Russia and Turkey discuss grain blocked in black sea ports

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, on a visit to Turkey, said Wednesday that Moscow is ready to ensure the safe passage of vessels from Ukraine as concerns mount over grain stuck in Ukrainian ports.

"We are ready to ensure the safety of ships that leave Ukrainian ports," Lavrov told a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

"We are ready to do this in cooperation with our Turkish colleagues."

Lavrov arrived in Ankara on Tuesday amid stark warnings of global food shortages partly blamed on Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Talks focus on efforts to open a security corridor to ship Ukrainian grain, mainly cereals and wheat, stuck in the country's ports as a result of a Russian blockade.

Russia and Ukraine produce 30 percent of the global wheat supply.

According to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky some 20-25 million tonnes are blocked. "In the autumn that could be 70-75 million tonnes," he said on Monday.

“Legitimate demand”

In Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu called Russian demands for an end to sanctions to help grain onto the world market "legitimate".

"If we need to open up the international market to Ukrainian grain, we see the removal of obstacles standing in the way of Russia's exports as a legitimate demand," he said.

Sanctions imposed on Moscow's financial system have impeded the export of Russian grain and fertiliser.

At the request of the United Nations, Turkey has offered its services to escort maritime convoys from Ukrainian ports, despite the presence of mines -- some of which have been detected near the Turkish coast.

Food crisis

Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio warned Wednesday that millions of people could die of hunger unless Russia unblocked Ukraine's ports, as he hosted talks among Mediterranean ministers on the food crisis.

"The next few weeks will be crucial to resolving the situation," Di Maio said after a virtual meeting involving Turkey and Lebanon among other countries, as well as G7 president Germany and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

"I want to say clearly - we expect clear and concrete signals from Russia, because blocking grain exports means holding hostage and condemning to death millions of children, women and men."

No demining

But Ukraine said Wednesday it would not demine waters around the Black Sea port of Odessa to allow for grain to be exported, citing the threat of Russian attacks on the city.

"The moment we clear access to the port of Odessa, the Russian fleet will be there," spokesman for the regional administration Sergiy Bratchuk said in a video statement on social media.

He said that Russia "dreams of parachuting troops" into the city and that Moscow's army "wants to attack" Odessa.

Bratchuk said before the announcement that any exports from Odessa must be escorted "by NATO countries".

(With agencies)

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