Slowly, in the dead of night, the Zhibek Zholy weighed anchor and set sail Wednesday night from the Turkish port of Karasu. To the chagrin of kyiv, which had warned the Turkish government that this Russian-flagged ship was illegally transporting 4,500 tons of Ukrainian grain, the freighter is already sailing through the Black Sea. In response, Ukraine has announced that it will summon the Turkish ambassador to the capital to, in the words of its foreign spokesman, “clarify this unacceptable situation.”
Turkey never reported the situation of the ship, which stopped a kilometer from the coast last Friday. According to the Ukrainian ambassador in Ankara, Vasyl Bodnar, the ship had been “detained by the Turkish customs authorities” after receiving detailed information about the ship’s activity. According to the Ukrainian government, the Zhibek Zholy had left the port of the occupied city of Berdyansk with stolen food.
“We regret that the Russian ship Zhibek Zholy, which was full of stolen Ukrainian grain, was allowed to leave Karasu despite the criminal evidence presented to the Turkish authorities,” foreign spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said Thursday. For its part, the Russian Foreign Ministry denied the news of the arrest, assuring that the freighter had been subjected “to standard procedures.”
The observation systems have been able to follow the trajectory of the ship during the first minutes after leaving the port, but then it has disappeared from the monitors in the middle of the Black Sea. Turning off the transponder that allows the ship to be identified has been, according to Ukraine, one of the tactics used by Russia to sell hundreds of thousands of tons of Ukrainian agricultural goods since 2014. This activity has increased since the beginning of the invasion, last february.
Two of the countries where the plundered products have allegedly ended up have been Syria, whose sanctioned government depends largely on the support of Russia, and Turkey, on the opposite shore of the Black Sea. Recently, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has stated that it has investigated the Ukrainian complaints about the allegedly stolen grain and concluded that there was no irregularity. “We will not allow these goods to come to us,” said its owner, Mevlut Çavusoglu.
According to the Reuters agency, kyiv has demanded that Turkey investigate three ships as part of its efforts to block this Ukrainian grain trade in Russian hands. In a letter to which the media has had access, Ukraine explains that three ships traveled from the main grain cargo terminal in Sevastopol, in Crimea, and arrived at Turkish ports. All three vessels belong to a subsidiary of a Western-sanctioned Russian company.
Meanwhile, at least 22 million tons of grain are still accumulated in Ukrainian silos due to the impossibility of leaving the port and serving to feed the rest of the world. Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky has warned that there could be 60 million tonnes more after the summer harvests, and has called for international help to transport the cargo safely through the Black Sea.
Turkey has tried to negotiate to facilitate this trade. However, his contacts with Russians and Ukrainians have so far had no effect. Last month, Russia declared that there is no impediment to trade except the presence of naval mines placed by Ukraine to protect the port of Odessa, and accused kyiv of trying to use the grain ships to transport weapons. Ankara has invoked a protocol that prohibits the entry of ships for military use into the Black Sea.
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