Erdogan to push Putin on grain deal in Russia

AFP , Monday 28 Aug 2023

Turkey said Monday that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will "soon" visit Russia for talks with Vladimir Putin on reviving a Black Sea grain deal that could be used as a springboard for broader Ukraine peace negotiations.

 Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin
File Photo: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) last met Russia s Vladimir Putin in October. AFP


Erdogan's ruling party spokesman Omer Celik told reporters that the meeting will take place in Russia's Black Sea resort city of Sochi and focus on averting a looming "food crisis".

"As you know, (Erdogan) will pay a visit to Sochi soon," Celik said in televised remarks.

The Bloomberg news agency had earlier reported that Erdogan could meet the Russian president on September 8.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that a meeting was being prepared "intensively" but provided no time or place for the talks.

Erdogan has used his good relations with Moscow and Kyiv to try to bring the two sides into formal peace talks.

He last personally met Putin in the Kazakh capital Astana last October.

The two also held a teleconference in April that inaugurated a Russian-built nuclear power plant on the eve of Erdogan's tough re-election to his final term in office.

NATO member Turkey helped negotiate the only major agreement signed by the warring sides since the February 2022 invasion -- a deal to ship grain from three Ukrainian ports across the Black Sea.

Russia and Ukraine are major grain exporters and their initial deal helped bring down global food prices that were contributing to starvation in Africa and parts of the Middle East.

Ukraine Tests New Route 

Moscow scuppered the UN-backed agreement last month citing its non-compliance with provisions aimed at easing Russia's own exports of agricultural products and fertiliser.

Russia has since launched repeated attacks on Ukrainian port infrastructure and warned that it may consider any ships in the Black Sea as military targets.

Ukraine has also stepped up attacks on Russian targets around the Black Sea.

But Erdogan has remained undeterred.

He dispatched Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan to Kyiv last Friday in a bid to bring Ukraine on board for the talks.

Fidan used the visit to urge Ukraine to abandon its attempts to set up a new route -- reportedly backed by Washington and the European Union -- that ships can use without Russia's involvement in time for the autumn harvest.

"We know alternative routes are being sought (for grain shipments), but we see no alternative to the original initiative because they carry risks," Fidan said in Kyiv.

Fidan is due to visit Moscow in the coming days.

Ukraine now depends on land routes and a shallow river port that severely limits its grain export volumes.

It has sent two ships along a new route from a port in Odesa that reached Istanbul after hugging the shores of NATO members Romania and Bulgaria.

But Turkish officials argue that it is too dangerous.

Moscow warns that it may consider any ships in the Black Sea as military targets.

The Russian navy fired on and briefly boarded a Turkish-owned vessel that entered the Black Sea earlier this month.

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