Russia is ready to free up maritime shipping and facilitate the unhindered export of grain from Ukrainian ports in coordination with Turkey, its President Vladimir Putin told his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday.
Russia’s offensive in Ukraine and Western sanctions have disrupted supplies of wheat and other commodities from the two countries, fueling concerns about the risk of shortages and hunger around the world.
The United Nations, which says a global food crisis is deepening, is trying to broker a deal to unblock Ukraine’s grain exports though Western leaders have blamed Russia for holding the world to ransom by blockading Ukrainian ports.
In a phone call with Erdoğan, Putin said Russia might export significant volumes of fertilizers and food in case sanctions against Moscow are lifted, according to the Kremlin readout of the talks.
“During the discussion of the situation in Ukraine, emphasis was placed on ensuring safe navigation in the Black and Azov seas and eliminating the mine threat in their waters,” the Kremlin said.
“Vladimir Putin noted the readiness of the Russian side to facilitate the unhindered sea transit of goods in coordination with Turkish partners. This also applies to the export of grain from Ukrainian ports.”
It was not immediately clear which Ukrainian ports Putin was speaking about. Ukraine’s main grain export ports include Chornomorsk, Mykolaiv, Odessa, Kherson and Yuzhny.
Erdoğan told Putin that peace needed to be established as soon as possible and that Turkey was ready to take on a role in an “observation mechanism” between Moscow, Kyiv and the UN, if an agreement is reached.
He later told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that he “especially valued the project to create a secure sea route for exporting Ukrainian agricultural products,” his office said.
He added that he welcomed, in principle, the idea of making Istanbul a headquarters for the “observation mechanism.”
Erdoğan also repeated that Turkey was ready to support any peace efforts between Ukraine and Russia, the statement added.
Putin repeated claims that global food shortages were the result of “short-sighted” Western policies, saying Russia was ready to export “significant volumes of fertilizers and agricultural products if the relevant anti-Russian sanctions are lifted.”
A senior Turkish official last week said Ankara is in talks with Moscow and Kyiv to open a corridor via the Bosporus for grain exports from Ukraine.
“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 senior official told Reuters.
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.
Ukraine is trying to export its vast stores of grain by road, river and rail to help avert a global food crisis but has no chance of hitting its targets unless Russia’s blockade of its Black Sea ports is lifted, an official at Ukraine’s Agriculture Ministry told Reuters last week.
Before Russia sent troops into Ukraine, the country had the capacity to export up to 6 million tons of wheat, barley and maize a month but exports collapsed to just 300,000 tons in March and 1.1 million in April.
Russia and Ukraine together account for 29% of global wheat exports, mainly via the Black Sea, and for 80% of global exports of sunflower oil.
Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn, barley and rapeseed oil, while Russia and Belarus, which has backed Moscow in the war and is also under sanctions, account for over 40% of global exports of the crop nutrient potash.
Russia has captured some of Ukraine’s biggest seaports and its navy controls major transport routes in the Black Sea, where extensive mining has made commercial shipping dangerous.
Sanctions have also made it hard for Russian exporters to access vessels to move commodities to global markets.
Putin has said Russia will increase wheat exports in the new July-June season due to a potential record crop of 87 million tons.