President Vladimir Putin said he wouldn’t revive a UN-backed deal that had eased global food prices by allowing Ukraine to ship its grain through the Black Sea unless obstacles to Russia’s own agricultural exports are removed.
(Bloomberg) — President Vladimir Putin said he wouldn’t revive a UN-backed deal that had eased global food prices by allowing Ukraine to ship its grain through the Black Sea unless obstacles to Russia’s own agricultural exports are removed.
Putin’s comments came after a three-hour meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Russian resort town of Sochi. Erdogan, who helped broker the original Black Sea Grain Initiative in 2022, had hoped to come away from the talks with a new framework for negotiations to present to global leaders at the Group of 20 Summit in India later in the week.
Instead, the two leaders confirmed plans to send 1 million tons of Russian grain via Turkey to African nations concerned the disruptions would raise food prices.
That volume is a fraction of Russia’s total wheat exports, which are expected to reach some 48 million tons this season. It’s also much smaller than the amount Ukraine was shipping through the Black Sea before Russia abandoned the grain deal and closed the safe corridor in July.
Uncertainty about the future of supplies from one of the world’s largest grain exporters has contributed to weeks of volatility in global wheat prices, as has the surge in hostilities in and around the Black Sea.
Russia launched waves of drone attacks on the southern Odesa region in the leadup to the talks, damaging storage and industrial facilities as well as agricultural equipment. It also targeted two river ports that are the main alternative export routes to the Black Sea, setting the tone for the talks.
Putin complained about a surge in Ukrainian drone strikes on Russian gas pipelines, with his defense minister later citing drone attacks as a reason for exiting the deal, according to the Interfax news service.
A mid-sized power that’s maintained strong ties with both Putin and the West, Turkey’s success in brokering the original deal allowed Ukrainian cargoes to return to global markets upended by Russia’s invasion.
But the arrangement, a rare diplomatic win in an otherwise grinding war, was fragile from the outset and Ukraine’s grain exports were repeatedly disrupted by slow ship inspections and political tensions. Russia complained for months that its own demands for better trade terms had been ignored before finally exiting the deal.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s deputy chief of staff told Bloomberg TV before the talks that his country was depending on Turkey to support the restoration of the grain deal and was also ready to export to poor nations in Africa and Asia.
“The crops in Ukraine this year are quite good. So we are ready,” Ihor Zhovkva said. “The world is suffering when Russia is using aggressive instruments in the food security area.”
But Putin stuck to the position Russia staked out when it left.
“We will be ready to consider the possibility of reviving the grain deal,” he said in a news conference after the talks. “We will do it immediately as soon as all the agreements on the lifting of restrictions on the export of Russian agricultural products are fulfilled.”
Russia has demanded the removal of obstacles to its exports of food and fertilizer, some of which were hit immediately after it invaded Ukraine as banks, insurers and shipment companies steered clear of Russian goods and Baltic nations ceased handling Russian volumes through their ports. That hasn’t stopped Russia exporting record volumes of wheat, and its fertilizer exports are also recovering to pre-war levels.
Russia also wants to reopen an ammonia pipeline that traverses Ukraine and reconnect Rosselkhozbank, a state-owned lender focused on agriculture, to the SWIFT system for international payments.
The United Nations has worked closely with private-sector banks and insurance providers to try to address Russia’s concerns. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently sent Moscow a revised proposal he said could form the basis of a revamped deal.
“We cannot have a Black Sea Initiative that moves from crisis to crisis, from suspension to suspension,” Guterres told reporters in New York Thursday. “We need to have something that works and that works to the benefit of everybody.”
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Ukrainian crops will still make it to market without a new deal, but higher transport costs could depress the next grain plantings soon underway — curtailing global supplies longer term.
The 1 million-ton plan appears to be a separate bid to ameliorate concerns in Africa, where Russia has sought to build its influence at the expense of the West. Erdogan said Turkey was ready to receive Russian grain and process it into flour to send to the continent, with Qatar prepared to offer financial support.
“We have reached an agreement on these issues,” he said.
Ukraine’s foreign minister warned last week that any deal that excludes it would only bolster Russia’s tactics.
Erdogan and Putin have maintained extensive contacts since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, collaborating on plans to expand gas imports and nuclear energy cooperation. The leaders said they discussed progress on both ambitions.
Read more: Russia Plan for Turkey’s Gas Hub Is Still on Agenda, Putin Says
–With assistance from Áine Quinn and Daryna Krasnolutska.
(Updates with outcome of Putin and Erdogan talks throughout.)
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