Sergei Lavrov was in Ankara, Turkey this week talking to his counterpart, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The subject was the inability of Ukraine to ship its grain to the global market and the food supply crisis this is already causing in many areas, particularly in Africa. There were various proposals floated, some of which were described as being promising. But one major problem was that Ukraine wasn’t invited to the talks and they weren’t exactly brimming with optimism or confidence in the Russians upholding their side of the bargain. Another issue is that Russia is continuing to deny that there’s really a problem in the first place and, if there is one, Ukraine caused it. A proposal to open sea lanes from a variety of ports of departure didn’t create any additional support from Ukraine, who suspect that the Russians would simply start shelling the ships as soon as they left port. Lavrov finally left Turkey without any sort of a deal being struck. (Wall Street Journal)
Russian and Turkish officials ended talks Wednesday without a significant breakthrough toward creating a sea lane to export grain from Ukraine across the Black Sea as a part of a United Nations-backed effort to address a global food crisis.
The Russian attack on Ukraine has blocked much of the smaller country’s massive grain exports since February and driven up food prices world-wide, heaping pressure on poorer nations, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, that rely on imported wheat.
Ukraine, which wasn’t part of the talks, hasn’t consented to any possible deal between Turkey and Russia, saying it needs guarantees that Moscow wouldn’t use a potential safe corridor to launch additional attacks.
This tweet from the Russian embassy in the UK offers what is claimed to be Vladimir Putin’s analysis of the situation. Let’s see if we can detect a pattern here.
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) June 7, 2022
To be fair, our own intelligence analysts agree that Ukraine did mine the port of Odesa. (Odds are that we gave them the mines.) But that was done to prevent Russia from having easy access to the port via the Black Sea so they could fire shells and missiles at the mainland from there. If Ukraine removes the mines while the war is dragging on, does anyone honestly believe that Putin wouldn’t send his ships in the next day? After all, every time they supposedly agreed to evacuation routes from Mariupol, they shelled the evacuees when they tried to use them.
Speaking of Mariupol, Russia controls that port now and claims to be offering unhindered access to ship out grain from there. The same issues arise as exist for Odesa, compounded by the fact that the Russians could now simply seize the grain as soon as it arrived at the port. They also suggest shipping the grain out through Hungary and Poland, but Ukraine is already doing that. Unfortunately, going overland takes much longer and raises the costs significantly. In other words, none of the “offers” that Putin is suggesting are worth the paper they’re printed on.
Perhaps what everyone should be addressing instead is the indisputable fact that Russia is essentially engaging in blackmail by preventing a major food supplier from bringing its goods to the global market. This action is driving up prices for staple food goods all around the world. Turkey does not appear to be acting as an honest agent in these negotiations and it’s easy to come away with the impression that the entire meeting in Ankara was little more than window dressing to make it look like our supposed NATO ally isn’t in bed with Moscow.
The longer this drags on, the worse it’s going to get for everyone, not just Ukraine. And ignoring Russia’s tactics and the effect they are having on the global market is not a solution. We may have some hard choices to make down the line and the United States and our allies need to prepare people for the possible eventualities.