President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday said Russian President Vladimir Putin was right to complain that grain from Ukraine under a U.N.-backed deal was going mostly to wealthy rather than poor countries, stressing that he wanted grain from Russia to be exported too.
The landmark July grain deal aimed to avert a global food crisis by guaranteeing the safe passage of ships in and out of Ukrainian ports, allowing them to export tens of millions of tons of grain that had been blockaded by Russia's invasion.
The deal – signed by Ukraine, Russia, Türkiye and the United Nations – also facilitates Russian exports.
“The fact that grain shipments are going to the countries that implement these sanctions (against Moscow) are disturbing Mr. Putin. We also want grain shipments to start from Russia,” Erdoğan said at a news conference with his Croatian counterpart Zoran Milanovic in the capital Zagreb.
Erdoğan said Russian President Putin was “right” that “the grain that comes as part of this grain deal, unfortunately, goes to rich countries, not to poor countries.”
The Istanbul-based coordination group, which includes the four signatories, said some 30% of cargo has gone to low and lower-middle income countries.
On Wednesday, Putin said Russia and the developing world had been “cheated” by the grain export deal, vowing to look to revise its terms to limit the countries that can receive shipments.
“What we see is a brazen deception ... a deception by the international community of our partners in Africa, and other countries that are in dire need of food. It’s just a scam,” Putin said.
“If we exclude Türkiye as an intermediary country, then almost all the grain exported from Ukraine is sent not to the poorest developing countries, but to European Union countries.”
Putin said only two of 87 ships, carrying 60,000 tons of products, went to poor countries, as he accused the West of acting as colonial states.
In his strongest comments on the topic since the deal was reached, Putin warned of a global food crisis if the situation was not addressed and said he would contact Erdoğan to discuss amending the deal to restrict which countries can receive shipments.
Erdoğan on Thursday confirmed he would discuss the issue with Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit that will be held in Uzbekistan next week.
The two leaders had met early in August and agreed to boost business cooperation.
NATO member Türkiye has close ties with both Russia and Ukraine and has sought to balance relations through the war. It has criticized Moscow’s invasion and provided Ukraine with arms, including drones, which played a significant role in deterring a Russian advance early in the conflict.
Ankara refuses to join the West in imposing sanctions on Russia – a stance it says has helped its mediation efforts reap results. It also cites its reliance on Russian energy supplies.
Ukraine’s agriculture minister said on Wednesday it was not aware of any formal steps taken by Russia to amend the terms of the deal, which remains the only significant diplomatic breakthrough in the six-month conflict.
“It is obvious that with this approach, the scale of food problems in the world will only increase ... which can lead to an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe,” the Russian president said.
U.N. and Russian officials met in Geneva Wednesday to discuss Russian complaints that Western sanctions were impeding its grain and fertilizer exports despite the deal, which was signed by Russia, Ukraine, Türkiye and the United Nations.
Ismini Palla, a U.N. spokesperson for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, said a drop in global wheat prices in August was partly due to exports resuming from Ukraine, and ensuring food and fertilizer supplies was critical to maintaining this trend.
Putin said some restrictions on Russia’s fertilizer exports had been eased, but “clever sanctions” were still complicating the country’s trade.
Moscow says it was promised the removal of some logistical sanctions which it says disrupt its own exports of agricultural products and fertilizers, in exchange for easing the military blockade on Ukraine’s southern ports.
Despite some 100 cargo ships having left Ukrainian ports since the deal was signed in late July, Ukraine’s wheat has still not been reaching its traditional clients in Africa at anywhere near normal volumes.
The U.N. and Türkiye-brokered deal must be renewed every 120 days by agreement of the parties. It expires in late November.