Russia's Lavrov in Turkey for talks on Ukraine grain exports

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (centre) is driven from Ataturk airport upon his arrival in Ankara, on June 7, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

ANKARA (AFP) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov began a two-day visit to Turkey on Tuesday (June 7) for talks on unblocking grain exports from Ukraine, which have been stalled by Moscow's offensive.

The plane carrying Lavrov landed at the airport in the Turkish capital Ankara, an AFP photographer saw.

This is Lavrov's second trip to Turkey after meeting his Turkish and Ukrainian counterparts Mevlut Cavusoglu and Dmytro Kuleba in Antalya on March 10.

Lavrov was forced to cancel a visit to Serbia on Monday after several of its neighbours prevented his plane from passing through their airspace.

At the request of the United Nations, Turkey has offered its services to escort maritime convoys from Ukrainian ports, despite the presence of mines - some of which have been detected near the Turkish coast.

Lavrov, accompanied by a military delegation, will meet with Cavusoglu on Wednesday.

At the heart of the negotiations is the opening of a security corridor to ship Ukrainian grain - cereals and wheat in particular - blocked in the war-torn country's ports.

Turkey's Agriculture Minister Vahit Kirisci hinted that Ankara and Kyiv reached an agreement for the purchase of cereals 25 per cent below the market price, local media reported.

"But they (Ukrainians) have a dilemma about security and export. They want us to be the arbitrator here as Turkey. Negotiations continue under the auspices of the UN," he was quoted as saying. "Both Russia and Ukraine trust us."

The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement it “appreciates Turkey’s efforts aimed at unblocking Ukrainian ports” but added that “for the moment there is no agreement on this point between Ukraine, Turkey and Russia.”

“Decisions must be taken with the participation of all parties concerned”, the ministry said.

“We reject any agreement that does not take into consideration the interests of Ukraine”, it added, underlining Kyiv’s wish for Western countries to send military support to Ukraine’s coast and take an active role in escorting convoys heading out of Ukrainian ports into the Black Sea.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu discussed grain export with Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar, the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.

"The defence ministers discussed in detail the issues of safety of navigation in the Black Sea in connection with solving the problem of grain export from Ukraine."

No meeting with Lavrov

Ukraine's embassy in Ankara denied some media reports of a possible meeting between ambassador Vasyl Bodnar and Lavrov.

"That's not true," an embassy spokesman said.

"There's no scheduled meeting tomorrow for our side with Russians."

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Bodnar on Friday accused Russia of "shamelessly" stealing Ukrainian grain and sending it overseas, including to Turkey.

His argument was supported by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who said reports of Russia stealing Ukrainian grain were "credible".

Turkey has positioned itself as a neutral mediator between its two Black Sea neighbours, as it maintains a delicate balancing act.

It has provided Ukraine with armed drones but has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia.

In a phone call last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Moscow was ready to work with Ankara to free up maritime shipping blocked during the war.

Russia's offensive in Ukraine and Western sanctions have disrupted supplies of wheat and other commodities from the two countries, fuelling concerns about the risk of shortages and hunger around the world.

Russia and Ukraine produce 30 per cent of the global wheat supply.

Dozens of container ships are blocked in Ukrainian ports surrounded by Russian forces, choking off exports of wheat, sunflower oil and other foodstuffs, as well as fertiliser for crops.

Black Sea navigation has also been hampered by mines placed by both Russian and Ukrainian forces.

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