Turkiye hopes to negotiate a new Black Sea grain deal

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Turkiye hopes to negotiate a new Black Sea grain deal

(File/AFP)
Russia last month announced that it had brought an end to the Black Sea Grain Initiative (File/AFP)
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Russia last month announced that it had brought an end to the Black Sea Grain Initiative and that vessels leaving Ukrainian harbors would be considered a military target. This deal was an agreement between Russia, Ukraine and Turkiye, with the participation of the UN.

Everything started with Russia’s insistence on making its conditions prevail. In this deal, most of the trump cards are in Russia’s hands. To demonstrate that Moscow had the means to prevail, it bombed the port of Odesa for three consecutive nights, destroying 60,000 tons of grain. And an Iranian-manufactured drone hit Reni, a Ukrainian harbor located just 300 meters from the Romanian border. All these attacks indicate that the war is steadily expanding in all directions. Furthermore, in an environment of shortages of many things, it is a pity to waste such a big quantity of food.

With a view to gaining the hearts of the peoples of the least-developed African countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised last week — either as a grant or as a commercial deal — to provide them with the grain that they cannot now get from Ukraine. He said that, this year, Russia was expecting a record harvest and therefore its withdrawal from the grain deal would not negatively affect these countries. Putin reiterated that he would maintain Russia’s supply of grain, food, fertilizer and other materials to these African countries, pointing out that it sent 11.5 million tons of grain to them in 2022 and 10 million tons in the first half of 2023.

Russia announced that the security guarantees it previously gave in the Black Sea have now become invalid. Such a statement makes the Black Sea an unstable area. 

With Russia putting an end to the grain deal, it has also put an end to a deal in which Turkiye was an important player. Turkiye’s conditional approval of Sweden’s NATO membership must have irritated Russia, therefore Ankara may be forced to pay a price for its decision.

All these indications mean that the risks of an escalation in the Black Sea are real.

Russia announced that the security guarantees it previously gave in the Black Sea have now become invalid

Yasar Yakis

The introduction of cluster munitions has become another complicating factor in the Ukrainian war. This munition was banned in 2010 by a UN convention because of the effect it has on civilians. Some 110 countries have since joined the convention. Russia has used cluster bombs extensively in Ukraine. Now, the US has decided to send cluster ammunition to Kyiv. This will greatly increase the number of casualties.

US National Security Council Spokesperson Adam Hodge claimed that Washington had obtained information that Russia was laying additional mines around Ukrainian ports. He further claimed that Russia was preparing for potential attacks on cargo ships sailing in the Black Sea. If these rumors turn out to be true, it would mean that there may be a military escalation in the Black Sea. 

As the country that has the longest coastline on the Black Sea — with the exception of occupied Ukrainian shores — Turkiye will be facing the biggest risks. Furthermore, Ankara, being the custodian of the Turkish Straits, may be exposed to additional risks.

Although the US and the EU countries claim there are only selective sanctions imposed on Russian goods, Moscow complains that international insurance companies refuse to insure Russian ships and that they are not allowed to use the harbors of other countries. It also complains that Russian banks are not allowed to use the international transfer system known as SWIFT and that there are restrictions imposed on the import to Russia of agricultural equipment and spare parts. Russia complains that it is being strangulated to a large extent. 

Russia also claims that the grain corridor was originally designed for poor countries, but that it has now been transformed into an ordinary commercial mechanism, mostly used by Western countries. According to the official Turkish statistics, 40 percent of the grain goes to European countries, 30 percent to Asia, 13 percent to Turkiye, 12 percent to Africa and 5 percent to the Middle East. 

All sides will be winning if the grain deal is resumed and all sides will be losing in case a new deal is not done

Yasar Yakis 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan contacted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who told him that Turkiye should take the lead in unlocking the impasse. For his part, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan contacted his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov with a view to reinstating the deal, but so far no progress has been made. Russia persistently complains that it is prevented from selling its grain and fertilizer. 

If the deal is not renewed, the biggest loser will be Ukraine. The next biggest loser will be Russia. However, the economy of the latter is bigger and it has alternative export routes to Asian countries.

All sides will be winning if the grain deal is resumed and all sides will be losing in case a new deal is not done. In his talks with Fidan, Lavrov provided several reasons why Russia withdrew from the grain deal. Fidan is working hard to bring Russia back to the negotiating table. 

Russia’s continued blocking of the grain deal is likely to affect 400 million people. There are other routes for exporting Ukrainian grain to the world’s markets, through Romania, Slovakia or Poland, but the costs of using this land corridor are much higher. The best solution would be a deal to use the Turkish Straits.

In a meeting held in St. Petersburg at the end of last week, Putin disclosed that an industrial zone would be established on the outskirts of the Egyptian harbor of Port Said and that it would become Russia’s window to Africa. As this will be a separate arrangement, the Turkish Straits will again become part of this Africa-related deal. We will see whether Russia will be able to isolate Ukraine.

The countries of the Black Sea region need each other in order to make an arrangement that every single country will benefit from.

  • Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkiye and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar
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