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Lavrov to visit Turkey as Erdogan seeks new Black Sea mechanism with Russia

The Turkish president unveiled the efforts to set up a new safety regulation ahead of the top Russian diplomat’s visit.
TOPSHOT - Reporters ask questions as Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holds a press conference following his address to the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 23, 2023. Western powers through their support to Ukraine have effectively entered direct war against Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday. "You can call it anything you want, but they are fighting with us, they are straight-up fighting with us. We call it a hybrid war,

ANKARA — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Wednesday that his country, along with the United Nations, is pursuing a new safety mechanism for commercial vessels in the Black Sea. The Turkish president was speaking ahead of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's visit to Turkey this week. 

“There is a need for a regulation that will ensure navigation safety for commercial vessels in the Black Sea,” Erdogan said in a video message to the Ukraine–South East Europe Summit Declaration in Albania. “Within this context, in cooperation with the United Nations, we are continuing to carry out contacts for a regulation that will involve safety commitments in the Black Sea.”

The remarks come with Lavrov slated to arrive on Friday in Turkey, where he is expected to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan.

Lavrov will visit March 1-2 to attend the Antalya Diplomacy Forum in the country’s Mediterranean province, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday.

In addition to talks with Fidan, the Russian top diplomat is also expected to meet with Erdogan, as he usually does during his visits to Turkey, most recently in April 2023.

Erdogan refrained from providing specific details about the new mechanism. However, Turkey and the UN had previously brokered a deal between the two warring countries to ensure the safe export of Ukraine's grain from the Black Sea to world markets amid the ongoing conflict.

Ukraine, renowned as the world's breadbasket, ranks among the top 10 largest suppliers of barley, maize and wheat globally, according to European Union data.

The Kremlin withdrew from the mechanism in July 2023, a year after its establishment, citing the failure of the deal to meet commitments facilitating Russian exports. 

Since the collapse of the deal, commercial vessels leaving Ukrainian Black Sea ports have been using the waters of Black Sea NATO members Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey for safety.

However, on Feb. 26, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed concerns that the new route could be jeopardized if the US Congress does not approve a Ukraine aid package. “I think the route will be closed because to defend it, it’s also about some ammunition, some air defense and some other systems,” Zelenskyy told CNN.

According to Richard Gowan, the UN director at the International Crisis Group, the new mechanism would be much less comprehensive than the original Black Sea Grain Initiative, which involved Russian, Ukrainian and international inspectors.

“I think the goal is to get both Russia and Ukraine to make commitments to avoid attacks on civilian shipping in the Black Sea,” Gowan told Al-Monitor. “Both sides have an interest in securing safe transit for their exports. Ukraine’s successful strikes against the Russian fleet also means Kyiv is in a stronger negotiating position.”

Gowan added, “Russia will want progress on lifting obstacles to its own agricultural exports as part of a new deal."

The Antalya Diplomacy Forum, scheduled for March 1-3, previously hosted the first meeting between Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, in 2022 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which entered its third year last weekend.

In his video message on Wednesday, Erdogan reiterated his country’s readiness to host another meeting between the warring sides. “I believe that both sides coming together is essential for the success of peace initiatives,” he said.

The forum’s 2024 itinerary has been limited to Crimean Tatar leaders from Ukraine, namely Ahtem Chigoz, Refat Chubarov and Mustafa Kirimoglu, according to the summit’s website.

Chigoz, who was jailed by Russian authorities in 2015 along with several other Tatar leaders, was freed from prison and sent to Turkey under a deal struck between Ankara and Moscow in 2017. The exchange took place in return for the release of several Russian operatives held in a Turkish jail for their alleged roles in the murders of seven Chechen dissidents between 2000 and 2015.

Chubarov and Kirimoglu’s entry into the Crimean peninsula was also banned by Moscow. Turkey does not recognize Russia's 2014 annexation of the peninsula.