KYIV: Turkish efforts to ease a global food crisis by negotiating safe passage for grain stuck in Black Sea ports met resistance as Ukraine said Russia was imposing unreasonable conditions and the Kremlin said free shipment depended on an end to sanctions.

The war between Russia and Ukraine, the world’s third and fourth largest grain exporters respectively, has added to food price inflation and put global food supplies at risk.

Russia has seized large parts of Ukraine’s coast in nearly 15 weeks of war and its warships control the Black and Azov Seas, blocking Ukraine’s farm exports and driving up the cost of grain.

Ukraine and the West accuse Moscow of weaponising food supplies. Russia says Ukrainian mines laid at sea and international sanctions on Moscow are to blame.

Speaking alongside his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said talks on Wednesday in Ankara were fruitful and restarting Ukrainian grain exports along a sea corridor was reasonable.

Lavrov said the onus was on Ukraine to de-mine its ports as a precondition for safe shipment.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Russian grain volumes could only be delivered to international markets if sanctions were lifted. He said there were “no substantive talks about this yet”.

The United Nations is working on plans to restart grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, with Turkiye possibly providing naval escorts to ensure safe passage. The United Nations last week described talks with Russia on grain exports as constructive.

“This is one of those moments when silent diplomacy is necessary - and the welfare of millions of people around the world could depend on it,” Guterres told reporters.

‘Insufficient force’

Among the many challenges, Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkiye said on Wednesday that Russia was putting forward unreasonable proposals, such as checking vessels.

A Ukrainian official also cast doubt on Turkiye’s power to mediate the free passage of blocked Ukrainian grain.

“Turkiye as a guarantor is an insufficient force in the Black Sea to guarantee the safety of cargo,” director of Ukrainian grain traders’ union UGA Serhiy Ivashchenko told an online conference on Wednesday.

He said it could take at least two-to-three months to remove mines from Ukrainian ports

and that the Turkish and Romanian navies should be involved.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2022

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