Wheat crisis, Turkey’s proposed mediation fails

from Francesco Battistini, sent to Kiev

Several Russian freight trains have already departed with the harvest stored in the captured Ukrainian silos. Moscow: Lift sanctions. The UN appeal. The Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio: So millions are starving

Middle East Express: the first train of wheat – wheat that until a few weeks ago was Ukrainian and now Russian – leaves early in the occupied Crimea and goes to Damascus. Shortly thereafter, a green light for another ten wagons stopped in the overrun station of Zaporizhzhia, destination Sevastopol and then somewhere in the Near East. Third whistle of the day in Melitopol: here are the Russians moving another convoy, full of Ukrainian crops, to Crimea and then who knows. At about the same time, in Ankara, a journalist from public television in Kiev gets up at a press conference, asks to ask a question to the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, and looks him straight in the eye: Mr. Minister, apart from the wheat, what else is Russia stealing from Ukraine ?. Life, the land, the future. And the wheat, of course. It does not come out: the impossible agreement, which the Turks tried to find with Lavrov yesterday, proved to be extremely impossible. No concrete agreement, the Ukrainians clarify: the meeting organized by Mevlut Cavusoglu, Erdogan’s minister, lasted even less than those in March, when he was trying to negotiate a kind of peace. Ankara’s proposal to open a neutral corridor from Odessa to the sea, de-mined and guaranteed by the Turks themselves, would be a reasonable and feasible objective, with the Russian promise not to take advantage of it to attack the Ukrainian port. Reasonable, perhaps. Far less feasible: Moscow wants Kiev to do demining, proposes to help escort the cargoes of grain that have sailed from Odessa and in the meantime asks for the export sanctions to be lifted; the Ukrainians consider Lavrov’s words empty, warn that demining will take months (and meanwhile the wheat rots) and in any case they do not trust at all to clear the Black Sea, removing the mines, only because Putin promises to keep his artillery still.

The bluff

Five days were enough to understand that the Tsar was still bluffing: Russia uses the grain blockade to ask for sanctions to be relaxed and to say so Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, when he demands a modification of the sanctions on the insurance of our ships and on the impossibility of calling at European ports. And what interest can Putin have in an agreement, Kiev wonders, when he can block the ships of our grain, steal it and export it by train, sell it at a higher price on the markets of Africa and Asia? This food genocide, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calls it, worries the world: 94 countries, for a total of one billion and 600 million people, are seriously exposed to the risk of a famine caused by the blockade. An essential agreement, invokes the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres. Rarely has food shortages had such an impact – says the Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio – from Russia we expect clear and concrete signals, because blocking grain exports means holding and condemning millions of children and women hostage to death. and men far from the front of the conflict. Dead waters? The Turks have too many interests in the Black Sea and continue to mediate, not just for wheat. But he says a lot about Lavrov’s annoyance, with whom he replied yesterday (not) to the Ukrainian journalist and left the press conference: There is no obstacle caused by us.

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