Thursday, February 29, 2024

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    Diplomatic Duet- Putin and Erdogan’s Epochal Encounter to Avert a Looming Global Food Crisis

    Leaders Convene in Sochi, Grasping for a Resolution to the Black Sea Grain Deal Standoff with Far-Reaching Implications

    In a momentous diplomatic rendezvous, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are poised to engage in their first face-to-face dialogue in a span of a year. This high-stakes encounter, meticulously orchestrated to avert the precipice of a renewed global food crisis, unfolds against the backdrop of the crisis stemming from Russia’s withdrawal from an accord safeguarding Ukrainian grain exports.

    Originally scheduled for August on Turkish soil, the meeting underwent several postponements, ultimately relocating to Russia’s opulent Black Sea retreat of Sochi. The rationale behind this shift rests upon accommodating President Putin, who, since the issuance of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court, has refrained from international travel.

    In the run-up to this pivotal engagement, the days leading to it bore witness to fevered consultations among Turkish and Russian diplomats. Additionally, officials from Turkey convened discussions with representatives from the European Union, the United Nations, Ukraine, and the United States, as confidentially disclosed by a source within close proximity to the Russian Foreign Ministry, who chose to remain anonymous owing to the sensitive nature of these preparations.

    Hope remains that these eminent leaders will strike a consensus; however, it is acknowledged that this endeavor is nothing short of arduous. “Until the eleventh hour, there were intensive deliberations regarding the modality and parameters for the potential restoration of the grain deal,” divulged the insider to The Moscow Times.

    The stakes are immeasurable, for failure to resurrect this agreement signifies the transformation of the Black Sea into a cauldron of unchecked military confrontation. The ramifications extend beyond the realm of armed forces, permeating into the domain of commercial shipping vessels, affecting not only belligerent parties like Russia and Ukraine but also all vessels navigating these perilous waters.

    The imperative recognition is that this scenario must be forestalled at all costs. The Kremlin’s unilateral decision to terminate the Black Sea grain accord in July, grounded on allegations of unmet demands, set the stage for the current impasse. For an entire year prior, this UN and Turkish-mediated pact had ensured the secure wartime exportation of grain and essential foodstuffs from Ukraine, an eminent global supplier, via Turkey.

    Turkey’s fervor to resuscitate this accord is twofold: to fortify its position as an international peace arbiter and, admittedly, to reap the fiscal rewards therein. As elucidated by a retired European diplomat, “Erdogan garners a substantial influx of capital as Turkey functions as a hub for grain, processing a portion into flour and marketing it as an indigenous product.”

    It is noteworthy that the July 2022 Black Sea grain agreement comprised multiple facets, including one between Turkey and Ukraine and another between Russia and the UN. Erdogan, however, finds himself bereft of the clout required to influence Moscow’s stipulations vis-à-vis the United States and the European Union, both of which remain inherently reluctant to rescind sanctions imposed upon Russia.

    A hypothetical avenue presents itself where Erdogan and Putin could contemplate substituting Ukrainian grain supplies with those offered by Russia, funded by Qatar. Regrettably, such a course of action is unlikely to garner Kyiv’s endorsement, as highlighted by the retired European diplomat, who contended, “In this scenario, tankers laden with Russian grain would become prime targets for Ukrainian military and intelligence operations,” concurred the insider from the Russian Foreign Ministry in correspondence with The Moscow Times.

    Alternatively, Turkey could conceivably assume the mantle of a nexus for grain provisions from both Ukraine and Russia. Yet, this endeavor is fraught with intricacies. Kyiv remains steadfast in its rejection of grain supplies originating from territories within Ukraine currently under Russian occupation, deeming them as illicitly acquired. The challenge lies in delineating and isolating such supplies from Russian grain, further compounding this intricate conundrum.

    Furthermore, the prospect of Ukraine refraining from hostilities against port infrastructure within annexed Crimea appears dubious at best.

    Erdogan’s unique distinction as the sole NATO leader maintaining unbroken relations with Putin and refraining from sanctioning Russia over its incursion into Ukraine positions him as a wielder of leverage in these negotiations.

    Beyond the sphere of grain supplies, an array of bilateral concerns will command attention at the negotiating table, as gleaned from an exclusive list obtained by The Moscow Times. Notable subjects on the docket encompass Russian gas exports to Turkey, nuclear energy cooperation, and tourism. The foreign policy agenda will encompass discussions on Syria and Libya, regions where both nations possess considerable interests, along with deliberations on the Azerbaijani blockade encumbering the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

    In recent times, Russia has emerged as a preeminent contender within the global agricultural and fertilizer markets. While the West refrained from targeting Russian grain and fertilizer with punitive measures post-Ukraine invasion, restrictions relating to insurance, financial transactions, and other ancillary aspects linked to these exports prompted Moscow’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement.

    Russia now proffers a litany of demands: the reintegration of state agricultural bank Rosselkhozbank into the SWIFT system, the resumption of agricultural equipment and spare parts deliveries, the lifting of insurance constraints on shipping, unrestricted port access, and unfreezing Russian financial assets earmarked for food and fertilizer procurement.

    The hiatus ensuing from the suspension of the grain deal has been punctuated by mounting tensions in the Black Sea theater, with both Moscow and Kyiv escalating hostilities. Russia orchestrated numerous aerial drone assaults on grain shipment infrastructure proximate to ports near Odesa and the Danube River, while Ukrainian naval drones inflicted damage on the Crimean bridge in July for the second time and intensified attacks on Russian naval assets.

    The ominous specter looms wherein both capitals intermittently threaten to classify vessels departing their respective ports, civilian vessels included, as military targets.

    In spite of Russia’s naval supremacy, the feasibility of executing a comprehensive blockade of Ukrainian ports, thereby disrupting grain shipments, remains elusive. Ukraine’s grain terminals on the Danube, situated along the border with NATO member Romania, confer the capability to export directly to Germany via this pivotal waterway.

    Equally, Moscow’s endeavors to curtail Ukraine’s land-based grain transport channels are fraught with challenges, as affirmed by Andrei Sizov, a prominent Russian authority in the agricultural and food industry.

    Conversely, Ukraine, armed with maritime drones, possesses the means to exert significant pressure, posing a formidable threat not only to Russian warships but also to Moscow’s grain and fertilizer transshipments from the principal Black Sea export hub of Novorossiysk.

    Should the grain deal remain in a state of limbo and the Ukrainian ports endure blockades, the world must brace itself for severe economic repercussions, accompanied by an intensified risk of hostilities engulfing the Black Sea. “If market sentiments turn turbulent and the Kerch Strait, responsible for 30% of Russian exports, is obstructed, a rally akin to that witnessed at the war’s onset may ensue. Within a matter of weeks, prices could surge by a substantial margin,” cautioned Sizov.

    This geopolitical gambit unfolds as Putin issues a stark ultimatum to Ukraine: negotiate now or forfeit your markets. Concurrently, Ukraine endeavors to dispel the notion of a blockade by authorizing the release of Ukrainian civilian vessels laden with grain. Thus, the current geopolitical chess match ensues, captivating global attention with its intricate and perilous nature.

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