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Turkey's foreign minister to visit Kyiv as Ukraine pushes for a new grain corridor

Ankara is cautious about Ukrainians' new Black Sea proposal and is trying to convince Russia to revive the grain deal
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan in Ankara, Turkey on 31 July 2023 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan is scheduled to visit Ukraine next week to explore options for revitalising the grain deal suspended by Russia, according to informed sources.

The move comes as Kyiv proposes an alternative route for the transportation of agricultural products, one which would circumvent international waters.

Two sources familiar with the visit told Middle East Eye that Fidan will use his first ever visit to Kyiv as foreign minister, on 25 August, to exchange views on bilateral issues as well as the ongoing Ukrainian offensive and Ukraine’s own peace plan. 

The visit comes as Turkey and the UN have intensified their efforts to convince Russia to revive the landmark Black Sea grain deal, which ensured the safe passage of 33m tonnes of grain between August 2022 and July 2023. Moscow terminated the deal last month, over written promises that it says have not been met. 

Moscow says western powers could not facilitate the export of Russian ammonium and insurance for the Russian ships that carry crops, as well as payment for these deliveries in foreign currencies. 

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly announced that he hopes to meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the end of this month to make progress on resolving Moscow's grievances with a set of proposals, as well as expanding the deal into a wider attempt to declare a ceasefire. 

However, the Ukrainian government believes there is no time to lose, as the harvest season is approaching.

Last week, the Ukrainian navy announced in a formal statement that it had established temporary routes for merchant ships from Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea, namely Chornomorsk, Odessa and Pivdennyi.  

A Ukrainian source familiar with the route said the ships will sail to Romanian territorial waters and then follow the route towards Istanbul via Bulgarian territorial waters.

“We will pay for the insurance through our own funds,” the Ukrainian source said. 

The source acknowledged that the route was fragile, and if the Russians were determined, they could potentially target the ships. "However, we cannot remain idle," the source emphasised.

Grain prices expected to rise

The first vessel that used Ukraine's Black Sea corridor safely reached Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait on Friday. The ship was not carrying grain. 

The Hong Kong-flagged Joseph Schulte container ship left the Russian-blocked Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odesa earlier this week. It had been in the port since 23 February 2022, the day before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine

A Turkish source said that Ankara was appreciating Ukraine’s critical position and its attempts to export crucial grain to world markets. However, the source added, the Ukraine corridor will still increase grain prices, since its insurance costs would rise.

“There is a risk that this proposal could escalate the situation in the Black Sea and spill the war into the territories of Nato countries, which we obviously don’t want,” the source said.

'There is a risk that this proposal could escalate the situation in the Black Sea and spill the war into the territories of Nato countries'

- Turkish source

A Russian warship fired warning shots and boarded a cargo ship heading to Ukraine in the Black Sea on Sunday. The Philippines-flagged dry cargo ship, which belonged to a Turkish company, failed to respond to a request to stop for an inspection, according to the Russian navy. 

The Turkish presidency said on Thursday that it warned interlocutors in Moscow to avoid such incidents, in order to avoid raising tensions in the Black Sea. 

Yahya Bostan, a columnist for Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, wrote in a column on Friday that the incident was perceived in Ankara as a warning to ships travelling to Ukraine via the new temporary corridor. 

The second Ukrainian proposal to ship the grain via the Danube river is also being taken with a grain of salt in Ankara, due to its limited cargo capacity. Ukraine was able to ship 8.1m tonnes of grain through the Romanian ports between January and July, but frequent Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure along the river have partly hindered further shipments. 

The Ukrainian source said that Kyiv would like to convene a “Food Security Conference”, preferably in Turkey, to look for alternative ways to bring food prices down and ship grain to poorer countries. 

“But if Turkey could convince Russia to come back to the deal, we would of course appreciate it,” the source said. “But if not, we have to think about the alternatives.”

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