The United States and the UN Secretary-General hailed Turkey’s efforts for global food security and finding a solution to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We understand and we certainly support the diplomatic efforts that our Turkish allies are forging in an effort to bring this war to a close, in the first instance diminish the violence. And also find ways to facilitate the export of Ukrainian foodstuffs, including Ukrainian wheat ,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday.
The comments come after Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is holding diplomatic talks with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts aimed at restoring Ukrainian agricultural exports.
Erdoğan told both leaders that Turkey is ready to play a facilitating role, according to Kalın, who added that Ukraine and Russia gave a positive response and stated they wanted to carry out the process through Ankara.
Russia’s war, now on its fourth month, has left key Ukrainian ports cut off by Moscow’s warships. Ukrainian exports that are vital to the global economy, notably grain and fertilizer, have been forced to go overland in a much less efficient form of transport as agricultural production has markedly decreased amid the conflict.
Ukraine’s agricultural exports are expected to be discussed when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visits Turkey on June 8.
“We stated that the negotiations will be held here, hosted by our Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Therefore, the details of this issue will become clearer during this visit next week. As Turkey, we are ready to start this as soon as possible ,” said Kalin.
In response to a question about whether there will be a visit from Ukraine, Kalın said, “There is no planned visit at the moment, but our doors are always open to our Ukrainian friends.”
The Russian assault on Ukraine has devastated global food markets, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appealed directly to Russia to allow Ukrainian grain exports to flow through Ukrainian ports.
“Let’s be clear: there is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as the food and fertilizer produced by Russia and Belarus, into world markets – despite the war,” Guterres said during a UN conference on May 18.
“Russia must allow the safe and secure export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports. Alternative transportation routes can be explored – even if we know that by itself, they will not be enough to solve the problem. Russian food and fertilizers must have unrestricted access to world markets without indirect impediments,” he added.
A chief ‘grateful’ for Turkey’s efforts
Guterres is “grateful” for Turkish efforts to resolve the grain export deadlock from Ukraine and clear mines in the Black Sea, according to a statement on Tuesday.
“(The) Secretary-General is extremely grateful for the support that Turkey is giving in addressing the situation in the Black Sea and supporting the secretary general’s own efforts,” his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said at a news conference.
Earlier in the day, minister Çavuşoğlu addressed obstacles ahead of vessels carrying grains from the war zone and emphasized Turkey’s efforts to aid confidence-building measures between Russia and Ukraine.
Noting that one of the obstacles as sea mines planted in the Odessa region by Ukraine, Çavuşoğlu said the other obstacle is sanctions imposed on Russia regarding insurance and the issue of not providing services to international ports.
Çavuşoğlu said the mines could technically be swept within one to two weeks and added that a control mechanism must be established to address the concerns of Russia and Ukraine.
He said Turkey and the UN are working on the matter, adding that “The UN has a proposal. Creating a four-way contact group consisting of the UN, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine. We said ‘yes’ to this in principle. An idea to hold a meeting on a technical level came up.
Ankara and Moscow will engage in talks to create a potential sea corridor that will free up Ukrainian agricultural exports, as Russia’s top diplomat is set to pay his visit to Turkey next week.
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.