Russia is willing to unblock the exit of the grain if Ukraine agrees to demine the coast | International | The USA Print

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Moscow is willing to allow a naval corridor from Ukrainian territory to remove the cereal blocked by the Russian invasion and “it will not put up obstacles”, assured the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, at the end of a meeting with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara, in which the situation in Ukraine was discussed, above all. “The ball is now in Ukraine’s court,” said the head of Russian diplomacy in reference to the need to demine the ports that are going to be used. For the moment, Ukraine is silent on this proposal. Mistrust is the main Ukrainian argument for refusing to demine its port of Odessa, since it fears that the humanitarian corridor enabled and guaranteed by Turkey will also become a maritime corridor that facilitates an amphibious invasion from the south that was previously repelled.

The Government of kyiv assures that 25 million tons of cereal are stranded in the Ukrainian silos and ports, subjected to the naval blockade of the Russian Federation. Before the war, 95% of Ukraine’s agricultural production destined for export left the country through the Black Sea, something that is now being compensated for by land transport, although it is not enough. This situation has set off alarms, since several countries -especially in North Africa, such as Tunisia, Libya or Egypt- are highly dependent on Ukrainian wheat and it is feared that if the war and blockade continue, they will suffer a food crisis.

“Russia has taken the necessary steps to open the corridors for grain transportation. And we are prepared to offer security to the Ukrainian ships, and to work on it together with our Turkish friends,” Lavrov said, although he then charged against the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, whom he accused of putting “obstacles” to the plan by conditioning it on shipping of weapons to defend the Ukrainian coasts and ports against the Russian Navy.

A grain warehouse destroyed by Russian attacks in Cherkaska Lozova, outside Kharkov, in eastern Ukraine, on May 28.
A grain warehouse destroyed by Russian attacks in Cherkaska Lozova, outside Kharkov, in eastern Ukraine, on May 28. Bernat Armangue (AP)

The plan, proposed by Turkey and under the umbrella of the UN, contemplates that the merchants go, under Turkish military escort, to the port or ports designated to load the Ukrainian cereal (the one that is most considered is Odessa, but Moscow has also proposed Mariupol and Berdyansk, currently under his control). The ships would be checked by Russian inspectors to verify that they are not carrying weapons to Ukraine, a demand from Moscow that Turkey believes will not be an impediment to reaching an agreement. Afterwards, the Turkish naval forces would again escort the freighters through the Black Sea and then out through the Turkish straits towards the importing countries.

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“We consider this plan to be reasonable and plausible. Ukraine, Russia and Turkey have to accept it, we can host a meeting with the UN [para ello]”, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu said. For the plan to be carried out, it is essential that the ports used be cleared of the mines that the Ukrainians had in order to prevent a Russian amphibious assault. “If demining is not achieved, the naval corridor cannot be established,” warned Çavusoglu.

Security issues

The problem is not only logistical – a Ukrainian union representative estimated on Wednesday that demining the ports will take “no less than 2 or 3 months” – but also security: Ukraine does not trust Russia. In Ankara, Lavrov reiterated the guarantees given by Vladimir Putin a few days ago: “If those ports are cleared, we will not use our military force or abuse the situation.” But in kyiv they do not trust the words of the Kremlin, which also promised again and again that it would not invade Ukraine. Turkey is aware of this dilemma and Çavusoglu explained that it is trying to “articulate the plan” in its technical details to “address the concerns of both parties”.

Added to this mistrust of the Ukrainian authorities is the feeling of being plundered right under their noses while the fighting is heavier in the east of the country. Apart from the negotiation in Turkey, Moscow plans to remove Ukrainian cereal from the occupied port of Berdiansk, in southern Ukraine, this week, a practice that has been described by kyiv as “looting”. “Everything is ready for shipment. The first loads will most likely be our grain, which is actually very abundant; all the silos are full, we need to empty them to load the fresh harvest, because our harvesting campaign will start in a matter of weeks,” Vladimir Rogov, a member of the pro-Russian Military-Civil Administration of the Zaporizhia region, told the official TASS agency. Rogov, who does not hesitate to call the Ukrainian cereal “ours”, added: “The dispatch of the first ships is scheduled for this week” from Berdyansk, on the shores of the Sea of ​​Azov and neighboring the occupied port of Mariupol, where the pro-Russian authorities they have already removed Ukrainian steel on at least two occasions. A series of shipments that greatly irritate the Government of Volodímir Zelenski.

Cereals in a damaged silo after being shelled repeatedly in the Donetsk region on May 31.
Cereals in a damaged silo after being shelled repeatedly in the Donetsk region on May 31.SERHII NUZHNENKO (REUTERS)

The only explicit reference that Ukraine makes so far to the blocked grain has to do with planting and harvesting. Ukraine has sown 75% of the land it harvested last year despite “unprecedented challenges” the country has faced since it was invaded by Russia, the country’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Wednesday. In statements collected by the local agency Ukrainska Pravda, the prime minister insisted that, despite the current obstacles, the field is preparing for the next harvest.

The blockade of the main port of the country prevents Ukraine —seventh world exporter of wheat and corn and fourth of barley— from fulfilling its sales commitments to disadvantaged countries, especially Africans, leading the continent to a food crisis that anguishes world diplomacy . Ukraine exported 201 million tons of wheat last year and its size in the global market is enormous: Ukrainian cereals represent 11% of the world market, according to data from the country itself.

Unlike on previous occasions, Lavrov did not make the lifting of Western sanctions against Russia a condition for the unblocking of Ukrainian grain, although his Turkish counterpart did bring up the issue: “In the same way that we see it as legitimate that some products [ucranios] be exported [a través del corredor naval]we also believe that it is legitimate to lift the sanctions against [Rusia] in some products. He explicitly referred to Russian fertilizers, the lack of which is beginning to be felt in some regions of Latin America.

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