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Russia-Ukraine war: Grain deal may expire unless Moscow is persuaded to renew

Turkey warns that Russian demands over prisoner exchanges and exports may be hard to resolve by 18 May deadline
Asl Tia, a cargo vessel carrying Ukrainian grain, sails on Bosphorus to Marmara sea, in Istanbul, on 2 November (AFP)
Asl Tia, a cargo vessel carrying Ukrainian grain, sails into Istanbul on 2 November 2022 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Turkey warned on Tuesday that a landmark deal between Ukraine and Russia protecting grain supply shipments will expire on 18 May if the Russians can’t be persuaded to renew it.

Ibrahim Kalin, a chief adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told journalists in Ankara that efforts were under way to persuade the Russians to extend the deal, which allows shipments of more than 25m metric tonnes of grain to be exported to 45 countries via the Black Sea.

The deal was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last July, in an effort to combat a global food crisis sparked by disruption to grain supplies following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The deal was renewed in March, for 60 days.

However, Moscow has fresh demands, including over a mooted prisoner exchange and exports.

“The Russians have demands in terms of ammonium and fertiliser exports,” Kalin said.

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Kalin said Erdogan spoke to President Vladimir Putin last month in a phone call and “highlighted the importance of extending the deal”.

“We will have to find a solution to this ammonium, fertiliser exports and prisoner swap conundrum,” he added.  

Kalin said another set of grain deal negotiations between Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and the UN will take place on 5 May in a bid to resolve the issue.

“Ukraine has an all-for-all approach to the prisoner exchange, but the Russians want a swap based on equal numbers,” Kalin said.

Following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, several western countries imposed brutal sanctions on Moscow and Russia was ejected from much of the world’s financial system.

'Ukraine has an all-for-all approach to the prisoner exchange, but the Russians want a swap based on equal numbers'

- Ibrahim Kalin, adviser to Erdogan

Moscow wants to reconnect the Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to the Swift international payment system, so it can receive payments for its grain and fertiliser. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday that the Turkish state-owned Ziraat Bank could play a role in facilitating the payments as a mediator.

However, Kalin said Ankara was carefully considering the state bank option, wary of being sanctioned by western countries currently targeting Russia.  

“UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has come up with this proposal, but we are still evaluating whether it would be safe for our banks,” Kalin said. “We will do our best to resolve this issue.”

Other Russian demands include the resumption of supplies of agricultural machinery and parts, the lifting of restrictions on insurance and reinsurance, the resumption of the Togliatti-Odesa ammonia pipeline, and the unblocking of assets and the accounts of Russian companies involved in food and fertiliser exports.

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