Black Sea Grain and Russian-Turkish Relations

Black Sea Grain and Russian-Turkish Relations

Black Sea Grain and Russian-Turkish Relations

During the past few weeks, many countries hoped that Turkish Foreign Minister Fidan’s and President Erdoğan’s visits to Russia would be a step toward reviving the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Unfortunately, this did not happen. During the joint press conference after the talks in Sochi, President Putin once again stressed that the Black Sea Grain Initiative was suspended because the Western countries had blocked the part of the deal that ensured Russian agricultural products access to global markets. He also said that of the 32.8 million tons of cargo exported from Ukraine, over 70 percent went to the wealthy countries, primarily to the EU, whereas the share of countries in real need of food aid accounted for only 3 percent, less than one million tons.

In Sochi, President Putin announced that Russia has proposed to supply one million tons of Russian grain at a preferential price for processing in Türkiye and then to transport it without cost to the neediest countries. He added that Russia is close to finalizing agreements with six African countries on food supplies free of charge and even offers free shipping. It appears that Qatar would contribute to these projects.

On the Black Sea Grain Initiative, President Erdoğan said Türkiye would continue working closely with the UN to ensure that the grain deal is revived. He also said that Türkiye is prepared to make every effort, to have one million tons of grain processed in Türkiye and sent to the neediest African countries.

Beyond the question of Black Sea grain, three documents, the first two published by the Russian Foreign Ministry and the third by the Kremlin provided a worthy of attention update on Russian-Turkish relations. These are:

- “Press release on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s upcoming talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan” of August 30[i],

- “Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answer to a media question at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Türkiye Hakan Fidan” of August 31[ii], and

- “President Putin’s and President Erdoğan’s” joint news conference” of September 4, 2023[iii],

The following are some takeaways from the three documents.

Russian Foreign Ministry’s Press Release:

“The political dialogue between the two countries, primarily at the top and high levels, is developing intensively despite the unfavorable international situation and pressure from third countries.”

“The foreign ministers of Russia and Türkiye are maintaining the intensive pace of bilateral interaction set by the heads of state.”

Foreign Minister Lavrov’s remarks at the joint news conference with Minister Fidan:

“We noted the dynamic development of bilateral relations. The intensive trust-based political dialogue continues to move forward, primarily at the highest level between President Vladimir Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”

“I would like to note that we welcome Türkiye’s independent foreign policy, which is geared towards its own national interests. We are well aware of the fact that the West is trying to cast doubt on this posture. For them, Türkiye’s position is a major irritant.”

“In this context, we consider constructive and equitable interaction with our country mutually beneficial economically and advantageous in terms of strengthening the sovereign basis of Türkiye’s foreign policy. We invariably strive to accommodate the requests of our Turkish partners to the fullest extent. This includes discounts on Russian energy, long-term energy supply agreements, measures to support the tourism industry by encouraging tourists from Russia and expanding imports of Turkish fruits and vegetables to our market. We strongly believe that in line with the agreements between our presidents, our Turkish partners will continue to respond with reciprocity despite pressure from the United States and its allies who seek to pit everyone against the Russian Federation. I am confident that these attempts will remain futile.”

President Putin’s remarks at the joint press conference in Sochi:

“During the discussion of bilateral economic ties, we were pleased to note the continued growth of trade. In 2022, it increased by 86 percent and reached a record-breaking 62 billion US dollars, though some estimates give an even bigger figure, while in the first half of this year, it increased another 4 percent.”

“Our countries also enjoy close interaction in gas supplies. Last year, Russia delivered 21.5 billion cubic meters of gas through the Turk Stream and Blue Stream pipelines to Türkiye. In January-August 2023, it delivered over 10 billion cubic meters of gas.”

“I want to emphasize that Russia has always been and will be a reliable, responsible gas supplier. We will continue to provide the Turkish economy with this cheap but highly efficient and environmentally friendly fuel. Moreover, we are ready to export gas to third countries that are interested in it through Türkiye. To that end, we have suggested creating a regional gas hub in Türkiye. Gazprom has submitted a draft road map for the project to BOTAS.”

“Russian-Turkish cooperation in agriculture is expanding quickly. Last year, mutual food deliveries reached 7.4 billion US dollars. This year, the growth continues, increasing by 19 percent in January-July.

“Naturally, we also discussed the development of tourism. Last year, over 5 million Russian tourists visited Türkiye, with another 2.2 million Russians visiting the country in the first six months of 2023. We hope that this dynamic will be maintained.

“Soon after the February’s devastating earthquake, our country was one of the first to send rescue and medical units to Türkiye. We also responded promptly to the country’s request to provide the Russian amphibious aircraft Be-200 to fight wildfires on the Aegean Sea coast.

“I especially want to mention the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant. As you know, construction is underway. I would like to highlight the second step in this area: in Türkiye, in the city of Sinop, we discussed the construction of a second nuclear power plant with my dear friend. With this step, Türkiye will undoubtedly break new ground.”

Needless to add, the two sides exchanged views on a wide range of international and regional issues during the two visits.

When Western capitals look at these documents, their focus will not be on Black Sea grain but on the current state of Türkiye’s relations with Russia.

During both visits, Moscow has done its best to underline that Ankara is a valuable partner. However, the strong references to Türkiye’s independent foreign policy and its substantial cooperation with Russia give the impression that Moscow has now chosen to exhibit this policy to further strain the already troubled relationship between Türkiye and the West. But before reaching farfetched conclusions, one needs to remember that European countries also had extensive and growing economic and trade relations with Russia until the latter invaded Ukraine. Yes, the war has led to anti-Russia sanctions and disruptions in trade and energy supplies. In brief, much has changed. But Türkiye’s problem is that it has already suffered from Western sanctions imposed on other regional countries, starting with the sanctions targeting Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Therefore, Türkiye’s reluctance to disrupt its economic, trade, and tourism cooperation with Russia has a past and needs to be understood. The two countries had been enemies for centuries and only the period of “détente” enabled them to build a more stable relationship. It is undesirable for both sides to turn the clock back.

Moreover, Russia is more than President Putin. Sanctions that give the impression of targeting the people of Russia are not a good investment in the future. Someday, Russian natural gas will resume its flow to Europe.

The Nobel Foundation has U-turned on its decision to invite the ambassador of Russia to the Nobel Prize award ceremony after widespread criticism. Perhaps one needs to remember that “The Nobel Peace Prize 1990” was awarded to Mikhail Gorbachev “for the leading role he played in the radical changes in East-West relations”. He indeed tried to transform Russia and engage the West. Sadly, all he got was this prize.

It seems that Ankara is currently engaged in a balancing act between the West and Russia. However, it should not lose sight of the fact that Türkiye is a member of NATO; it has wide-ranging institutional, political, economic, and trade relations with the West. The limit to Ankara’s cooperation with Moscow and other authoritarian powers is the starting of a discussion about the Turkish Republic’s identity; that, of course, if Türkiye is still a country committed to remaining on the democratic path. As for the Western countries, they need to make sure that their negative attitude toward the Erdoğan regime does not lead to an irreversible conviction among Turks that relations with the West have no future.