JEDDAH: Crisis talks will begin in Turkey on Wednesday on a deal to resume exports of grain from the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odesa amid a surge in global food prices.
Military delegations from Ukraine, Russia and Turkey will meet in Istanbul, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.
Turkey has been working with the UN to broker a deal after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine forced up the price of grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer.
Elements of the plan being discussed include Ukrainian vessels guiding grain ships in and out through mined port waters; Russia agreeing to a truce while shipments move; and Turkey — supported by the UN — inspecting ships to allay Russian fears of weapons smuggling.
“We are working hard indeed but there is still a way to go,” UN chief Antonio Guterres said. “Many people are talking about it. We prefer to try and do it.”
Ukraine and Russia are key global wheat suppliers. Russia is also a large fertilizer exporter and Ukraine is a significant producer of corn and sunflower oil.
Russia’s invasion and sea blockade of Ukraine has stalled exports, leaving dozens of ships stranded and more than 20 million tons of grain stuck in silos at Odesa. The coming harvest is also at risk as Ukraine is now short of storage space due to the halt in exports.
The US is also working to facilitate Russian grain and fertilizer exports, which have been hindered by Western sanctions.
Even if a deal is struck to resume Ukrainian exports, diplomats say shipping and insurance companies will then require assurances to restart trade given the risks in navigating mined waters. Ukraine fears that de-mining its ports would leave it far more vulnerable to Russian attack from the Black Sea.