Black smoke in Sochi, Putin does not give up on the grain

Black smoke in Sochi, Putin does not give up on the grain

This time the mountain didn’t even give birth to the proverbial little mouse. The long-awaited meeting between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan – the first in attendance after almost a year – has not led to any decision on Moscow’s return to the wheat agreement, nor has it produced any results for the peace mediation that Turkey would like resume between Russia and Ukraine. Moscow, Putin reiterated, will accept a resumption of the agreement for the export of Ukrainian cereals only when the restrictions on its export of grain and fertilizers are lifted. As for the situation on the ground, “the Ukrainian counter-offensive has failed” and there is no concrete prospect of negotiations on the horizon. The Turkish president said that his country has prepared “some proposals together with the UN” that could convince Russia to return to the wheat agreement. Indeed, Moscow underlines that with the agreement reached in the summer of 2022 between Russia and Ukraine with the mediation of Ankara and the United Nations, a memorandum was also adopted which provided for the removal of obstacles to exports of Russian cereals, but which has never been applied. While Western sanctions do not directly affect food exports, the restrictions imposed on banking, logistics and insurance create often insurmountable barriers. And this while Russian production – 130 million tons of wheat expected this year, with 60 million that can be exported – according to Putin could make a decisive contribution to combating the food problems of the poorest countries. Among other things, the tsar claimed that exports of Ukrainian wheat in the year in which the agreement lasted, until last July, benefited more than 70% of the richest countries, and only to the extent of 3 % of those in the poorest bracket. Putin also accused the Ukrainians of using humanitarian corridors reserved for ships in the Black Sea to attack Russian military and civilian targets, including the Turkish Stream and Blue Stream pipelines and Russian ships deployed to protect them. “This can no longer be tolerated,” he warned. But the Russian leader also seemed to question the need for the agreement, underlining that “wheat prices continue to fall” despite its suspension. “There is not a physical lack of food, but of its equitable distribution”, he insisted, announcing that within a few weeks Russia’s initiative to make free deliveries of cereals to six of the poorest African countries should become operational. 25,000 to 50,000 tonnes each are expected to be supplied to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea. A plan in which some critics see a propaganda move to try to dust off an anti-colonialist Russian identity in the wake of the Soviet legacy. However, Turkey does not give up. “We believe that we will soon be able to reach a solution that meets expectations,” Erdogan assured. For the wheat deal, sure. But Ankara also wants to re-propose itself as a peace mediator between Moscow and Kiev, and on this the Sultan has launched a dig at Ukraine, inviting it to “soften” its position. Turkish mediation had led in March 2022 to a meeting between delegations of the two enemies in Istanbul, from which drafts had come out to continue the negotiations. “But then Kiev threw them in the trash,” accused Putin. “Now we hear about some new initiatives, but they haven’t been discussed with us and therefore we don’t perceive anything new,” the Kremlin head lamented. The three-hour talks in Sochi appear to have been more successful on topics of bilateral interest. On nuclear power, for example, with Putin announcing the start-up next year of the first Turkish power plant built by the Russians at Akkuyu, and Erdogan who spoke of “steps forward” for the construction of the second at Sinop, on the Black Sea. In the energy field, a work group was also created for the construction of a gas hub in Turkey, fueled by Russian raw materials. And then, away from the spotlight all focused on Ukraine, Putin and Erdogan spoke of the future of two countries where they support conflicting factions and interests: Syria and above all Libya. Reproduction reserved © Copyright ANSA

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