This time the mountain did not even give birth to the proverbial little mouse. The long-awaited meeting between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan – the first of its kind after almost a year – did not lead to any decision on Moscow’s return to the wheat deal, nor did it produce any results for the peace mediation that Turkey desired. Resumption of work between Russia and Ukraine.
Putin stressed that Moscow will not accept the resumption of the Ukrainian grain export agreement only after lifting the restrictions imposed on its exports of grain and fertilizers. As for the situation on the ground, “the Ukrainian counter-offensive has failed” and there is no concrete prospect for negotiations on the horizon. The Turkish president said that his country had prepared “some proposals in cooperation with the United Nations” that would persuade Russia to return to the wheat agreement. Indeed, Moscow maintains that with the agreement reached in the summer of 2022 between Russia and Ukraine mediated by Ankara and the United Nations, a memorandum was also adopted that provided for the removal of obstacles to Russian grain exports, but it was never implemented.
While Western sanctions do not directly affect food exports, restrictions on banking, logistics and insurance often create insurmountable barriers. And while Russian production – expected to reach 130 million tons of wheat this year, with 60 million tons to be exported – could, according to Putin, make a decisive contribution to combating food problems in poorer countries. Among other things, the tsar claimed that Ukrainian wheat exports in the year the agreement lasted, to last July, benefited more than 70% of the richest countries, and only 3% of those belonging to the poorest.
Putin also accused the Ukrainians of using the humanitarian lanes reserved for ships in the Black Sea to attack Russian military and civilian targets, including the Turkish Stream and Blue Stream pipelines and the Russian ships deployed to protect them. “This can no longer be tolerated,” he warned. But the Russian president also appears to question the need for the agreement, stressing that “wheat prices continue to fall” despite its suspension. “There is no physical shortage of food, but rather its fair distribution,” he stressed, announcing that within a few weeks Russia’s initiative to deliver free grain to six of the poorest African countries should come into effect. It is expected to supply between 25 thousand to 50 thousand tons to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic and Eritrea. A plan that some critics see as a propaganda move to try to shake off the anti-colonial Russian identity in the wake of the Soviet legacy.
However, Türkiye is not giving up. “We believe that we will soon be able to reach a solution that meets expectations,” Erdogan stressed. For the wheat deal, for sure. But Ankara also wants to reintroduce itself as a mediator of peace between Moscow and Kiev, which is why the Sultan launched a crackdown on Ukraine, calling on it to “soften” its position. And the Turkish mediation led in March 2022 to a meeting between the delegations of the two enemies in Istanbul, from which drafts emerged to continue the negotiations. Putin accused: “But then Kiev threw them into the trash.” The Kremlin chief said: “We are now hearing about some new initiatives, but they were not discussed with us, and therefore we do not see anything new.”
The three-hour talks in Sochi seem to have been more successful on topics of bilateral interest. On nuclear power, for example, with Putin announcing that the first Russian-built Turkish power plant in Akkuyu will start operating next year, and Erdogan speaking of “steps forward” to build the second plant in Sinop, on the Black Sea. Sea: In the field of energy, a working group has also been set up to build a gas center in Turkey, fueled by Russian raw materials. Then, away from the spotlight centered on Ukraine, Putin and Erdogan talked about the future of the two countries where they support conflicting factions and interests: Syria and, above all, Libya.
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