RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin said Monday that a landmark deal allowing Ukraine to export grain safely through the Black Sea amid the war won’t be restored until the West meets Moscow’s demands on its own agricultural exports.
Ukraine and its Western allies have dismissed the Kremlin’s demands as a ploy to advance its own interests.
Still, Putin’s remarks dashed hopes that his talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could revive an agreement seen as vital for global food supplies, especially in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Russia refused to extend the deal in July, complaining that a parallel agreement promising to remove obstacles to Russian exports of food and fertilizer hadn’t been honored. It said restrictions on shipping and insurance hampered its agricultural trade, though it has shipped record amounts of wheat since last year.
Putin reiterated those complaints Monday, while also telling reporters that if those commitments were honored, Russia could return to the deal “within days.”
Erdogan also expressed hope that a breakthrough could come soon. He said Turkey and the United Nations — which both brokered the original deal — have put together a new package of proposals to unblock the issue.
“We believe that we will reach a solution that will meet the expectations in a short time,” Erdogan said at the news conference held with Putin in the Russian resort of Sochi.
Earlier, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock lashed out, saying Putin’s “game with the grain agreement is cynical.”
“It’s only because of Putin that the freighters don’t have free passage again,” she told reporters in Berlin.
A lot is riding on the negotiation. Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other goods that developing nations rely on.
Data from the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, which organized shipments under the deal, show that 57 percent of the grain from Ukraine went to developing nations, with the top destination being China.
Grain prices shot up after Russia pulled out of the deal but have since fallen back, indicating that there isn’t a big crunch in the market for the moment.
But failure to revive the agreement will have “drastic impacts” in countries such as Somalia and Egypt that rely heavily on Black Sea grain, according to Galip Dalay, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London.
Putin is looking for some relief from sanctions and at the same time is engaged in a “war of narratives,” Dalay said, because the Russian leader “doesn’t want to come across as the bad guy in the eyes of the global south as a result of this food insecurity.”
Ukraine and its allies have often noted that Russia’s move left many developing nations in the lurch, since so many were recipients of the grain.
Perhaps in an effort to address that accusation, Putin said Monday that Russia was close to finalizing an agreement to provide free grain to six African countries.
Last month, he promised shipments to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea and Central African Republic.
The Russian leader added that the country will ship one million metric tons (1.1 million tons) of cheap grain to Turkey for processing and delivery to poor countries.
In addition to pulling out of the grain deal, Russia has repeatedly attacked the Odesa region, where Ukraine’s main Black Sea port is. Hours before the Sochi meeting, the Kremlin’s forces launched a second barrage in two days on the area. The Ukrainian air force said it intercepted 23 of 32 drones that targeted the Odesa and Dnipropetrovsk regions. It did not specify damage caused by those that got through. / AP