Turkey has announced that it sees “feasible” a mechanism to facilitate the transport of Ukrainian goods safely through the Black Sea. However, Russia, which flatly denies that it is hindering exports of grain or sunflower oil from Ukrainian ports, has hinted that its participation in said mechanism involves easing sanctions. Furthermore, the Russians have accused the Ukrainian president of using the export problem to import weapons.

“Ukraine, Russia and Turkey should first agree on this plan. Our offer is to arrange a meeting to address this problem,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu emphasized at a joint press conference on Wednesday with his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. According to Çavusoglu, the United Nations proposed the initial plan. “Hopefully the technical preparations can be made as soon as possible so that [the plan] is beneficial to both parties,” the minister added.

Without a clear announcement about the imminent opening of a safe sea lane, which would alleviate the serious food problem faced by many countries, the real message had to be read between the lines: the Kremlin has demanded that Turkey make the problem of Ukrainian exports it is linked to the possibility that Russia can develop its own commercial activity. That is, that she is not subjected to sanctions.

“Of course it is legitimate for the Russian Federation to allow plans to export cereals and sunflower products. Russia’s wish is for sanctions to be lifted, for ship logistics to be ensured, for ships to reach the ports and that services are provided to them and that the necessary steps are taken in the banking aspect”, Mevlut Çavusoglu has enumerated. “If there is a need in the world for these exports to be produced, a debate must be opened,” he said.

“There is a real food crisis in the world. We should not focus only on the problem of Ukraine’s exports. There is also the problem of fertilizer from Russia,” Lavrov dropped in the middle of the response to a journalist. Immediately afterwards, Vladimir Putin’s envoy issued one of those hoax-scented headlines: “There are no obstacles on the Russian side for Ukrainian merchant ships to transit.”

According to the Russian version, “the Ukrainians are trying to present us as if we were preventing trade. It is not true,” he insisted. “We have constantly opened humanitarian corridors.” But Zelensky, says Lavrov, “refuses to deactivate the mines” that should allow the movement of ships from Ukrainian ports. “He is not interested in solving the problem.” The point, Lavrov concluded, is that Ukraine wants to use those same sea lanes to import weapons.

In his next turn with journalists, Çavusoglu has delved into the Russian arguments. “Grain exports from Russia and Ukraine account for a third of the global.” “Weapons should not be transported” through the proposed corridors, said the Turkish minister, who has proposed “a mechanism to inspect” the ships. “We have offered a mechanism to the United Nations to allow the lifting of export barriers and address the security concerns of both.”

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