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Russian President Vladimir Putin to the world: Russia will resume the wheat deal when all commitments are met. Erdogan: The solution to the problem of transporting grain through the Black Sea “depends on the fulfillment by Western countries of their promises.” Moscow reaffirms its intention to supply free of charge to each of six African countries between 25 and 50 thousand tons of grain.

Russia is ready to resume the Black Sea grain initiative and will do so as soon as all commitments – not only beneficial for Ukraine, but also those that were supposed to unlock Russian agri-food exports – are 100 percent fulfilled. This was stated by Russian President Vladimir Putin at a press conference summing up the talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, held on September 4 in the Russian city of Sochi on the Black Sea.

As the press secretary of the President of Russia Dmitry Peskov emphasized, “Putin chose words and expressions” in order to be as clear as possible and avoid misunderstandings and discrepancies. “I would like to confirm our principled position: we are ready to explore the possibility of reviving the deal on wheat (…) And we will do this as soon as all the obligations fixed in it are fully fulfilled,” Putin said.

After a lengthy face-to-face meeting with the Russian leader, President Erdogan also reaffirmed the Kremlin’s readiness to restart the Black Sea wheat deal: “Russia is ready to resume the Black Sea initiative (on wheat exports). Together with the UN, we have prepared a number of proposals. I believe that within this process, positive results can be achieved in a short time,” the Turkish President emphasized, acknowledging the fact that Russia “was forced” to withdraw from the agreement on wheat. “Remove the restrictions, and it will return,” Erdogan said.

Agreement on Black Sea Wheat

The Black Sea Wheat Agreement is an agreement signed on July 22, 2022, mediated by the UN and Turkey. The agreement consists of two parts. One protects the interests of Ukraine, the other of Russia. In fact, the agreement allowed the return of Ukrainian wheat to international markets after the outbreak of an armed conflict between Moscow and Kiev. Shortly after the signing, a Joint Coordinating Center (JCC) was established to oversee the implementation of the initiative. The headquarters was located in Istanbul, where representatives of Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, and the UN worked together.

Thanks to the agreement, Ukrainian merchant ships freely reached the port in Istanbul along the agreed humanitarian maritime corridor. Vessels bound for and from three Ukrainian ports – Odessa, Chornomorsk, and Pivdenny (known as Yuzhny in Soviet times) were regularly checked by JCC teams. The agreement allowed Ukraine to export about 33 million tons of grain, sunflower oil, and some other types of food.

Russian objections

On July 17, 2023, Russia announced its withdrawal from the agreement, refusing to sign an extension of the document for another six months. Moscow cited the “sabotage” of the West, which “by various sophisticated methods” prevents the export of grain, chemical fertilizers, and other agri-food products “produced in Russia.” And after the summit with Erdogan, President Putin again stressed that the West is still restricting Russian agricultural exports.

In addition to the free movement of its products around the world, Moscow demands to reconnect Rosselkhozbank, the largest credit institution in the Russian agricultural sector, to the SWIFT international payment system. As part of the anti-Russian sanctions policy, Rosselkhozbank, like the vast majority of Russian banks, was blocked from accessing the SWIFT system in June 2022.

Formally, Western sanctions do not directly affect Russian food exports, but restrictions on banking, logistics, and insurance have created insurmountable barriers to exports, effectively limiting them.

Global implications of not extending the wheat deal

According to the UN, only the free export of grains by both Ukraine and Russia, the world’s two largest exporters of wheat, barley, corn, rapeseed, rapeseed oil, sunflower seeds, and sunflower oil, will mitigate the risks of a global food crisis.

“The level of hunger in the world has reached a new high. In just two years, the number of people suffering from severe food shortage has doubled, from 135 million before the pandemic to 276 million today. More than half a million people live in hunger, which is an increase of more than 500% since 2016,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on May 18, 2022. “It is clear to us,” Guterres emphasized, “that there is no effective solution to the food crisis without the reintegration of Ukrainian production, as well as food and fertilizer produced by Russia and Belarus, into world markets, despite the war.”

Lightning and thunder of the propaganda war between Russia and the West

According to international media, “the dispute between the parties has turned into a propaganda battlefield.” While the West believes that Russia is causing global famine, Moscow punctually returns the charges to the sender. “It is clear,” Putin said after talks with Erdogan, “that the termination of the agreement had no consequences for world food markets. I would like to emphasize this aspect in particular. Grain prices continue to fall, there is no physical shortage of food. Of course, there are issues of fair distribution. But this has nothing to do with the so-called grain deal,” Putin said, according to whom “this is not surprising, since Ukraine’s share in world grain exports does not exceed 5% of the total.”

“The West deceived us about the humanitarian nature of the wheat deal,” Putin added, “and we were simply forced to withdraw from it,” but “this has nothing to do with rising food prices in the world.”

According to Putin, more than 70% of the richest countries benefited from the export of Ukrainian wheat in the year of the agreement, and only 3% went to the countries of the poorest segment.

And now Russia is ready not only to increase grain exports (this year’s harvest will be 130 million tons of grain, of which 60 million will be exported), but also to supply it for free to some poorer African countries. “We are close to completing agreements with six African countries to which we intend to supply free food, as well as free delivery and logistics,” Putin said, reaffirming his promise to send 25,000 to 50,000 tons of grain free of charge to each of these six unspecified countries. This was also confirmed by Erdogan, according to whom “very important” messages will soon be delivered, especially for African countries. “The most significant step concerns the issue of the grain (export) corridor. I believe that after our talks, the messages we will make will be very important, especially for African countries,” Erdogan told Turkish state television channel TRT.

Other negotiation topics

Upon discussing the issue of restoring the Black Sea agreement on wheat, the issues of the peace plan that Turkey has developed to end the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict (“thrown into the trash by Ukraine,” according to Putin), as well as strengthening economic and trade cooperation between Russia and Turkey, receded into the background.

“Turkey is ready to play its part,” so Russia and Ukraine could hold direct talks. “Of course,” Erdogan stressed, “Ukraine must soften its approach in order to be able to take steps together with Russia.”

At the economic and commercial level, Erdogan hopes that trade between Moscow and Ankara will soon grow from the current $62 billion to $100 billion a year. Russia is building a nuclear power plant in Turkey, while giant Gazprom plans to build a gas hub to be located in the Turkish province of Thrace. “Relations between Russia and Turkey are successfully developing in all sectors and areas”, President Putin noted.

Giornalisti e Redattori di Pluralia

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