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Ukraine says Turkey has detained Russian ship carrying stolen grain

Ukraine's ambassador to Turkey said ship's fate would be decided in meeting on Monday and that Kyiv was hoping for confiscation of the grain
Ukraine has accused Russia of stealing grain from the territories that Russian forces have seized since Moscow's invasion began in late February (AFP)
Ukraine has accused Russia of stealing grain from the territories that Russian forces have seized since Moscow's invasion began in late February (AFP)

Turkish customs authorities have detained a Russian cargo ship carrying grain that Ukraine says is stolen, Ukraine's ambassador to Turkey said on Sunday.

Ukraine had previously asked Turkey to detain the Russian-flagged Zhibek Zholy cargo ship, according to an official and documents viewed by Reuters.

Reporters saw the Zhibek Zholy anchored about 1 km from shore and outside of the Turkish Black Sea port of Karasu on Sunday, with no obvious signs of movement aboard or by other vessels nearby.

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"We have full cooperation. The ship is currently standing at the entrance to the port, it has been detained by the customs authorities of Turkey," Ukraine's ambassador to Turkey, Vasyl Bodnar, said on his country's national television.

Bodnar said that the ship's fate would be decided by a meeting of investigators on Monday and that Ukraine was hoping for the confiscation of the grain.

Ukraine has accused Russia of stealing grain from the territories that Russian forces have seized since Moscow's invasion began in late February. The Kremlin has previously denied that Russia has stolen any Ukrainian grain.

A Ukrainian foreign ministry official, citing information from Ukraine's maritime administration, said on Friday that the Zhibek Zholy had loaded the first cargo of 4,500 tonnes of Ukrainian grain from Berdyansk, a Russian-occupied port in southern Ukraine.

The region's Sakarya port authority was not immediately available for comment. Turkey's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

'Russia shamelessly stealing grain'

Last month, Bodnar had accused Russia of "stealing" and sending Ukrainian grain abroad to countries that included Turkey. 

Speaking in Ankara on 3 June, Bodnar said Russia was shipping the stolen grain out of Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, and added that Kyiv was working with Turkey and Interpol to find the culprits.

"Russia is shamelessly stealing Ukrainian grains and getting it out from the invaded Crimea. These grains are being shipped to foreign countries, including Turkey," he told reporters in the Turkish capital.

"We have made our appeal for Turkey to help us and, upon the suggestion of the Turkish side, are launching criminal cases regarding those stealing and selling the grains," he said.

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The Ukrainian Embassy in Ankara later said the vessels involved in the stolen grain shipments were the Nadezhda, Finikia, Sormivskiy, Vera, and Mikhail Nenashev ships.

On 31 May, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had said Ankara was in talks with Moscow to establish a safe corridor for blocked Ukraine grain exports via Istanbul.

"This is the most important question. We are focussing on this. We are planning to establish a centre in Istanbul to observe the corridor," Cavusoglu had said.

That announcement came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan had spoken on the phone over a range of issues.

Moscow was ready to work with Ankara to free up maritime shipping, Putin told Erdogan, according to a Kremlin read-out of the call.

Putin added that his country was ready "to contribute to the unimpeded maritime transit of goods in coordination with Turkish partners. This also applies to grain exports from Ukrainian ports".

Russia's offensive in Ukraine and western sanctions have disrupted supplies of wheat and other commodities from the two countries, fuelling concerns about the risk of shortages and hunger around the world.

About 30 percent of the global wheat supply is produced in Russia and Ukraine.