ANKARA, Turkey — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to talk to Turkish officials on Wednesday about a plan that could allow Ukraine to export its grain via the Black Sea to world markets amid a escalation of the food crisis.
Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat, maize and sunflower oil, but war and the Russian blockade of its ports have cut off much of that flow, putting food supplies at risk many developing countries. Many of these ports are now also heavily mined.
An estimated 22 million tonnes of grain are stored in silos in Ukraine.
Turkey is involved in efforts to set up a UN-led mechanism that would create a secure corridor for the shipment of Ukrainian grain – and for Russia to export food and fertilizers. Turkey would facilitate and protect grain transportation across the Black Sea, Turkish officials said.
A senior Russian official said on Tuesday that Ukraine must remove sea mines near its Black Sea port of Odessa to allow grain exports to resume.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian military should screen commercial ships carrying grain to ensure they are not carrying weapons. He added that once loaded with grain, Russia would help escort the ships to international waters.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Tuesday that technical details were still being worked out.
“Our efforts continue on technical planning on issues such as how it will be done, how the mines will be cleared, who will do it, how the corridor will be established and who will escort (ships),” Akar said.
Lavrov arrived in Turkey days after NATO members Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Montenegro reportedly refused to allow his plane to cross their airspace to reach Serbia. Lavrov’s plane was able to fly directly to Turkey over the Black Sea.
Lavrov’s talks in the Turkish capital are also expected to focus on Turkey’s plans to launch a new cross-border offensive in northern Syria against the Syrian Kurdish militia that Ankara sees as a security threat. Turkey needs Moscow’s approval to maintain its presence in northern Syria, despite support from the two opposing sides in Syria’s civil war. In 2020, 37 Turkish soldiers were killed in Russian-backed airstrikes against rebels in Syria’s last rebel-held province of Idlib.
“Turkey really needs Russia’s blessing to be able to continue this operation (in Syria). And so I think they will really try to get this kind of concession from Russia,” Merve said. Tahiroglu, Turkey Program Coordinator at the Project on Middle East Democracy.
Lavrov’s meeting also comes as Turkey – a NATO member – voiced its opposition to offers from Sweden and Finland to join the alliance. Moscow has also opposed the candidacy of the Nordic countries – which analysts say could play a role in talks over Syria.
Turkey has maintained its close ties with Ukraine and Russia. He criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but did not adhere to international sanctions against Russia.