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Putin says Russia ready to work with Qatar, Turkey on free grain transport to Africa

Officials from the Gulf country have yet to publicly comment on any deal with the two countries.

Russia is ready to join efforts with Qatar and Turkiye to transport grains to six African countries under a new mechanism, President Vladimir Putin told a press conference on Monday.

The Russian president’s remarks came following a three-hour meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. The visit was yet another attempt by the Turkish leader to revive the Black Sea grain deal following its expiry in July.

The previous landmark deal provided a safe corridor for much-needed grain shipments from three key Ukrainian Black Sea ports after deliveries were disrupted by the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

Bugün Rusya Devlet Başkanı, kıymetli dostum Sayın Putin ile Soçi'de bir araya geldik, gündemimizdeki konuları ele aldık.

Ticaret, enerji, tarım, turizm, ekonomi ve finans başta olmak üzere çok boyutlu iş birliğimizi daha da güçlendirmek istiyoruz. 🇹🇷🇷🇺…

— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) September 4, 2023

During the latest press conference, Putin reiterated his refusal to renew the deal if the West does not meet his demands, which include the lifting of sanctions on Russian grain exports.

However, the Russian leader noted that he is considering an “additional mechanism” with Doha and Ankara that does not replace the Black Sea deal, per a report by Qatar’s news agency (QNA).

“We are ready with Turkiye and Qatar to provide grain to poor African countries,” Putin said.

Speaking alongside Putin, President Erdogan also confirmed that Qatar has already been providing financial backing in order to transport ships to the targeted African countries.

“The State of Qatar is already making an effort while providing financial aid and funding specifically for the transport of ships to African countries,” Erdogan noted, without quantifying the Qatari financial backing.

The latest remarks by the two leaders come following reports that had pointed to a proposed trilateral scheme between Qatar, Turkiye and Russia, though officials from the Gulf country have yet to publicly comment on the matter.

Despite the lack of hope on the revival of the agreement, Erdogan appeared to be hopeful in reaching a breakthrough during his meeting with his Russian counterpart.

“We believe that we will reach a solution that will meet the expectations in a short time,” Erdogan told the press in Russia.

A landmark deal

Turkiye and the United Nations brokered the Black Sea grain deal in July last year, months after the start of the Russian war in Ukraine. Turkish efforts later led to the extension of the vital deal in May for an additional two months.

At the time, Qatar welcomed the extension of the deal and reiterated its “support for all international efforts aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the Russian-Ukrainian crisis.”

Under the deal, signatories agreed to set up a Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul to oversee the implementation of the crucial agreement. 

The closure of the blocked Black Sea routes heavily affected countries around the world that heavily depended on Russian and Ukrainian grains, resulting in a spike in global food prices.

At least 30.3 million tonnes of grain and foodstuffs were exported from Ukraine a year into the deal. The exports include 625,000 tonnes of aid to Afghanistan, Kenya, Somalia, and Yemen.

Putin has come under a barrage of criticism by the West in recent months for his refusal to renew the agreement. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock recently said that the Russian president’s “game with the grain agreement is cynical.”

“It’s only because of Putin that the freighters don’t have free passage again,” she told reporters in Germany, as quoted by Associated Press (AP)

Grain prices skyrocketed in the aftermath of the expiration date this year, heavily impacting developing nations.

However, last month, Putin said he would provide free grain supplies to six African countries—Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea, and the Central African Republic, the AP reported.

The war between Russia and Ukraine has dragged on for more than a year despite numerous mediation efforts led by Turkiye.

Between 24 February 2022 and 13 August 2023, the Russian invasion resulted in at least 26,384 civilian casualties, with  9,444 killed and 16,940 injured, per figures published by the UN last month.