ANKARA, Turkey — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet with Turkish officials on Wednesday about a plan that could allow Ukraine to export its grain to global markets via the Black Sea amid an escalating food crisis.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the war and a Russian blockade of its ports have cut off much of that flow, putting food supplies to many developing countries at risk. Many of those gates are now also heavily mined.
In Ukraine, an estimated 22 million tons of grains are in silos.
Turkey is engaged in efforts to establish a UN-led mechanism that would create a safe corridor for the shipment of Ukrainian grain — and for Russia to export food and fertilizers. Turkey would facilitate and protect the grain’s transportation in the Black Sea, Turkish officials said.
A top Russian official said on Tuesday that Ukraine must remove the sea mines near the port of Odessa on the Black Sea in order to resume grain exports.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian military should monitor commercial ships carrying the grain to make sure they are not carrying weapons. He added that after they are loaded with grain, Russia would help escort the ships into international waters.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Tuesday that technical details are still being worked on.
“Our efforts continue with regard to technical planning on things like how it will be done, how the mines will be cleared, who will do it, how the corridor will be constructed and who will escort (ships),” Akar said.
Lavrov arrived in Turkey days after NATO members Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Montenegro reportedly refused to let his plane fly through their airspace to reach Serbia. Lavrov’s plane was able to fly directly over the Black Sea to Turkey.
Lavrov’s talks in the Turkish capital are also expected to focus on Turkey’s plans to launch a new cross-border offensive in northern Syria against the Syrian-Kurdish militia that Ankara views as a security risk. Turkey needs Moscow’s approval to continue its presence in northern Syria, despite the two opposing sides supporting the Syrian civil war. In 2020, 37 Turkish soldiers were killed in Russian-backed airstrikes against rebels in the last rebel-controlled province of Idlib.
“Turkey really needs Russia’s blessing to be able to continue this operation (in Syria). So I think they’re really going to try and get that kind of concession from the Russian side,” said Merve Tahiroglu, Turkey Program Coordinator at Project on Middle East Democracy.
Lavrov’s meeting also comes as Turkey – a NATO member – resists attempts by Sweden and Finland to join the alliance. Moscow has also objected to the candidacy of the Scandinavian countries, which analysts say could play a role in the discussions on Syria.
Turkey has maintained close ties with both Ukraine and Russia. It has criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but has not joined international sanctions against Russia.