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Grain Corridor Agreement: Expectations from Erdogan-Putin Meeting

In a significant diplomatic move, President Erdogan and Russian leader Putin are set to meet to discuss Russia’s reentry into the Grain Corridor Agreement.

Scheduled in the southern Russian city of Sochi, the meeting will revolve around a pivotal agenda item: the Grain Corridor Agreement. This international pact, originally mediated by Turkey and the United Nations but from which Russia withdrew in July, is at the forefront of discussions.

Why does the Grain Corridor Agreement matter, what are Russia’s conditions for rejoining, and what can we anticipate from the Erdogan-Putin summit? All eyes are on this crucial meeting, as Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskiy recently disclosed his discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron regarding the Grain Corridor Agreement.

Zelenskiy revealed that the meeting primarily addressed “mechanisms to ensure functionality” of the Grain Corridor Agreement, with a focus on fortifying the city of Odesa.

A substantial portion of Ukraine’s grain exports pass through the Odesa port, en route to destinations reached via the Black Sea and the Bosporus. Since the expiration of the Grain Agreement, Ukraine has been dispatching grain shipments through its self-declared humanitarian corridor.

However, the Odesa region has become a target for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operated by Russian forces. Just a few weeks ago, a grain depot in Odesa fell victim to UAV attacks.

Both Ukraine and Russia play pivotal roles as major global suppliers of essential food products, including wheat, barley, sunflower oil, and other grains. Their contributions are especially critical in various regions worldwide, such as Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Ukraine is renowned as a prominent corn exporter, while Russia is indispensable in the realm of fertilizer exports.

Disruptions in shipments from Ukraine, often referred to as the “breadbasket of the world,” have exacerbated the global food crisis, leading to a surge in grain prices on a global scale.

To combat the food crisis, the Grain Corridor Agreement was inked in July 2022, mediated by the United Nations and Turkey. This agreement enabled the safe transit of roughly 36 million tons of grain and other products from three Ukrainian ports, despite the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The accord also provided assurances that vessels entering and departing Ukrainian ports would not be subjected to attacks. It mandated that ships be inspected by Russian, Ukrainian, UN, and Turkish officials to ensure their cargo consisted solely of food products.

Originally designed to be renewed every four months, the agreement served as a beacon of hope amid ongoing hostilities and was renewed four times.

Initially set to expire on November 17, 2022, the agreement was extended for an additional 120 days. Subsequently, in March 2023, it was renewed for another 60 days, before finally, in May 2023, it was extended for a final 60 days, culminating with Russia’s unilateral withdrawal on July 18, 2023.

What prompted Russia’s withdrawal from the Grain Corridor Agreement? The agreement reached in July 2022 aimed to facilitate the circulation of Russian products as well. However, Russia contended that an alternative agreement, promising to eliminate hindrances to its food and fertilizer exports, was never implemented, prompting its withdrawal from the agreement.

Moscow has been vocal about the restrictions in transportation and insurance, which it claims have hindered agricultural trade, despite record wheat shipments in the past year.

Why did Turkey step in as a mediator? Since Putin’s withdrawal from the initiative, Erdogan has consistently pledged to renew arrangements that have effectively mitigated food crises in regions like Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Throughout the 18-month Ukrainian conflict, Erdogan maintained close relations with Putin. Turkey abstained from joining Western sanctions against Russia post-invasion, evolving into Russia’s primary trading partner and logistical hub for overseas trade.

Simultaneously, as a NATO member, Turkey has demonstrated its support for Ukraine through arms deliveries, meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and endorsement of Kiev’s aspirations to join NATO.

What are Russia’s demands? The Sochi summit follows discussions between the foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey on Thursday, where Russia presented a list of steps that Western nations need to take to reinitiate Ukraine’s Black Sea exports.

In August, Putin sought Turkey’s support to permit the shipment of Russian grain. Erdogan expressed sympathy for Putin’s stance, acknowledging that there were “expectations from Western countries” regarding the grain agreement.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently forwarded “concrete proposals” to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, aimed at opening Russian exports to global markets and resuming Black Sea shipments. Nevertheless, Lavrov asserted that Moscow was unsatisfied with the proposals.

Erdogan’s decision to allow the return of five Ukrainian commanders, who had been captured by Russia in July, provided they remained in Turkey for the duration of the war, irked Moscow.

Both leaders have been in power for over two decades. Since Putin extended his support to Erdogan following the failed coup attempt in 2016, a close partnership has flourished.

Although Turkey and Russia have traditionally been seen as rivals, they have grown closer as trade volumes increased, and they embarked on joint ventures, including the TurkStream natural gas pipeline and Turkey’s inaugural nuclear power plant. Turkey’s dealings with Moscow have often raised concerns among its Western allies. The acquisition of Russian-made air defense missiles in 2019 led to Washington’s exclusion of Turkey from the U.S.-led F-35 fighter jet program.

Despite being on opposing sides in conflicts like Syria, Libya, and Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia-Turkey relations have flourished in areas such as energy, defense, diplomacy, tourism, and trade. Putin has faced internal challenges since Erdogan’s re-election in May, including a brief armed uprising announced by the Wagner group in June, which could potentially paint him as a less reliable partner.

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