The UK is offering its expertise to help escort Ukraine’s grain from its ports as part of a UN plan designed to prevent mass starvation across Africa, the secretary said in Ankara on Thursday. British Foreign Minister, Liz Truss, after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
Turkey tried to negotiate terms for an escort for more than 20 million tonnes of urgently needed Ukrainian grain, but Çavuşoğlu said he was unable to secure a date for a meeting between Ukraine and Russia – a sign that an agreement on safe passage for the convoy had not been reached.
Çavuşoğlu also said that Turkey is investigating allegations by Ukrainian diplomats that Ukrainian grain was stolen by Russia and sent to Turkey, but has so far found no stolen cargo.
Russia is demanding the lifting of sanctions against Russian shipping in exchange for allowing convoys to leave the Ukrainian port of Odessa and cross the Black Sea.
Truss said: “It is very clear that Ukrainian ports need to be protected. There must be safe passage for commercial vessels. And the UK is offering its expertise on all of these fronts to ensure that we have the necessary measures in place to ensure that the grain can leave safely, but that will require an international effort.
No agreement has yet been reached on the details of how grain convoys would be inspected to ensure they were not carrying weapons for Ukraine. It has been accepted that ships can technically safely leave heavily mined ports by establishing safe routes through the mines. Previously it was thought that the mines would need to be cleared.
Truss said the UK supported the UN draft resolution to legitimize the convoy, but added: “Russia cannot be allowed to delay and prevaricate. There is an urgent need for action to be taken in the next month before the new harvest. The standoff has meant Ukraine’s existing silos are full and subject to Russian missile attacks. Turkey has offered to run a control center in Istanbul from which the convoy operation could be jointly controlled.
“Putin is weaponizing hunger, he is using food security as a ruthless tool of war,” Truss said. “He blocked Ukrainian ports and prevented the export of 20 million tonnes of grain across the world, holding the world to ransom.”
Failure to reach an agreement would have devastating consequences, she said, a reference to the droughts already plaguing sub-Saharan Africa. A special food summit is due to be held in Rome on Friday as the West and Russia clash over responsibility for the grain blockade.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is also in Turkey to discuss Britain’s contribution to any convoy plans, as well as to persuade Turkey to lift its current block on Sweden and Finland joining NATO on what Turkey calls soft line on Turkish Kurdish terrorists. operating in their country.
So far, there has been no breakthrough, although Turkey welcomes a special session on threats against NATO on its southern flank to be included in the NATO summit, offering Ankara the opportunity to raise the issue.
Çavuşoğlu said Sweden had provided documents to Turkey on what it was prepared to do to block funding for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from Sweden. The PKK has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since the 1980s and is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU.
The UK is a close ally of Turkey and is trying to use its influence to persuade Ankara to set aside its objections to Sweden’s membership. Truss said NATO’s open door policy must remain sacrosanct, adding: “This is a moment of strength, commitment and unity.”