Russia and Turkey have agreed to continue discussing a potential safe corridor in the Black Sea to export grain from Ukraine after talks in Moscow, the Russian defence ministry and Turkey’s state broadcaster said.
Ukraine is one of the top wheat suppliers globally, but its shipments have been halted by Russia’s invasion, causing global food shortages.
The UN has appealed to both sides, as well as maritime neighbour Turkey to agree on a corridor.
NATO member Turkey has held direct talks with Russia and the UN on the corridor but said on Wednesday more were needed for a deal.
To agree on the UN-led plan, Moscow wants some Western sanctions lifted to help facilitate its grain and fertiliser exports, and Kyiv seeks security guarantees for its ports.
Ankara, which has good ties with both, has said the demands are reasonable.
On Tuesday, sources in the Turkish presidency said a meeting between Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN would be held in Istanbul in coming weeks.
Turkey’s TRT Haber broadcaster said talks between the Turkish and Russian military officials on Tuesday were “positive and constructive”. A Turkish dry cargo ship stuck at the Ukrainian port of Mariupol – under Russian control – had safely departed from the port as a result, it said.
The Azov Concord vessel left Mariupol port hours after the meeting finished, TRT said. Talks were led by generals assigned to operate a “hotline” between Ankara, Moscow and Kyiv to seek a solution to the crisis, it added.
Without citing a source, TRT said “an understanding emerged for meetings to be held between Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and the UN to resolve the problem”.
Ankara has said it was ready to take an “observation mechanism” role to be formed in Istanbul to monitor the implementation of the sea corridor plan.
Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis and blames Western sanctions for the shortage.
Russia said the West was spreading lies about the causes of the global food crisis which Moscow said was being stoked by the sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and European Union due to the invasion of Ukraine.
Besides the death and devastation sown by Russia’s invasion, the war and the West’s attempt to cripple Russia’s economy as punishment have sent the price of grain, cooking oil, fertiliser and energy soaring, hurting global growth.
The US and EU members, which are supplying arms to Ukraine, have accused Russia of stoking a food crisis by preventing grain exports from Ukraine – which accounts for about one tenth of global wheat exports.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned on June 9 that millions of people could starve because of a Russian blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports which he said had left the world “on the brink of a terrible food crisis”.
Russia and Ukraine are two of the most important producers of agricultural commodities in the world. Russia is the world’s largest wheat exporter after the EU while Ukraine is the world’s top sunflower seed exporter.
Both play a big role on the barley, maize and rapeseed markets while Russia is one of the world’s top fertiliser exporters.