Millions of tons of grain remain trapped in Ukraine as Russia continues its aggression against the country and world wheat prices soar.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Ankara Wednesday with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu for talks focused on creating shipping corridors to allow Ukrainian grain exports to access world markets. But both sides failed to reach any agreements to avert a looming world food crisis.
At a joint news conference with Lavrov, Cavusoglu said Turkey was ready to work with the United Nations to create a secure shipping corridor to allow Ukrainian ships to transport wheat to world markets.
Cavusoglu said Turkey sees it as a reasonable and implementable plan. But, he said, both Russia and Ukraine must accept the request from the U.N. Cavusoglu said Turkey offered to host a meeting in Istanbul to discuss the details.
Turkish and Russian officials have been talking about a plan for both navies to provide passage for Ukrainian cargo ships. But a key issue remains the removal of mines protecting the Ukrainian port of Odesa. Lavrov laid the responsibility on Kyiv.
Lavrov said that to solve this problem, the only thing needed, in Russia’s view, is for the Ukrainians to let vessels out of their ports, either by de-mining them or by marking out safe corridors. Nothing more, the Russian top diplomat said, is required.
But before removing the mines, Kyiv is looking for guarantees that Russian forces will not launch an amphibious attack on Odesa.
Lavrov pledged Russia would not attack, but Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, dismissed the offer as “empty words.”
Russian officials say soaring food prices have little to do with the Ukraine conflict.
On Wednesday, Cavusoglu backed Moscow’s call to lift international sanctions on Russia if a deal was struck to allow Ukrainian grain to reach world markets.
But Aaron Stein of the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute said Washington is unlikely to agree.
“One of the main hindrances of this (grain corridor deal), is that the Russians are demanding an easing of sanctions,” he said. It has been their position since this first came up a month or two ago. But the U.S. has no intention of easing sanctions.”
Despite a lack of progress in Wednesday’s talks, Turkish officials say a deal can still be achieved, although they say the current mistrust between Kyiv and Moscow remains a big obstacle.