Russia and Turkey Say They Are Exploring Black Sea Corridor for Ukrainian Grain; Kyiv Skeptical

Moscow ( – Russia and Turkey say they are exploring the possibility of establishing a maritime corridor in the Black Sea for the export of Ukrainian grain, in a bid help ease a global food crisis which the West blames in large part on the conflict in Ukraine.

“We are ready to ensure the safety of ships leaving Ukrainian ports and heading for the straits. We are prepared to do this in cooperation with the Turkish counterparts,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters after meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara on Wednesday.

Cavusoglu said the proposed mechanism would involve Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the United Nations, but did not elaborate on other specifics.

“We believe this is a realistic plan,” he said. “We need to discuss measures to ensure the safety of vessels passing through the corridor.”

Russia’s Izvestia newspaper reported earlier this week that Moscow and Ankara had agreed on a preliminary framework for restarting Ukrainian grain shipments through the Black Sea.


Under the reported deal, the Turkish navy would demine the area around the Ukrainian port city of Odesa and then escort the cargo ships stationed there to neutral waters, it said. From there, Russian warships would escort the grain vessels until they exit the Black Sea through the Bosphorus strait.

Ukrainian officials have expressed concern about the potential agreement, however, suggesting that it could provide President Vladimir Putin with an opportunity to launch a new offensive against Odesa.

“Putin says he will not use trade routes to attack Odesa,” tweeted Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. “This is the same Putin who told German Chancellor Scholz and French President Macron he would not attack Ukraine – days before launching a full-scale invasion of our country. We can not trust Putin, his words are empty.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday urged Western governments to supply his country with new anti-ship missiles which he told reporters would help guarantee the safe passage of Ukrainian cargo ships.

In Ankara, Lavrov said Putin had guaranteed that Moscow would not use the demining of Odesa and other Ukrainian ports to its military advantage.

Russia and Ukraine together accounted for more than quarter of the world’s total wheat exports in 2021. They also supplied 75 percent of the world’s sunflower oil, 29 percent of its barley, and 15 percent of its corn.

Ukraine has historically shipped the vast majority of its grain and seed oil exports through its Black Sea ports. Since the Kremlin launched its so-called “special military operation” in late February, however, Russian troops have seized control of 80 percent of Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline. At the same time, the Russian navy has established a heavy presence near Ukraine’s remaining port cities.

This loss of territory has forced Ukraine to seek out lower capacity options for exporting its agricultural goods, such as shipping them to Europe by train or through its Danube River ports. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that up to 25 million tons of grain is currently stuck in Ukrainian ports.

During a U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday, European Council president Charles Michel accused Russia of “using food supplies as a stealth missile against developing countries.”

“The dramatic consequences of Russia’s war are spilling over across the globe and this is driving up food prices, pushing people into poverty, and destabilizing entire regions,” he said. “And Russia is solely responsible for this food crisis – Russia alone, despite the Kremlin’s campaign of lies and disinformation.”

In an interview with state television last Friday, Putin denied blockading Ukrainian ports and declared that Moscow was prepared to guarantee ships carrying grain with peaceful passage into international waters.

“I have already said to all our colleagues many times – let them demine the ports and let the vessels loaded with grain leave,” he said. “There are no problems at all. Go ahead.”

Putin also proposed that Ukraine could begin exporting its grain by rail through neighboring Belarus, a longtime Russian ally, or through the Black Sea ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol, captured by Russian forces in recent months.

The Russian president insisted that he was prepared to allow Ukrainian grain exporters to access these ports, with “no conditions” attached.

In earlier conversations with foreign leaders, however, Putin has indicated that Russia wants to see a removal of Western sanctions in exchange for its help in boosting grain exports.

He told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi during a May 26 phone conversation that Russia was “willing to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the exports of grain and fertilizers on the condition that the West’s politically-motivated restrictions are lifted.”

Putin made a similar call for an end to Western sanctions during a call two days later with the German and French leaders.


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