Ankara is in talks with Moscow and Kyiv to open a corridor via the Bosporus for grain exports from Ukraine, according to a senior Turkish official.
Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia invaded in February and more than 20 million tons of grain are stuck in silos there, while Moscow says the chilling effect of Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the war has disrupted its fertilizer and grain exports.
Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies. Russia is also a key global fertilizer exporter and Ukraine is a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.
The conflict is fueling a global food crisis with prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer soaring.
“Turkey is negotiating with both Russia and Ukraine for the export of grains from Ukraine,” the official told Reuters on Thursday, requesting anonymity because the talks were confidential.
“With a corridor to be opened from Turkey, there was a demand for this grain to reach their targeted markets. Negotiations are still ongoing,” the person added.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko was quoted as saying on Wednesday that Moscow is ready to provide a corridor for vessels carrying food in return for the lifting of some Western sanctions.
Turkey shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea and has good relations with both.
While it has criticized Russia’s offensive, Ankara is trying to balance its close ties and has positioned itself as a neutral party attempting to mediate between the warring sides.
Separately, two other people familiar with the matter also confirmed discussions with Turkey to help ship out the grains from Ukraine. One of the people said that despite being a NATO member, Turkey was seen as more “neutral” by Russia than other Western members of the alliance.
“Turkey is ready to contribute to a kind of monitoring of these exports from Odessa through the Black Sea because Turkey traditionally is very strong in the Black Sea and they are ready to help,” a senior European diplomat said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Turkey already has two frigates, two submarines and a half-dozen patrol and fast-attack ships in the Black Sea and much more could be quickly summoned for such a mission, said Yörük Işık, Istanbul-based head of the Bosporus Observer consultancy.
It could hypothetically patrol the food corridor routes and also sweep for mines, which Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of having planted.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who visited Moscow and Kyiv last month, has been in contact with Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, the United States and the European Union, trying to broker what he calls a “package deal” to summarize both Ukrainian food exports and Russian food and fertilizer exports.
However, there are many hurdles to any deal, including Russian demands for some sanctions to be lifted in return, the drifting mines, and the prohibitive costs of insuring the maritime route, officials and analysts say.