There's a Lot Riding on Erdogan-Putin Meeting

Turkish, Russian leaders are meeting Monday in Sochi in effort to restart exports of Ukrainian grain
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 4, 2023 6:44 AM CDT
Turkey Makes Big Push to Revive Russian Grain Deal
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talk in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Erdogan will meet with Putin on Monday, Sept. 4, 2023 in a bid to persuade the Russian leader to rejoin the Black Sea grain deal.   (Vladimir Smirnov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday sought to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to revive an agreement that allowed Ukraine to export grain and other commodities from three Black Sea ports despite the war with Russia. Putin in July refused to extend the agreement, reports the AP, which was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations a year earlier and was seen as vital for global food supplies, especially in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil, and other goods that developing nations rely on. Erdogan said the grain deal was the headline issue at the daylong talks between the two leaders in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, where the Russian president has a residence. "Everyone is looking at the grain corridor issue," Erdogan said in opening remarks.

Putin acknowledged that "issues related to the Ukraine crisis" would be discussed. "I know that you intend to raise questions about the grain deal. We're open to negotiations on that subject," he told Erdogan. Russia broke off the deal, complaining that a parallel deal 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 even though it has shipped record amounts of wheat since last year. Analysts expect tough negotiations in Sochi. "My gut feeling is that Putin recognizes the leverage he has by using food as an economic weapon, and thus will fight for all he can get in terms of concessions on his wish-list," said Tim Benton, a food security expert at the Chatham House think tank. Those may include Russia's grains, or fertilizer exports, or wider issues, he said.

Data from the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, which organized the Ukraine shipments, shows that 57% of the grain from Ukraine went to developing nations, with the top destination being China, which received nearly a quarter of the food. Russia has repeatedly attacked the Odesa region, Ukraine's main Black Sea port area. The Turkish president has maintained close ties to Putin during the 18-month war in Ukraine. Turkey hasn't joined Western sanctions against Russia following its invasion, emerging as a main trading partner and logistical hub for Russia's overseas trade. Opening the talks, Putin mentioned various areas of bilateral cooperation, such as a proposed Russian gas hub in Turkey and the construction of the first nuclear power plant there, in which Moscow is actively involved.

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NATO member Turkey, however, has also supported Ukraine, sending arms, meeting President Volodymyr Zelensky, and backing Kyiv's bid to join NATO. The Sochi summit follows talks between the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers Thursday, in which Russia handed over a list of actions that the West would have to take in order for Ukraine's exports to resume. Erdogan has indicated sympathy with Putin's position. UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently sent Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov "concrete proposals" to get Russian exports to global markets and allowing the resumption of the Black Sea initiative. But Lavrov said Moscow wasn't satisfied with the letter. Describing Turkey's "intense" efforts to revive the agreement, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said it's a "process that tries to better understand Russia's position and requests, and to meet them."

(More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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