After Lavrov meeting, Turkey says Ukraine grain-export plan reasonable

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attend a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, June 8, 2022. /Reuters

Turkey’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that a United Nations plan to restart Ukrainian grain exports along a sea corridor was “reasonable” and requires more talks with Moscow and Kyiv to ensure ships would be safe.

Turkey is ready to clear a path for Ukrainian grain, said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday after concluding a “fruitful” meeting in Ankara with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, suggesting a perceived willingness to return to negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv for a possible ceasefire.

Lavrov said Ukraine needs to let merchant vessels leave its ports safely in order to reach an agreement on the commodities corridor.

“We state daily that we’re ready to guarantee the safety of vessels leaving Ukrainian ports and heading for (Turkish waters); we’re ready to do that in cooperation with our Turkish colleagues,” he said after the talks with Cavusoglu.

Ukraine said Wednesday it would not demine waters around the Black Sea port of Odessa to allow for grain to be exported, citing the threat of Russian attacks on the city.

“The moment we clear access to the port of Odessa, the Russian fleet will be there,” spokesman for the regional administration Sergiy Bratchuk said in a video statement on social media.

He said Russia “dreams of parachuting troops” into the city and that Moscow’s army “wants to attack” Odessa.

In recent months, supplies of Ukrainian grain to the global market have been affected due to the Russian military’s blockade of Ukrainian ports. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in Stockholm last week that the Russia-Ukraine conflict could lead to a global food crisis that will hit developing countries the hardest.

Guterres appealed to the two sides and maritime neighbor and NATO member Turkey to agree on a corridor.

Cavusoglu said he believed the world should work together to open a safe passage for Ukraine’s agricultural exports and said Turkey viewed the Russian call to lift restrictions on its farm exports as “very legitimate.”

“Various ideas have been put out for the export of Ukrainian grains to the market and most recently is the UN plan (including) a mechanism that can be created between the UN, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey,” Cavusoglu said.

“We see it as reasonable,” he said. “Of course, both Ukraine and Russia must accept it.”

Lavrov said the main problem was that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had “categorically refused” to resolve the mined ports’ problem.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that it is investing all efforts in the unblocking of Ukrainian seaports to prevent a global food crisis but added that Ukraine needs sufficient security guarantees to restore navigation in the Black Sea, including weapons to protect the coastline from threats from the sea and involving third countries’ navies to patrol the relevant part of the sea.

Turkey had previously said it is ready to take on a role within an “observation mechanism” based in Istanbul if a deal is reached.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Russia and Ukraine are the world’s largest and fifth-largest wheat exporters, respectively. Together, they provide 19 percent of the world’s barley supply, 14 percent of wheat and 4 percent of maize, making up more than a third of global cereal exports.

In 2021, Ukraine harvested a record crop of grain, legumes and oil seeds totaling more than 106 million tonnes.