A Russian-flagged cargo ship, the Zhibek Zholy, suspected of carrying stolen Ukrainian grain, left the Turkish northwest port of Karasu late Wednesday, ship tracking data showed.
Ukraine’s Ambassador to Turkey Vasyl Bodnar on Sunday said Turkish authorities had detained the ship, which Kyiv has said was carrying grain from the occupied port of Berdyansk. Reuters previously reported that Ukraine had asked Turkey to arrest the ship.
But Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday dismissed rumors of the ship’s detention by authorities as false reports. It said the 7,146 dwt Zhibek Zholy was “undergoing standard procedures.”
The marinetraffic.com website showed Zhibek Zholy moving at least 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the Black Sea port of Karasu before apparently disappearing from view.
Kyiv has accused Moscow of stealing grain from territories seized by Russian forces since their invasion began in late February and taking it out of the country – either to Russian-occupied areas, Russia itself or other countries.
The Kremlin, which calls the action a “special military operation,” has previously denied that Russia has stolen any Ukrainian grain.
Turkish Foreign Ministry has earlier said it had investigated Ukraine’s public claims that grain stolen by Russia had made its way to Turkey and determined there was no issue.
“We are against Ukrainian grains or other goods being taken by Russia ... and we will not allow these goods to come to us,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters on June 23.
A Turkish diplomatic source on Tuesday said that Kyiv had shared with Ankara its claims about allegedly stolen grain being brought to Turkey via Russian ships and that cooperation with Ukrainian officials was ongoing.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday said it would summon Turkey’s ambassador to seek clarification after the Russian ship sailed.
It was “unacceptable” for the ship to have been allowed to leave, the Ukrainian ministry said.
“We regret that Russia’s ship Zhibek Zholy, which was full of stolen Ukrainian grain, was allowed to leave Karasu port, despite criminal evidence presented to the Turkish authorities,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko wrote on Twitter.
Citing the ship’s crew, Russia’s Tass news agency said Thursday that it planned to offload grain onto “a storage vessel” after leaving anchorage near a Turkish port.
The Refinitiv shipping tracker showed the ship’s destination to be Russia’s port of Kavkaz, with an estimated arrival date of Friday.
Ukraine is one of the top global wheat suppliers, but shipments have been halted by Russia’s invasion, causing global food shortages. The United Nations has appealed to both sides, as well as maritime neighbor Turkey, to agree to a corridor.
Ukraine accuses Russia of blocking the movement of its ships, and its President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said this week some 22 million tons of grain were stuck at the moment, with a further harvest of about 60 million tons expected in the autumn.
Russia denies it is blocking any movement of grain and says Ukraine is to blame for the lack of movement, partly because of what it says are mining operations in its ports.
Turkey has been playing a key role in discussions between the United Nations, Russia and Ukraine on a potential Black Sea corridor to export grain from Ukraine.
It has so far held talks with Moscow and the United Nations on the planned corridor, but has said any final agreement would require all parties to meet in Istanbul, where Turkey says the plan’s implementation would be monitored.
Both Ukraine and Russia have set out a series of conditions to agree with the plan. Moscow wants some Western sanctions lifted to help facilitate its grain and fertilizer exports, while Kyiv seeks security guarantees for its ports.