Hopes rise for revival of grain deal as Putin and Erdogan meet for talks

Update Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hand with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in Sochi. (AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hand with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in Sochi. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 04 September 2023
Follow

Hopes rise for revival of grain deal as Putin and Erdogan meet for talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hand with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in Sochi. (AFP)
  • Despite the anticipation surrounding the meeting, no breakthrough agreement appeared to be on the horizon
  • Putin expressed his willingness to re-engage with grain deal once the sanctions on Russian goods were lifted

ANKARA: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened in the picturesque Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday evening, reigniting hopes of resurrecting the Ukraine grain export deal.

But experts say that more Western engagement is needed to revive the deal, while Turkiye will continue enshrining its role as a facilitator to communicate Russian demands to its partners in the West and to convince the Kremlin to stick with the deal.

The agreement, previously brokered by the UN and Turkiye a year ago, has been in limbo after Russia quit the deal in July, and the talks aimed at its revival yielded mixed results.

Despite the anticipation surrounding the meeting, no breakthrough agreement appeared to be on the horizon. Russia’s willingness to return to the grain deal was contingent on the Western nations lifting restrictions imposed on Russian products, a stipulation that poses a substantial hurdle to progress.

During their Sochi tete-a-tete, Putin expressed his willingness to re-engage with the grain deal once the sanctions on Russian goods were lifted.

Additionally, he proposed an alternative scheme, involving the dispatch of 1 million tons of grain to Turkiye, with the intention of having it processed and subsequently transferred to six African countries.

The implementation of this proposal would be facilitated by financial support from Qatar to avert an impending food crisis in those regions.

However, this alternative plan does not replace the resumption of grain shipments from Ukraine given that the related quantities are much smaller.

According to data sourced from the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, a significant 57 percent of Ukraine’s grain exports were destined for developing nations, with China being a prominent recipient.

Erdogan’s stance on the matter has been consistent: he seeks to broker a resolution that would allow Ukraine to safely export its grain and secure global food supplies.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Turkiye and Russia continues to deepen, with bilateral trade reaching an impressive $69 billion last year.

Turkiye, a NATO member, has notably refrained from participating in Western sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. Simultaneously, Turkiye has been providing support to Ukraine, including sending arms and endorsing Kyiv’s aspirations to join NATO.

According to Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and chairman of the Istanbul-based think tank EDAM, Turkiye is continuing to play a role of facilitator regarding the grain deal, but it seems that the position has been quite clear that demands tabled by Russia will ultimately necessitate action by Western countries.

“In that sense, Turkiye has no real ability to fulfill Russia’s demands. What Turkiye can do at best is to listen to Russia’s concerns and to communicate them clearly to its partners in the West,” he told Arab News.

Ulgen thinks that there are limits to what Turkiye can deliver via this high-level political dialogue with Putin.

“After the meeting, we haven’t really seen any scope for fast progress on the revitalization of the deal, given that Russia’s formulated demands were more or less the same as those it has expressed in the past and (which have) not been fulfilled by the Western states,” he said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently dispatched a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, outlining “concrete proposals” aimed at reviving the grain deal. However, these proposals did not meet Russian expectations.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan recently met Lavrov in Russia regarding the grain deal, and said it was a “process that tries to better understand Russia’s position and requests, and to meet them.”

Ulgen said: “For Turkiye, there is a degree of diplomatic prestige of trying to be a facilitator of the deal, not only internationally but also multilaterally, especially vis-a-vis the United Nations’ secretary-general. This is the main motivation for Turkiye wanting to continue to operate as a facilitator for the deal itself.”

During the joint press conference with Putin on Monday evening, Erdogan said Turkiye arranged a new package of proposals to address Russia’s complaints, and it expects that it would resolve the ongoing Black Sea grain deal crisis.

Erdogan also urged Ukraine to soften its approach to ensure Russia’s return to the grain deal.

According to Ulgen, the statement about Ukraine should not be read as a strategic change in Turkiye’s position, but as part of Erdogan’s balancing act.

He said: “Turkiye does not want to burn in any way its prospect of outreach and dialogue with neither Russia or Ukraine.”

Prof. Emre Ersen, an expert on Turkiye-Russia relations from Marmara University in Istanbul, thinks that it will be very difficult for Erdogan to convince Putin to return to the grain deal under current conditions, since the West is currently not ready to take steps that would fully satisfy Moscow regarding this issue, for instance in terms of easing the sanctions regarding the SWIFT system.

“Nevertheless, it should be noted that Erdogan is one of the few leaders in NATO who can still talk to Putin which means that there is room for progress,” he told Arab News.

For Russia expert Prof. Mitat Celikpala, from Kadir Has University in Istanbul, the prospects for a swift resolution in the grain deal negotiations between Turkiye and Russia appear poor.

“Erdogan’s handling of the grain deal negotiations has not only solidified Turkiye’s international reputation but has also paved the way for further diplomatic endeavors,"  he told Arab News.

“Currently, Ankara is actively engaged in efforts to extend the proposals initially set forth by the United Nations to the Kremlin in Russia.

“This ambitious endeavor seeks to resurrect the stalled grain deal, which holds considerable economic and humanitarian significance.”

Celikpala, however, cautioned: “Yet, as Ankara pushes forward in its diplomatic pursuits, it is acutely aware of the delicate balancing act it must perform.

"Turkiye recognizes that, despite its earnest intentions, it cannot unilaterally steer the entire negotiation process without aligning itself with its Western partners.”

Beyond the confines of Turkiye’s diplomacy, the US is also making strategic moves to influence the situation. Collaborating with Romania and Moldova, the US is actively exploring alternative export routes to expand Ukraine’s grain exports via the Danube River. 

“That route is likely to be completed shortly, which will increase Western leverage on Russia,” Celikpala noted. 

“Ankara tries to implement a project where there will be two supply channels, one from Ukraine and the other one from Russia, which will make Turkiye a hub for grain processing and exports.

“It is not realistic for Western countries to bolster the Kremlin’s hand and increase its economic clout against Ukraine by expanding trade potential.”

In addition to these challenges, Celikpala highlighted the complexities surrounding the possibility of Kyiv exporting its products via ships in the Black Sea, under Turkiye’s monitoring as a littoral country. Such a scenario could, in his view, inadvertently thrust Ankara into a direct clash with Russia.

“Considering the expectations of all relevant parties, it is unlikely that the grain deal will resume soon, but it will act as a carrot to gather the West, Turkiye, and Russia regularly,” Celikpala said.


Watchdog votes to curb chemical exports to Syria

Watchdog votes to curb chemical exports to Syria
Updated 12 sec ago
Follow

Watchdog votes to curb chemical exports to Syria

Watchdog votes to curb chemical exports to Syria
THE HAGUE: The world’s chemical weapons watchdog voted Thursday to curb chemical exports to Syria, accusing Damascus of violating its toxic arms control treaty.
Syria agreed in 2013 to join the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, shortly after an alleged chemical gas attack killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus.
But the global watchdog, based in The Hague, has since accused President Bashar Assad’s regime of continuing to attack civilians with chemical weapons in the Middle Eastern country’s brutal civil war.
Syria’s OPCW voting rights were suspended in 2021, an unprecedented rebuke, following poison gas attacks on civilians in 2017.
Damascus has denied the allegations.
On Thursday, a majority of countries at the OPCW’s annual meeting voted for “collective measures” to stop the transfer of certain chemicals and chemical-making technology to Syria.
These measures include beefing up export controls and preventing “the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of chemical precursors and dual-use chemical manufacturing facilities and equipment and related technology,” the resolution said.
Put forward by 48 countries including Britain, France, Germany and the United States, the resolution said Syria had caused “serious damage to the object and purpose of the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
It cited Syria’s “continued possession and use of chemical weapons” and “its failures to submit an accurate and complete declaration and to destroy all its undeclared chemical weapons and production facilities.”
Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011 after the government’s repression of peaceful demonstrations escalated into a deadly conflict that pulled in foreign powers and global jihadists.
The war has killed more than half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.

Lebanese rush to plant crops as calm prevails in south

Lebanese rush to plant crops as calm prevails in south
Updated 30 November 2023
Follow

Lebanese rush to plant crops as calm prevails in south

Lebanese rush to plant crops as calm prevails in south
  • “I work from this, I produce from this, I live from this,” Zaynab Suweidan said as she sowed wheat in the village of Yater
  • The crops should have been planted at the start of November

YATER, Lebanon: Villagers who live off the land in south Lebanon are rushing to sow their crops, making up for lost time after weeks of hostilities with Israel forced them to miss out on the start of the planting season.
“I work from this, I produce from this, I live from this,” Zaynab Suweidan said as she sowed wheat in the village of Yater, in an area hit by Israeli strikes during heavy exchanges of fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
After enduring its worst violence since a 2006 war, the area has been largely calm since Friday, when Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas agreed a temporary truce to the conflict they have been waging some 200km (120 miles) away in and around Gaza.
That war, which erupted on Oct. 7, quickly spilled into Lebanon, with the Iran-backed Hezbollah rocketing Israeli positions at the border and Israel launching air and artillery strikes in response.
Israel and Hamas agreed to extend the truce by one day on Thursday, bringing a seventh day of respite.
As a drone buzzed in the sky above her, Suweidan said she had stayed in her home throughout the hostilities even after it sustained some damage.
“Shelling has happened around us and planes launched two strikes near us, and we stayed in our house and we didn’t leave. We want to stay steadfast,” she said.
The crops should have been planted at the start of November, but she hoped the delay would not affect the yield: “Through God’s power, everything will be fine.”
Farming their land has become even more important for many in Lebanon since the economy there collapsed in a devastating financial meltdown more than four years ago.
Mousa Kawrani, a 55-year-old father of four who was planting wheat, beans and peas, said people needed to farm because they could not afford to buy everything they needed.
“We must farm. We cannot remain without farming.”


Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi arrested again

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi arrested again
Updated 30 November 2023
Follow

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi arrested again

Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi arrested again
  • "Salehi has been arrested for publishing false information and disturbing public opinion", the judiciary news agency said
  • Salehi was initially sentenced to six years in prison on multiple charges

DUBAI: Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, who had been previously detained for showing support to anti-government protests and was released on bail earlier this month, was arrested again, Iran's state media reported on Thursday.
"Salehi has been arrested for publishing false information and disturbing public opinion, after being released upon an order by Iran's supreme court to revise his case", the judiciary news agency said.
Following the death in custody of 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September 2022, Iran has seen months of nationwide protests that represented one of the fiercest challenges to the Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979.
Salehi, who wrote songs about the protests, was initially sentenced to six years in prison on multiple charges, including "corruption on earth", a ruling that was then rejected by Iran's supreme court.
The 33-year-old rapper spent one year and 21 days in prison, including 252 days in solitary confinement, during which he sustained physical injuries, according to his official page on the social media website X, formerly known as Twitter.


UN peacekeepers try to stay safe amid Lebanon-Israel border flare-ups

UN peacekeepers try to stay safe amid Lebanon-Israel border flare-ups
Updated 30 November 2023
Follow

UN peacekeepers try to stay safe amid Lebanon-Israel border flare-ups

UN peacekeepers try to stay safe amid Lebanon-Israel border flare-ups
  • Troops from the UNIFIL have repeatedly sheltered in bunkers during “intense shelling and rocket launches,” said Lt. Col. Stephen MacEoin
  • He hoped the truce in Gaza between Hamas and Israel would be extended, as it was civilians “who suffer most”

MAROUN AL-RAS, Lebanon: While trying to fulfil their mandate to keep the peace, UN soldiers deployed along Lebanon’s border with Israel during the worst hostilities there in nearly 20 years have another urgent concern: keeping their own forces safe.
Since the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza seven weeks ago, troops from the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) have repeatedly sheltered in bunkers during “intense shelling and rocket launches,” a senior commander said during a Reuters visit to a UNIFIL base in southern Lebanon.
“I’ve got to maintain force protection as a priority while also carrying out the mission,” said Lt. Col. Stephen MacEoin, battalion commander of the Irish and Polish soldiers stationed at Camp Shamrock in the village of Tiri, near Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.
The conflict in Gaza, some 200 km (124 miles) away to the south, has seen Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas, trading fire daily along the Lebanese-Israeli border.
Israeli attacks have killed about 100 people in Lebanon — 80 of them Hezbollah fighters — since Oct. 7.
MacEoin said he hoped the truce in Gaza between Hamas and Israel would be extended, as it was civilians “who suffer most” from conflict, be it in Lebanon or Gaza, and the violence in Gaza was linked to the situation in southern Lebanon.
“The concerns of the mission are that, after so many weeks of exchanges of fire, now we have a truce, a moment of calm, but that intensive changes of fire can really trigger a much wider cycle of conflict,” said UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti.
“This is the real warning and danger that everyone is facing not only in the south but in the region.”
He said UNIFIL communicated with both sides in the flare-ups on the Lebanon-Israel border to try to “de-escalate tensions.”
No peacekeepers have been killed since the escalation of hostilities. But two peacekeepers have been injured in two separate incidents and UNIFIL compounds and bases have been hit and damaged by mortar shells several times, Tenenti told Reuters.
“We’ve had a lot of firing north and south of the Blue Line...a lot of close incidents,” MacEoin said, referring to a 120-km (74 mile) demarcation drawn by the United Nations that marks the line to which Israeli forces withdrew when they left south Lebanon in 2000.
In the latest incident, a UNIFIL patrol was hit by Israeli gunfire in the vicinity of Aytaroun of southern Lebanon, although there were no casualties. The UN force called the attack on “deeply troubling.”
UNIFIL was established by the Security Council in 1978 after Israel invaded Lebanon. Its scope and size were expanded after a 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah that killed 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 158 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
The force is deployed in southern Lebanon with the primary role of helping maintain international peace and security.
The mission says it currently has about 10,000 troops drawn from 47 countries, and about 800 civilian staff, stationed in 45 positions throughout a 1,060 square km (409 square mile) area between the Litani River and the Blue Line.
Last December, an Irish soldier serving in UNIFIL was killed after the UNIFIL vehicle he was traveling in was fired on as it traveled in southern Lebanon. Seven people were charged by a Lebanese military tribunal in January for his death, the first fatal attack on UN peacekeepers in Lebanon since 2015.
Calm had prevailed on the border since Hamas and Israel agreed a temporary truce that began on Nov. 24. But on Thursday morning the Israeli military said it intercepted an “aerial target” that crossed from Lebanon. Earlier on Thursday the two sides struck a last-minute agreement to extend the truce.


Blinken tells Netanyahu ‘imperative’ to protect Gaza civilians

Blinken tells Netanyahu ‘imperative’ to protect Gaza civilians
Updated 30 November 2023
Follow

Blinken tells Netanyahu ‘imperative’ to protect Gaza civilians

Blinken tells Netanyahu ‘imperative’ to protect Gaza civilians
  • Stresses imperative of accounting for humanitarian and civilian protection needs in southern Gaza

JERUSALEM: Visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday, emphasized the need to protect civilians in southern Gaza, where many have fled, the State Department said.
Blinken “stressed the imperative of accounting for humanitarian and civilian protection needs in southern Gaza before any military operations there,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement, adding he “urged Israel to take every possible measure to avoid civilian harm.”