Turkey has expressed continued interest in a beleaguered proposal to open a “grain corridor” that would facilitate the continued exports of grain from Ukraine to international markets along a sea corridor, which could provide Ukraine with additional income for its continuing war effort as well as ameliorate or prevent food shortages in the Middle East and Africa.
On June 8, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the proposal for a sea corridor for grain exports was “reasonable,” but would require further talks with Russia to ensure the safety of Ukrainian commercial vessels.
Speaking alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Cavusoglu expressed interest in facilitating ceasefire negotiations between the warring parties of the Russo–Ukrainian war, and said the talks with Russia in Ankara had been fruitful.
Lavrov asserted that the onus for establishing such a grain corridor is on Ukraine, and called on Ukraine to remove its mines from its Black Sea ports. Lavrov claimed that Russia had already fulfilled the necessary commitments to open the corridor, but Ukrainian officials have expressed skepticism that Russia will not take advantage of the de-mining of the Black Sea to attack Ukrainian ports.
Serhiy Ivashchenko, director of the Ukrainian grain traders union, said that de-mining the Black Sea would likely take several months and require naval supervision from Turkey and Romania. Even if such a deal were to be realized, shipping companies would likely face high insurance costs for exporting Ukrainian grains to target markets. With significant logistical hurdles to exporting grain by land, the problem of bringing Ukrainian crops to foreign markets remains complex but urgent for both Ukraine and recipient countries.
Prior to the Russian invasion in February 2020, Ukraine was one of the world’s leading grain-export countries, exporting over 35 million tons of corn and 16 million tons of wheat annually. Much of this grain supply is exported to the Middle East and North Africa, where Ukrainian and Russian grains are a staple of the local food supplies.
Adding urgency to the issue is the growing shortage of grain storage space within Ukraine, a consequence of surplus harvests and limited export opportunities. If these export problems are not solved imminently, they could result in excess food waste in Ukraine.
Turkey has found itself in a tight bind since the beginning of the war, as the country’s own economic troubles and trade dependence on the Russian Federation have prevented the land of Osman from joining its NATO partners in sanctioning Russia. With Turkish currency inflation reaching heretofore unseen levels, the potential for a grain scarcity to result in major economic and humanitarian calamity is of great concern for policymakers in the Anatolian nation.