Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

The War in Ukraine...Grain Deal, Türki̇ye’s Role

The War in Ukraine...Grain Deal, Türki̇ye’s Role

Monday, 7 November, 2022 - 07:45

The war in Ukraine led to a very serious risk of a food crisis at a global level when Ukraine, one of the world’s top producers and exporters of grain was no longer able to export its products because of Russia’s blockade.

Before the war, Ukraine exported five million metric tones of grain each month. With the war, its grain exports went down by almost 90 percent and the UN World Food Program raised alarms.

There was a relief when in July, a Russia-Ukraine deal was brokered by the UN and Türkiye. In accordance with this deal, ships are loaded at the Ukrainian ports, they cross the Black Sea by safe corridors, pass through the Straits and travel to their destinations. The whole operation is supervised by the Joint Control Center in Istanbul.

The most important aspect of the agreement was that it would not be exploited for other purposes and would not be used as a cover for military operations. In this regard, an inspection of ships using the

“humanitarian corridor” (the safe corridor through which they sail) is an an essential part of the deal.

In general, the deal has worked very well. One major issue was whether the recipients of the grain were countries in most need or not. In any case, according to the United Nations, “since the operation began in August, 9.8 million tonnes of grain and foodstuffs have been moved from Ukrainian ports in more than 400 shipments under the Black Sea Grain Deal”.

However, a major incident occurred on 29 October, when ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet came under attack by a number of drones. Russia’s Minister of Defense claimed that the attack was perpetrated by Ukraine and they had exploited the terms of the deal. The Russian Minister of Defense announced that for this reason, his country had suspended its participation in the deal. This announcement sent shockwaves throughout the world.

Diplomacy came to the rescue. The UN and Türkiye, as the enablers of the grain deal, intervened. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan talked to Presidents Putin and Zelensky. The Ministers of Defense of these countries also engaged.

On Wednesday Russia announced its decision to rejoin the deal but reserved the right to withdraw altogether if Ukraine went back on its word.

Several western leaders and analysts stressed that Russia’s sharp u-turn was mainly due to not giving into its threats and blackmail. During the time between Saturday and Wednesday, grain shipments from Ukrainian ports continued in Russia’s absence.

It seems that in its efforts, Türkiye was able to get assurances from the Ukrainians that the grain corridors would not be used for military operations against Russia. Whether this is an admission of the

fact that Ukraine did use the corridor to stage military operations is a question that comes to mind. But what matters now is that Ukraine gave assurances and Russia accepted.

Another issue that was discussed was Russia’s difficulties in exporting its grain and fertilizers. Even though these items are not sanctioned, the so-called secondary sanctions are in play; high insurance and freight costs make exporting unfeasible. High-level Turkish officials indicated that this issue will be important in extending the grain deal which expires on November 19. Everyone hopes that it will be extended and for a longer period.

Putin has praised Türkiye’s efforts and pointed to the benefits of President Erdogan's neutrality in the conflict as a whole.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also thanked Erdogan “for his active participation in maintaining the grain agreement, and his unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine." UN Secretary-General Guterres joined them and said he was grateful for the diplomatic efforts of Türkiye.

These are great news for the Turkish President who is facing a number of very serious issues in the wake of presidential and parliamentary elections which are a few months away.

The major difficulty that Erdoğan is facing at home is in the economic sphere. On Thursday, the Turkish Statistical Institute came up with October statistics, according to which, the annual inflation rate increased to 85.5 percent in October, from 83.5 percent in the previous month. The monthly rise in consumer prices was 3.54 percent compared to a 3.1 percent rise in the previous month.

The war in Ukraine has provided Türkiye or rather the Turkish government with opportunities, political and economic. Turkish President has taken credit for acting as an honest broker and deal-maker between the two warring sides. His relationship with Putin has become pivotal.

The pro-Erdoğan Turkish press has been presenting these developments as outcomes of his diplomatic brinkmanship. President Erdoğan told the press that the secret of his success is frank talk with his counterparts. He also made references to strategic projects between Türkiye and Russia which are in the making, namely building nuclear reactors.

Also, a few weeks ago Putin said a natural gas hub could be set up in western Türkiye, in the Thrace region, to provide Europe with gas. President Erdogan responded very positively. This idea came as a

surprise to many, as it implied that there was a demand for Russian gas in Europe but the problem was how to deliver it. Whereas, in reality, the Europeans no longer regard Putin and Russia as a partner and they are looking for ways to reduce dependency on Russian gas by the way of alternatives. In any case, we can assume that the idea is for the distant future when (hopefully) things will be back to normal.

Putin and Erdoğan have an interesting history. The relations between the two countries were at their lowest with the downing of a Russian military plane by a Turkish jet in 2015. In time, things picked up and the two countries’ relationship now covers even the most strategic elements, including nuclear reactors and air defense systems.

These relations have become a concern for Türkiye’s NATO allies. But despite concerns, and even criticisms on a number of accounts, the positive and very important role that Türkiye has played, at least in the grain deal, has been appreciated.

A high-level UN official stated clearly, “exports from Ukraine and Russia under the deal, help lower grain prices, stabilize markets, and help feed millions where hunger and inflation are on the rise.”

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks