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Russia and Ukraine are trying to break the grain impasse in Turkey

#Russia #Ukraine #break #grain #impasse #Turkey

Russia and Ukraine were scheduled to hold their first talks with UN officials and Turkey on Wednesday to break a months-long impasse on grain exports that has pushed up food prices and left millions starving.

The four-way meeting in Istanbul comes as the Russian invasion of Ukraine shows no sign of abating and the looming food shortages spreading across the poorest parts of the world.

Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat and cereals such as barley and corn. It has also provided nearly half of the sunflower oil traded in world markets.

But exports across the Black Sea have been blocked by Russian warships and mines laid by Kyiv to stave off a feared amphibious attack.

The negotiations are complicated by growing suspicions that Russia is attempting to export grain it has stolen from Ukrainian farmers in regions under its control.

US space agency data released last week shows that 22 percent of Ukraine’s farmland has come under Russian control since the February 24 invasion.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tried to downplay expectations of the Istanbul talks on Tuesday.

“We are indeed working hard, but there is still a long way to go,” the UN chief told reporters.

The meeting will be attended by military delegations from the three countries and diplomats from the United Nations.

Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said it would “focus on the safe transportation of grain waiting in Ukrainian ports to international markets.”

– Safe corridors –

NATO member Turkey has used its good relations with both the Kremlin and Western-backed leaders in Kyiv to try to broker an agreement on a safe route to deliver the grain.

Turkey says it has 20 merchant ships in the region that could be quickly loaded and sent to world markets.

A UN plan calls for ships to follow safe “corridors” that run between known mine sites.

Experts say demining the Black Sea is a complex operation that could take months — too long to handle the growing global food crisis.

Ukraine estimates that up to 25 million tons of grain are currently blocked in its ports.

A report by the International Rescue Committee’s international relief group last month warned that 47 million people were at risk of “severe hunger” this year.

Talks have picked up steam since Ukraine recaptured tiny but strategic Snake Island from Russia this month.

The uninhabited rock is close to routes used to export the grain.

Its return has already enabled Ukraine to start the first deliveries along the nearby Danube to Romania.

– Erdogan-Putin Meeting –

The talks in Istanbul follow a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next Tuesday in Tehran.

The first meeting of the two leaders since the Russian invasion will take place on the sidelines of a tripartite summit on Syria hosted by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

The war in Ukraine has contributed to Turkey’s mounting economic woes and further complicated Erdogan’s path to a third decade in power in elections due next year.

Erdoğan has been offering Putin a meeting for months – only to be rejected.

Both Ukraine and Russia made firm demands in talks on Wednesday.

A spokesman for Russia’s foreign ministry said Moscow wants to be able to “control and search the ships to avoid arms smuggling and Kiev’s obligation not to stage provocations.”

Ukraine said it was trying to ensure no solution threatened “the security of our southern regions” along the Black Sea.

Kyiv has also asked for its merchant ships to be escorted by warships from a friendly country like Turkey.

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#Russia #Ukraine #break #grain #impasse #Turkey

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