ANKARA: Russia on Friday threatened to bypass the UN-brokered grain deal unless obstacles to its agricultural exports were removed, while talks in Turkey agreed removing barriers was a necessary condition to extending the agreement beyond next month.
The Black Sea grain deal, first signed last July and twice renewed, is an attempt by the United Nations to ease a food crisis that predated the Russian war in Ukraine, but has been made worse by the most deadly war in Europe since World War Two.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attending talks in Ankara said he and Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu discussed “a failure” to implement the terms of the deal.
He said Russia could work outside it if Western countries maintain what he said were obstacles to agricultural exports that were getting tougher.
The deal ensures safe passage of grains and other commodities from Ukrainian ports despite a Russian naval blockade.
Lavrov said that if the West did not want to be honest about what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had sought to do with the deal, then Ukraine would have to use land and river routes to export.
“And we will work, if necessary, outside the framework of this initiative. We have the opportunity to do this with Turkey, with Qatar - the presidents discussed relevant plans,” Lavrov said.
Russia resisted longer extension
Last month, Russia said it would extend the deal for another 60 days even though the UN, Ukraine and Turkey had pushed for a repeat 120-day rollover.
Alongside Lavrov, Cavusoglu told a news conference that Turkey was committed to extending the deal beyond mid-May.
“We attach importance to the continuation of the agreement...not only for Russia and Ukraine’s grain and fertiliser exports, but also for stopping the world food crisis,” Cavusoglu said.
“We also agree that the obstacles to the export of Russian grain and fertiliser should be removed. Issues need to be addressed for the grain deal to be extended further,” he said.
Russia and Ukraine are two of the most important producers of agricultural commodities in the world, and major players in the wheat, barley, maize, rapeseed, rapeseed oil, sunflower seed and sunflower oil markets. Russia is also dominant on the fertiliser market.
More than 27 million tonnes of grain and other foodstuffs have been exported from Ukraine aboard 881 outbound vessels since the Black Sea Grain Initiative began in August, official data shows.
Lavrov said the two top diplomats discussed the grain deal, a potential gas hub in Turkey, the conflict in Syria, and Ukraine.
Nato-member Turkey has positioned itself as an intermediary between Kyiv and Moscow in the 13-month conflict, brokering with the UN the only significant diplomatic breakthrough so far.
Facilitating Russia’s food and fertiliser shipments is a central aspect of the package deal.
While Russian food and fertiliser exports are not under sweeping Western sanctions, Moscow says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance industries are a barrier.
Lavrov said that Russian grain and fertiliser exports were affected by a lack of access to insurance and to the SWIFT financial messaging system.