8 June, 02:26 PM

Moscow is playing PR game over grain exports

Timothy Ash

UK Economist, covering Emerging Europe, Middle East and Africa.

It’s painful watching the Turks trying to negotiate with Russia to create some kind of grain export corridor out of Ukrainian ports. 

Moscow has little interest in allowing any such corridor unless:

a) By forcing Ukraine to de-mine its ports, like Odesa, gives Moscow the opportunity to launch new amphibious landings to take more of Ukraine’s coastline and complete its mission to make Ukraine landlocked.

b) It gets Western sanction moderation on its exports as the price of any deal - indeed, Turkish FM, Cavusoglu, seemed to suggest in talks today that that was a reasonable demand.

c) This could well just be a big PR game from Moscow. It knows a) and b) are just not going to happen but by pretending to negotiate with Turkey and to be seen as reasonable it can pin the blame on Ukraine for the no-deal and then the global food price crisis.

It is simply remarkable that Turkey thinks it can negotiate here without Ukraine at the table - it shows again a real naivety from the Turkish diplomatic stance that we also saw during the Istanbul and Antalya peace talks. They have shown zero understanding of the Ukrainian position. 

Question why is Turkey adopting such an approach when they must understand the risks of bowing to the Russian bear given their own regional knowledge. 

I sense here that what is driving this is Erdogan’s own precarious domestic political position - with low poll ratings, elections due in a year, and the economy in a desperately poor position.

Erdogan cannot afford, politically, this war to go on and keep energy and food import prices so high. He is desperate for a deal but unfortunately, I don’t think the Ukrainians are willing to pay the price.

Now Turkey has provided support to Ukraine by the provision of the celebrated Bayraktar drones, but beyond that Ankara has proven less than supportive - appearing too eager to force Ukraine to concede to Russian demands, appearing to want to profit from Western sanctions by providing a conduit for Russian capital trying to exit, and not joining Western sanctions despite being a NATO member, blocking Sweden and Finland’s NATO entry (albeit for understandable concerns over its own security and the Kurdish issue).

Turkey cannot have its cake and eat it. It’s either supporting Ukraine, with its NATO partners, or it is not. At the moment it appears duplicitous in Moscow’s PR games and is providing a PR platform for Putin and Lavrov when in all seriousness there seems to be little chance of a deal over food and grain corridors.

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