Turkey sees “no alternative” to the original grain agreement Ukraine struck with Russia, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Friday, dismissing an alternate route reportedly being considered by the United States, Agence France-Presse reported.
“We know alternative routes are being sought [for grain shipments], but we see no alternative to the original initiative because they carry risks,” Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan told reporters during a rare visit to Kyiv.
Russia last month pulled out of a landmark wartime agreement that enabled Ukraine to export more than 30 million tons of grain from three Black Sea ports.
That pullout led to a spike in grain prices that hit poorer countries hard.
The UN-backed agreement was mediated with the help of NATO member Turkey, which has maintained a neutral line in the war.
Russia has since warned that it could attack any ships traveling to or from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
Ukraine this month sent a cargo vessel to İstanbul to test an alternate route reportedly being backed by the United States.
The test voyage never entered international waters, staying in those controlled by NATO members Romania and Bulgaria before reaching Turkey.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the alternate route would shun the three ports being blockaded by Russia in favour of a Danube River port that flows into the Black Sea at Ukraine’s border with Romania.
But Fidan, who met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday, said Ankara was focused on reviving the original deal.
“Revitalizing this initiative is a priority for Turkey,” he said.
Zelensky hailed what he said was an “important” meeting with Fidan.
“We also talked about the situation that has arisen due to Russia’s dastardly attacks on grain exports in the Black Sea region,” he said on Telegram.
Zelensky accused Russia of “calculated” attacks “aimed at provoking crises in different regions of the world.”
He said he wanted, with Turkey’s help, to “restore security step by step.”
Russia’s own grain exports have been hampered by international sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine.
In recent weeks Moscow has struck Ukrainian infrastructure in the Black Sea port of Odesa and ports along the Danube River.
Kyiv has attacked several Russian vessels in the Black Sea, including an oil tanker. It has also threatened ships traveling towards ports occupied by Russian forces.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmygal said discussions with Fidan had also covered “the intensification of our trade and economic cooperation, the future reconstruction of Ukraine, as well as other joint projects that are promising for our countries.”
“We look forward to finalizing all procedures for the entry into force of the Free Trade Agreement as soon as possible,” he said on Telegram.
Turkey, a NATO member, has managed to maintain friendly ties with both Russia and Ukraine throughout the war.
Ankara has eschewed Western sanctions imposed on Russia but has supplied arms to Ukraine.