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Erdogan urges G-20 leaders to meet Russian demands on grain deal

NEW DELHI – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is urging several Group of 20 leaders to meet some of Russia’s demands to revive a deal that had allowed Ukrainian grain shipments and eased global food prices. 

Mr Erdogan helped broker the original Black Sea Grain Initiative in 2022.

He is making the push in closed-door meetings with leaders during the G-20 summit in New Delhi this weekend, people familiar with the talks said. 

While Turkey’s efforts aren’t likely to sway Ukraine’s allies in the US and Europe, Mr Erdogan’s embrace of Russia’s demands underlines the challenges he faces in his balancing act in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey is eager to restore shipments under the UN-backed deal, which Moscow quit in July.

But Mr Erdogan failed to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to rejoin the agreement in talks in Sochi, Russia on Monday. 

Turkey is asking world leaders to facilitate insurance of Russian food and fertiliser exports by Lloyd’s of London and to reconnect Moscow to the SWIFT system for international payments, according to three Turkish officials familiar with the discussions. They asked not to be named to discuss the sensitive matter. 

G-20 members are expected to urge “immediate and unimpeded deliveries of grain, foodstuffs, and fertilisers/inputs from the Russian Federation and Ukraine”, according to people familiar with the discussions.

They are expected to say the deal is important to meet demand in developing countries, particularly in Africa, and to call for the end of “military destruction” or other attacks on relevant infrastructure.

The US and its allies dismiss Russia’s claims that the limits are restricting Moscow’s farm exports and have so far resisted calls to ease the sanctions. 

Russia has so far rejected a compromise proposed by the UN.

It calls for the setting up of a subsidiary of the sanctioned state farm bank Rosselkhozbank and allow that on SWIFT, several European diplomats said. They said Turkey frequently mentions the status of the grain talks during meetings.

Ankara is trying to find consensus in an effort to revive the deal, an Indian official added. 

Uncertainty about the future of supplies from one of the world’s largest grain exporters has contributed to weeks of volatility in global wheat prices, as has the surge in hostilities in and around the Black Sea.

Turkey is telling its counterparts that the way to revive the deal is to ease some sanctions which Moscow claims prevent it from importing agricultural equipment such as tractors or spare parts, the Turkish officials said. 

“And to add insult to injury, Russia is offering 1 million tonnes of grain to African countries in a parody of generosity,” European Council President Charles Michel said in remarks at the summit’s opening session. “What cynicism and contempt for African countries, when we know that the Black Sea agreement has so far delivered more than 30 million tonnes of exports, mainly to the most vulnerable countries.”

Ukraine has engaged in talks with Romania and Bulgaria on an alternative maritime route that would pass from Ukraine via Romanian territorial waters, the European diplomats said. That route, however, would only potentially cover some of the need. BLOOMBERG

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