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Turkey struggles to maintain Russia-Ukraine balance as grain crisis persists

Erdogan can ill afford to confront Russia by backing alternative means to sustain Ukrainian grain exports without Moscow’s involvement.
OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images
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Ukraine’s quest for new grain-shipping means bypassing Russia has put NATO member Turkey in a tight spot. Reluctant to confront Russia, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is at pains to find a way to talk Moscow back into the grain corridor deal and avoid further escalation in the Black Sea. 

A flurry of diplomacy has been under way since Russia’s exit last week from a UN- and Turkish-brokered deal that enabled Ukraine to export grain from its Black Sea ports via the Turkish Straits for the past year. Having effectively withdrawn safety guarantees for cargo ships, Russia doubled down with an announcement that it would deem all Ukraine-bound ships potential carriers of military cargo.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy initially suggested that his country, the United Nations and Turkey could maintain the grain corridor without Russia. An aide to Zelenskyy said Ukraine was also pushing for a UN-mandated military patrol that would include Black Sea states such as Turkey and Bulgaria. But in comments on such suggestions on July 19, a UN spokesperson said that “no one can ask the Secretary-General to provide security guarantees” in a war zone. Zelenskyy discussed the grain corridor with Erdogan over the phone two days later, but few details have emerged from the call.

Another suggestion is for cargo ships to sail through Romanian, Bulgarian and Turkish territorial waters after loading grain from Ukraine. 

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