Russia, Turkey agree to more consultations on Ukraine grain transit

Russian and Turkish delegations have agreed to continue consultations on safe vessel departures and grain exports from Ukrainian ports, the Russian defense ministry said on Wednesday.

The statement came after a Turkish military delegation was reported to travel to Russia this week to discuss details of a possible safe sea corridor in the Black Sea to export Ukrainian agricultural products.

Ukraine is one of the top wheat suppliers globally, but its grain shipments have stalled and tons of grain have been trapped in silos since Russia sent troops into the country, fueling global food shortages.

Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis and blames Western sanctions for the shortage.

The United Nations has appealed to both sides, as well as their maritime neighbor and NATO member Turkey, to agree to a corridor.

Ankara has so far held talks with Moscow and the United Nations on the planned corridor, but has said any final agreement would require all parties to meet in Istanbul, where Turkey says the plan’s implementation would be monitored.

Turkish presidency sources on Tuesday said a four-way meeting between Turkey, Ukraine, Russia and the United Nations would be held in Istanbul in the coming weeks, possibly with the participation of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The sources said the plan envisaged creating three corridors from Ukraine’s Black Sea port city of Odessa under Kyiv’s supervision, and that both Ukrainian and Russian food products would be shipped from there.

They said 30-35 million tons of grain could be shipped from there in the next six to eight months.

Asked about the plan’s outline presented by the sources, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said “the discussions on these issues are continuing,” without elaborating.

The news of planned upcoming talks come a day after Erdoğan and Guterres discussed plans for the corridor in a phone call. Erdoğan’s office said he told the UN chief that Turkey was “continuing mutual efforts” to establish the corridor.

Both Ukraine and Russia have set out a series of conditions to agree to the plan. Moscow wants some Western sanctions lifted to help facilitate its grain and fertilizer exports, while Kyiv seeks security guarantees for its ports.

“Sticking point is we gave guarantees at the highest possible level and now it’s up to Ukrainians to decide,” Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Tuesday of the talks. “(Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin said that we will not use Ukrainian grain exports for military purposes.”

Nebenzia said Ukraine had to demine the coastal waters, or if it can navigate through the mined waters “let them steer those ships out to the safe passage.”

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