Putin demands Western concessions before Russia will restart vital grain deal

Moscow will re-enter a key grain export deal only if the West lifts banking and other restrictions that are hurting the Russian economy, the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, said Monday after a widely anticipated meeting with his Turkish counterpart.

Mr. Putin’s face-to-face conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Russian coastal town of Sochi was billed as an opportunity to pull Russia back into a U.N.-backed grain export deal established last year. That pact allowed for the export of grain and other food supplies from Ukrainian ports amid the Russia-Ukraine war. The Kremlin withdrew from the agreement in July and accused the West of failing to live up to its end of the bargain.

Ukraine and Russia are two of the world’s biggest agricultural exporters, and the loss of Ukrainian grain since the war began has meant hardship and rising staple prices for countries across the developing world.

The U.N.-brokered pact was seen as one of the few diplomatic breakthroughs of the war.

Mr. Putin said Monday he’s open to reviving the pact but accused Ukraine of using the grain export corridors along the Black Sea coast “to conduct terrorist attacks” against Russian forces. Mr. Putin also said that Russian participation in the agreement hinges on the West removing roadblocks to the export of Russian food and fertilizer.

Those goods aren’t directly subject to Western economic sanctions on Russia. But the Kremlin argues that other steps taken by the U.S. and Europe, such as suspending Moscow’s participation in the SWIFT international banking system and restrictions on shipping and insurance, have greatly restricted its agricultural trade.

SEE ALSO: Ukraine accuses Russia of trying to ‘provoke a food crisis’ after strikes on Odesa port

If such restrictions are lifted, Mr. Putin said Russia could return to the deal “within the nearest days.”

Mr. Erdogan acknowledged the high stakes of his conversations with Mr. Putin.

“Everyone is waiting for what will come out of our meeting today. I believe that the message at the press conference after the meeting will be an important step for the whole world, especially for African countries,” the Turkish president said, according to Reuters.

Indeed, about 57% of Ukrainian grain exports allowed under the deal went to developing nations, according to The Associated Press, including African nations.

In addition to pulling out of the deal, Russia has taken other actions that Western and Ukrainian officials say are hurting global food security. On Sunday, for example, Ukrainian officials accused Moscow of trying to “provoke a food crisis” after Russian military strikes against a key port in Ukraine’s Odesa region, a central hub for food exports.

The attacks on Ukraine’s Reni seaport saw Russia reportedly launch at least 25 Iranian-made “loitering” drones at the facility along Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. Ukrainian officials said 22 of those drones were shot down. Two people were injured in the attack, which lasted over three hours, Ukrainian officials said.

The Kremlin cast the attack as a legitimate military move and said the drones were intended to take out “fuel storage facilities” in Odesa used by the Ukrainian military.

But Ukrainian leaders said Russia had a different motivation. Andriy Yermak, chief of staff for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said the attacks were part of a much larger Russian effort to “to provoke a food crisis and hunger in the world.”

It was the latest in a string of Russian strikes against Ukrainian ports. U.S. officials have cast that strategy as exceedingly dangerous for the international food supply.

“This escalation demonstrates Moscow continues to prevent grain and foodstuffs from reaching those who need it most throughout the world. It is unacceptable. Putin simply does not care about global food security,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters last month, after one of the alleged Russian strikes on Ukrainian ports. “The contrast here is quite sharp. Our Ukrainians are inspiring the world, while Russia starves it by weaponizing food.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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