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Russia-Turkey talks closely watched as more grain ships leave Ukraine – The Irish Times


Three more ships carrying grain, including one bound for Ireland, left Ukraine under a deal brokered by Ankara and the United Nations to end a Russian naval blockade, as the leaders of Turkey and Russia met for talks that were closely watched by Kyiv and the West.

The Panama-flagged Navistar set off from Odesa to Ringaskiddy on Friday carrying 33,000 tonnes of corn, while from Chornomorsk the Polarnet set sail for Turkey and the Rojen left for Britain with smaller cargoes of corn.

They will be monitored and inspected in the Black Sea by co-ordination staff in Istanbul who are overseeing the removal of Russia’s five-month blockade of Ukraine’s ports, which compounded the war-ravaged country’s economic pain and fuelled fears of hunger in parts of Africa and Asia.

The first ship to sail from Ukraine under the deal left Odesa on Monday, and Russian president Vladimir Putin lavished visiting Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan with praise on Friday for his role in helping secure the agreement.

“The shipments have already commenced, and I would like to thank you for that, as well as for the fact that a package agreement on export of Russian food and fertiliser to global markets was adopted simultaneously,” Mr Putin said, praising his guest for his “personal involvement” in securing the deal.

At a time when Moscow has reduced or stopped energy deliveries to many European states, Mr Putin hailed the continued smooth operation of the TurkStream pipeline, which he said was “now one of the critical pathways for supplies of Russian gas to Europe.”

“I believe European partners must be grateful to Turkey for its support of uninterrupted transit of our gas to the European market,” he said. “Oil, gas, coal and other goods – all are going in huge volumes…without any failures.”

The two leaders are nationalist autocrats who have cracked down on opponents and free media and have prickly relations with the West, but while working closely on energy and some other issues, they have also backed opposing sides in conflicts in Syria, Libya and in fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Turkey positions itself as a potential peace broker between Russia and Ukraine, but its arms producers sell weapons to Kyiv including powerful Bayraktar drones, which, according to some reports, Moscow is also interesting in acquiring.

Turkish presidential communications director Fahrettin Altun said on Friday that “the international community cannot end the war in Ukraine by ignoring Russia. Diplomacy and peace must prevail.”

“The truth is that some of our friends do not want the war to end. They are shedding crocodile tears,” he said, without naming which countries he had in mind.

Ukraine and its western allies were closely monitoring the talks in Sochi for signs that Turkey may be moving closer to the Kremlin, to the potential detriment of arms supplies to Kyiv and to the benefit of Russian efforts to bypass western sanctions on its economy.

Deadly fighting continued on Friday in eastern and southern Ukraine, and Russian and Ukrainian forces accused each other of firing shells that damaged power lines at a nuclear power station in partly occupied Zaporizhzhia region.

Officials in the southern government-held city of Mykolaiv said it would be under curfew from Friday night until Monday morning, in part to help Ukrainian security services hunt for suspected collaborators and saboteurs.

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