The UK is offering its expertise to help escort Ukraine’s grain from its ports under a UN plan designed to prevent a mass famine across Africa, the UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said in Ankara on Thursday after meeting Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
Turkey has been trying to negotiate the terms of an escort for more than 20m tonnes of urgently needed Ukrainian grain, but Çavuşoğlu admitted he had not been able to secure a date for a meeting between Ukraine and Russia – a sign that an agreement on safe passage for the convoy has not been reached.
Russia is demanding the lifting of sanctions on Russian shipping in return for allowing the convoys to leave the Ukrainian port of Odessa and head through the Black Sea.
Truss said: It’s very clear that Ukrainian ports must be protected. There needs to be safe passage for commercial vessels. And the United Kingdom is offering our expertise on all of those fronts to make sure that we have the measures in place so that grain can safely leave but it is going to require an international effort.”
No agreement has yet been reached on the details of how the grain convoys would be inspected to ensure they were not carrying arms for Ukraine. It has been accepted that the ships technically can safely leave the heavily mined ports by establishing safe routes through the mines. Previously it had been thought the mines would need clearing.
Truss said the UK supported the plan for a UN resolution to legitimize the convoy, but added: “Russia cannot be allowed to delay and prevaricate. It’s urgent that action is taken within the next month ahead of the new harvest.” The impasse has meant Ukraine’s existing silos are full and subject to attack by Russian missiles. Turkey has been offering to run a control center in Istanbul from which the convoy operation could be jointly policed.
“Putin is weaponizing hunger, he’s using food security as a callous tool of war,” Truss said. “He’s blocked Ukrainian ports, and he is stopping 20m tonnes of grain being exported across the globe, holding the world to ransom.”
Failure to reach an agreement would have devastating consequences, she said, a reference to droughts that are already afflicting sub-Saharan Africa. A special food summit is due to be held in Rome on Friday as the west and Russia spar over responsibility for the grain blockade.
The UK defense secretary, Ben Wallace, is also in Turkey to discuss the British contribution to any convoy plan, as well to persuade Turkey to lift its current block on Sweden and Finland joining Nato over what Turkey categorises as a soft line on Turkish Kurdish terrorists operating in their countries.
So far there has been no breakthrough on the issue, although Turkey is pleased that a special session on threats to Nato on its southern flank will be included at the Nato summit, providing an opportunity for Turkey to raise the issue.
Çavuşoğlu said Sweden had provided papers to Turkey on what it was prepared to do to block the financing of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) from Sweden. The PKK has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since the 80s 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 shelve its objections to Swedish membership. Truss said Nato’s open-door policy must remain sacrosanct adding: “This is a moment for strength for commitment, and unity.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism