Grain export deal back on as Russia rejoins in unexpected U-turn


 ISTANBUL NOV 02, 2022 –

Commercial vessels including vessels that are part of the Black Sea grain deal wait to pass the Bosporus Strait off the shores of Yenikapı during a misty morning in Istanbul, Türkiye, Oct. 31, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

Commercial vessels including vessels that are part of the Black Sea grain deal wait to pass the Bosporus Strait off the shores of Yenikapı during a misty morning in Istanbul, Türkiye, Oct. 31, 2022. (Reuters Photo)


Cargo ships loaded with grain are seen in the anchorage area of the southern entrance to the Bosporus in Istanbul, Türkiye, Oct. 31, 2022. (AFP Photo)

Zelenskyy hails Türkiye, seeks stronger defense of Ukraine grain corridor


Russia on Wednesday announced it had agreed to return to the Turkish and U.N.-brokered deal that allowed the shipment of vital Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea, just four days after suspending its role in the pact in a move that had threatened to exacerbate hunger across the world.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the first to announce Moscow’s U-turn that followed his phone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday and after consultations between their defense ministers.

Russia had pulled out of the grain deal over the weekend, citing allegations of a Ukrainian drone attack against its Black Sea fleet.

Erdoğan on Wednesday said that after his call with Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar that the deal for a humanitarian grain corridor would “continue in the same way as before” as of noon Wednesday.

Shortly after Erdoğan’s remarks, the Russian Defense Ministry said Russia agreed to continue carrying out its role in the deal after receiving written guarantees from Kyiv that Ukraine would not use the sea corridor for military actions against Moscow.

The Defense Ministry said thanks to the involvement of the United Nations and Türkiye, Ukraine had formally committed to using the safe shipping corridors through the Black Sea “exclusively in accordance with the stipulations of the Black Sea initiative,” a reference to the separate U.N. and Türkiye-brokered agreements signed by Moscow and Kyiv on July 22.

“The Russian Federation considers that the guarantees received at the moment appear sufficient and resumes the implementation of the agreement,” the statement said.

The prices of wheat, soybeans, corn and rapeseed fell sharply on global markets following the announcement, which eased concerns about the growing unaffordability of food.

Ukraine grateful to Türkiye

Senior Ukrainian officials expressed gratitude to Türkiye and the U.N. on Wednesday for their roles in Russia’s decision.

A senior official who declined to be identified told Reuters that Moscow’s move was mainly a result of Turkish pressure on Russia.

Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov separately expressed gratitude for the roles played by Erdoğan and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“This is quite an unexpected turnaround,” said Andrey Sizov, head of the Russia-focused Sovecon agriculture consultancy.

“We did not bury this deal, but we did not expect Russia’s return to it so soon either, as it was unclear what kind of guarantees Russia could get and how quickly it would happen. But, well, good job Erdoğan.”

“Still, the deal remains shaky, as it is now back in guessing mode as to whether there will be an extension or not. With two weeks to go before the extension, the discussion around this topic will apparently continue,” Sizov added.

The pact is due to expire on Nov. 19 and a European diplomat briefed on the grain talks has told Reuters that Putin was likely to use the possible extension as a way to gain leverage and dominate next month’s G-20 summit in Indonesia.

Even after the call with the Turkish leader, the Kremlin had said Moscow would only consider resuming the agreement after a “detailed investigation” of a drone attack on Saturday against its Black Sea Fleet, which it accused Ukraine of carrying out with support from Britain.

Kyiv has not claimed responsibility for the attack and denies using the grain program’s security corridor for military purposes. Britain has denied involvement and accused Russia of trying to divert attention from its military failures in Ukraine.

Moscow had said on Monday it would be “risky” and “unacceptable” for ships to continue sailing through the humanitarian corridor set up under the grain accord.

Despite the Russian move, ships continued to carry Ukrainian grain on the route on Tuesday, but that had been unlikely to continue for long because insurance companies were not issuing new contracts due to Moscow’s move, according to industry sources.

Long-term defense needed

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said earlier that the world should respond firmly to any Russian attempts to disrupt Ukraine’s export corridor across the Black Sea, blocked after Moscow invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

In a late Tuesday night video address, Zelenskyy said ships were still moving out of Ukrainian ports with cargoes thanks to the efforts and support of Türkiye and the United Nations.

“But a reliable and long-term defense is needed for the grain corridor,” Zelenskyy said.

“Russia must clearly be made aware that it will receive a tough response from the world to any steps to disrupt our food exports,” Zelenskyy said. “At issue here clearly are the lives of tens of millions of people.”

The U.N. and Türkiye brokered separate deals with Russia and Ukraine in July to ensure Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia would receive grain and other food from the Black Sea region during Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Erdoğan on Wednesday said the renewed deal would prioritize shipments to African nations, including Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan, in line with Russia’s concerns that most of the grain exported since the agreements were reached was ending up in richer nations.

Russia’s concerns

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu earlier on Wednesday said Russia was concerned about its fertilizer and grain exports, echoing Russian officials in saying ships carrying them could not dock even though the exports were not included in Western sanctions.

“Russia has some security demands after the recent attack on its ships,” Çavuşoğlu told a panel in the capital Ankara.

Moscow is also concerned about its fertilizer and grain exports, “which are not on the list of sanctions but the ships that are carrying these still cannot dock,” he noted.

“They still cannot get insurance and payments are not made,” he said. “Therefore, a lot of countries’ ships are shying away from carrying these loads.”

There was no mention of any concessions on those issues in the Russian statement on the resumption.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a political adviser to Zelenksyy, said Russia rejoined the initiative because it realized the initiative would still work without Kremlin involvement.

Moscow’s decision showed that Russian “blackmail” and “escalation and threats” fail when they meet a resolute response, Podolyak said in a written statement to Reuters.

“One way or another, Russia, embarrassed, returned to the ‘grain initiative’ because it suddenly turned out that the grain corridor would work even without the Kremlin’s participation,” he noted.

“This says only one thing: Russia is always inferior to those who are stronger, those who know how to take a blow, those who argue their position strongly.”

Podolyak suggested the Kremlin had miscalculated when it suspended its participation in the deal. “When you want to play blackmail, it is important not to outplay yourself,” he said.

“Russia is used to constantly playing on escalation and threats. But if there is a firm position on the part of the other parties, the mediators, the guarantors, then it quickly becomes clear the threats are just formidable international PR.”

Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said Wednesday’s announcement represented an acknowledgment by Putin that he could not block the shipments.

“The Kremlin itself simply fell into a trap from which it did not know how to get out,” she said.

“It was necessary to retreat and put on a good face (not very successfully) when faced with a bad game. That is, Putin, no matter how preoccupied he is with Ukraine, his historical mission and his faith that he’s right, remains a moderately rational politician who knows how to retreat if necessary.”

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told CNN she was “delighted” to hear about Russia’s return to the agreement.

“They can’t stand in the way of feeding the entire world,” she said.


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