ukraine to export grain via the Black Sea will not be restored until the West decides to meet Moscow’s demands on its agricultural exports.
Ukraine and its Western allies have reportedly dismissed Kremlin’s several demands as a ploy for advancing its interests.
Yet, Putin’s remarks dashed hopes that his discussions with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can help revive a deal considered vital for food supplies, especially in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Russia refused to extend the deal in July 2023, complaining that a parallel agreement promising to eradicate obstacles to Russia’s exports of fertilizer and food had not been honoured. It mentioned that the restrictions on shipping and insurance hampered agricultural trade, even though it has shipped massive amounts of wheat since 2022.
Putin reiterated the complaints on Monday while telling the reporters that Russia could get back to the agreement “within days if the commitments were honoured.”
Erdogan further expressed the hope that a breakthrough might come soon. He mentioned that the UN and Turkey brokered the original deal and have created a new pack of proposals to unblock this issue.
Erdogan mentioned at the press conference held with Putin in Russia’s resort of Sochi that he believes they can reach a solution that will satisfy the expectations quickly.
Earlier, Annalena Baerbock, the German Foreign Minister, lashed out, stating that Putin’s game with the grain agreement has been cynical.
She informed reporters in Berlin that it is due to Putin that the freighters don’t have free passage again.
A lot has been riding on the negotiation. Russia and Ukraine are significant suppliers of sunflower oil, wheat, barley, and other goods that the developing nations depend on.
Data received from the Joint Coordination Center based in Istanbul, which organized shipments per the deal, reflect that 57% of the grain from Ukraine went to developing countries, with China being the top destination.
Grain prices went up after Russia reportedly pulled out of the mentioned deal but have since fallen back, signalling there is no massive crunch in the market.
But a failure to revive the agreement is expected to have “drastic impacts” in nations like Egypt and Somalia that heavily rely on Black Sea grain, per Galip Dalay, an associate fellow associated with the Chatham House think tank based in London.
Putin has been looking for some relief from sanctions and, at the same time, is engaged in a war of narratives, Dalay mentioned, as the Russian leader does not want to emerge as the bad guy in the eyes of the global south due to food insecurity.
Ukraine and its allies have noted that Russia’s move left several developing countries in the lurch since so many were the recipients of the much-awaited grain.
In an effort to address the accusation, Putin mentioned on Monday that Russia was very close to finalizing a deal to offer free grain to six African nations. Last month, he had promised shipments to Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Mali, Eritrea, Somalia, and the Central African Republic.
Russia’s leader added that the country will ship a million metric tons of cheap grains to Turkey for processing and delivery to the poorer nations.
Besides pulling out of the grain deal, Russia has attacked Odesa, Ukraine’s main Black Sea port. Hours before the Sochi meeting, the Kremlin’s forces introduced a second barrage within two days in that area. Ukraine’s air force declared that it intercepted 23 out of 32 drones, which targeted Odesa as well as the Dnipropetrovsk regions. It didn’t specify damages caused by the ones that got through.
Russia hopes to use its power over Ukrainian Black Sea exports as a bargaining chip for lowering Western economic sanctions.
Some firms have been wary of trading with Russia due to sanctions, even though the Western allies have assured that food and fertilizer are exempt. Yet, Moscow stays unsatisfied.
On Monday, Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, urged Moscow to get back to the deal, insisting that there were no political or legal grounds for Russia to withdraw from such an agreement.
Monday’s discussion took place against a backdrop of Ukraine’s most recent counteroffensive against the Kremlin’s forces.
In the latest development, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared on Sunday that Oleksii Reznikov, the country’s Defense Minister, would be replaced this week. The job needs new approaches, per Zelenskyy, without further elaborating.
Putin and Erdogan — the authoritarian leaders in power for over two decades — are mentioned to have a close rapport, fostered in the wake of a failed coup held against Erdogan in 2016 when Putin was the first-ever prominent leader to extend support.
Turkey’s president has maintained those during the 18-month-long war in Ukraine. Turkey has not joined the Western sanctions against Russia following the invasion, emerging as a key trading partner and a logistical hub for Russian overseas trade.
Turkey, a NATO member, has supported Ukraine by sending in arms, meeting Zelenskyy, and backing Kyiv’s bid to join the Western alliance.
In the meantime, Russia has taken steps to strengthen military ties with North Korea. On Monday, Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s Defense Minister, who visited Pyongyang in July 2023, declared that the two nations may be holding joint war games.
Adrienne Watson, the U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman, observed that Shoigu sought to convince North Korea to sell artillery ammunition to Russia’s forces on his trip.
The U.S. has many reasons to think North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un expects the discussions to continue and include leader-level diplomatic engagements in Russia, per Watson on Monday.
Another U.S. official, who wasn’t authorized to address the matter publicly and spoke anonymously, said that the U.S. expects Kim to travel to Russia in the month. The official mentioned that the U.S. is unsure where or when a meeting would occur, but given its proximity to North Korea, Vladivostok is a possibility.
Last week, the White House reported that it had intelligence that indicated Kim and Putin swapped letters following the visit of Shoigu. John Kirby, the National Security
Council spokesman said that these letters were at the surface level, but North Korean and Russian discussions on a weapons sale were also advancing.
References: ABC News, AP News, Economic Times
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