How a shipment of ‘stolen’ grain could sink the Black Sea truce – POLITICO

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Early in the morning of June 30, the Russian freighter Zhibek Zholy left the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk with 7,000 tons of grain.

The voyage was hailed by the local Moscow-appointed head of the occupied Zaporizhzhya region as “the first commercial ship” to leave the Ukrainian port after months of war, carrying much-needed supplies to “friendly countries”.

But many analysts believe the cargo was likely stolen from Ukrainian stores. They warn that the fate of the disputed grain shipment now threatens to ruin fragile talks over a permanent truce in the Black Sea, further eroding hopes for peace and exacerbating the food crisis gripping the world.

“This is a complete farce,” said Nazar Bobitski, the representative of the Polish employers’ and entrepreneurs’ union in Ukraine. “It is very likely that Russia will say ‘Look, we can organize safe corridors for grain,’ but from the Russian-occupied ports — meaning Ukrainian farmers will have to surrender the grain to the Russian armed forces to get transit.”

Russia’s decision to launch the Zhibek Zholy on its journey is typically provocative and could have far-reaching consequences. It is scheduled to dock in Turkey on the evening of July 1, putting the Ankara government in a potentially tricky position as well.

As the war turns global commodity markets upside down, countries in North Africa and the Middle East face shortages of wheat that they would normally source from Ukraine. All commercial shipments of Ukrainian food products through the Black Sea have been halted since the invasion began. The UN has warned that a famine could develop.

Turkey is acting as an independent mediator in talks between Russia and Ukraine to safely reopen shipping routes. But if Ankara allows the Zhibek Zholy to land his likely expropriated cargo, it risks being seen in Kiev as dealing in Vladimir Putin’s stolen goods.

Ukraine had appealed to Turkey to provide security guarantees for the shipment of its grain through the Black Sea.

Instead of sending the ship away, Turkish President Recep Tayyip said. Friday Erdoğan appeared to have decided to embrace his potential role in the supply chain.

“We can supply or re-export wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other agricultural products to countries in need,” Erdoğan said this at a press conference, according to the Russian news agency TASS. The Turkish president is ready to discuss the export issue during phone calls with Putin and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the agency said, adding that talks could take place any day.

The situation places Ukraine in a precarious position.

“Ukrainians have a very difficult balancing act: in this case, they don’t want to look like an obstruction, even if Russia steals their grain,” said Asli Aydıntaşbaş of the European Council for Foreign Relations.Russia’s whole game is about getting Ukraine to walk away from this grain export mechanism,” she said, “so that the Russians can say they are open to negotiations and a reasonable deal, but Ukrainians are not.”

The stakes remain high. As commodity prices rise, fueling inflation, Russia is blocking more than 20 million tons of grain in Ukraine. Earlier this week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi had raised hopes that an agreement to reopen the Black Sea shipping lanes was near, saying all it took was a final “yes” from Russia.

Ukrainian officials also indicated that appropriate security guarantees from Turkey or another NATO country could unlock the grain flow within days. These are calculations that are likely to weigh heavily in Kiev, along with the longer-term prospects for peace.

“They want to ruin their relationship with Turkey, which is not just about grain exports,” Aydıntaşbaş said. “As long as this war continues, it will remain a very important country for Ukrainians. It is understood that Ukraine will need negotiations at some point and that Turkey is likely to host these talks – for peace or a ceasefire or a localized ceasefire. Obviously, Turkey is Russia’s favorite country to talk to, and now Ukrainians cannot afford to upset Erdoğan.”

The West will feel uncomfortable with Turkey accepting such shipments, according to Marc Pierini, a visiting researcher at Carnegie Europe. “It could also pose difficulties for Turkey’s future role as an impartial broker for Ukraine’s grain exports,” he said.

Sait Akman, director of the G20 Studies Center of the Center for Multilateral Trade Studies of the Turkish Economic Policy Research Institute (TEPAV), said it appeared that Russia was trying to supply Ankara with grain that would “help lower wheat prices in Turkey.” , an important item in the rising bread prices.”

But there can also be a price. “Such a move by Russia will be challenged by Ukraine (and the West), who can claim such shipments are conducting torpedo calls to open a safe zone,” he said. “Such incidents could negatively impact Turkey’s critical role and credibility in securing protections to ensure [a] safe passage through the Black Sea.”

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