Grain ship on the Black Sea. Photo from Getty Images.
President Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey is determined to advance the United Nations-brokered Black Sea grain export deal despite Russia suspending its involvement on Saturday after blaming Ukraine for an attack on their fleet.
"Even if Russia behaves hesitantly because it didn't receive the same benefits, we will continue decisively our efforts to serve humanity," said Erdogan in a televised speech on Monday. The Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain shipments caused a global food crisis earlier this year after the war began.
The United Nations brokered the deal between Russia and Ukraine, two of the world’s biggest food exporters, to facilitate the safe navigation for the export of grain and related foodstuffs and fertilizers, including ammonia from the Ports of Odessa, Chernomorsk, and Yuzhny.
Turkey has also been hosting the Joint Coordination Center (JCC), composed of representatives from the Russian Federation, Turkey, Ukraine, and the UN in Istanbul waters to monitor the movement of commercial vessels to ensure compliance with the deal’s guidelines.
The grain initiative was negotiated in July and has so far exported more than 9 million tons of grain and other food products, lowering global food prices. The deal was set to expire on Nov. 19, prompting talks between Russia and Ukraine to renew it.
Two weeks ago, Erdogan met with President Vladimir Putin in Astana, Kazakhstan, to further develop negotiations on extending the deal.
However, Russia's Defense Ministry halted their participation indefinitely after claiming Ukrainian drones conducted a military operation damaging Russian Navy ships in the Crimean port of Sevastopol last Saturday. Authorities in Kyiv are accusing Russia of deliberately blocking the grain corridor after recent threats of leaving the agreement.
The United States and other Western powers condemned Russia’s exit affecting efforts to ease the global food crisis.
"In suspending this arrangement, Russia is again weaponizing food in the war it started, directly impacting low- and middle-income countries and global food prices, and exacerbating already dire humanitarian crises and food insecurity," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Oct. 29.
In an Oct. 29 video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called Russia’s withdrawal “predictable” and “a transparent attempt by Russia to return to the threat of large-scale famine in Africa and Asia.”
The grain export tug-of-war leaves people in developing countries, many of which are food insecure and poverty-stricken, approaching a severe price crisis or artificial famine.
“From September to today, 176 vessels have already accumulated in the grain corridor, which cannot follow their route. Some grain carriers have been waiting for more than three weeks. This is an absolutely deliberate blockade by Russia to return the threat of large-scale famine to Africa and Asia.”
The international community has put pressure on Russia to resume its participation in the export deal as they, too, need the agreement to progress to export fertilizer and grain as well as strengthen relations with the few countries that did not back sanctions against them.
"Our effort to deliver this wheat to countries facing the threat of starvation is evident. With the joint mechanism that we established in Istanbul, we contributed to the relief of a global food crisis," said President Erdogan.
The Turkish president's chief adviser and spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin, says Turkey is strengthening their efforts to encourage Russia back to the table. "We will intensify our diplomatic initiatives to make sure that this is renewed before its expiration date," said Kalin.
According to a statement provided by the Kremlin summarizing a telephone conversation between Erdogan and Putin on Nov. 1, Putin called for a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the damage to Russia's navy ships and have Kyiv guarantee strict compliance with the Istanbul agreements, most notably, of not using the humanitarian corridor for military purposes.
“Only then will it be possible to review the resumption of work within this Black Sea Initiative,” said the Kremlin.
The JCC has said in a press release on Nov. 1 that delegations from Ukraine, Turkey, and the United Nations agreed not to plan any movement of vessels on Nov. 2 as it "can best deliver on its mandate with the full and active participation of all four delegations.” The length of the interruption has not yet been specified.
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