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Ukraine asks for weapons to defend Odessa in exchange for demining the port and removing the grain blocked by Russia | International

kyiv maintains reservations about the plan proposed by Ankara to establish a naval corridor that would allow the exit of Ukrainian agricultural products blocked by the Russian invasion. Ukraine is one of the largest cereal exporters in the world and for several countries in Asia and North Africa it contributes up to half of the wheat they consume, which has set off alarms due to the food crisis that can cause the inability to take them to their destiny. According to the Government of Volodímir Zelenski, up to 25 million tons of cereal are stranded in Ukrainian territory and pending a solution negotiated by the two countries in conflict with the mediation of Turkey. The plan goes through the reopening of the Ukrainian port of Odessa, but kyiv maintains reserves and asks that they be given weapons to defend the Black Sea coast in case of Russian attack and naval patrols from third countries.

“Given the recent missile attacks on a Mikolaiv silo, we cannot rule out that Russia is planning to use this corridor to attack Odessa and southern Ukraine. That is why we need effective security guarantees to restore navigation. Those guarantees should go through the supply to Ukraine of appropriate weapons to protect the coast from naval threats and that naval forces of a third country patrol this area of ​​​​the Black Sea, ”reads a statement published by the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs this Tuesday, on the eve of the negotiations to be held in Turkey by the head of Russian diplomacy, Sergey Lavrov.

Last week, Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for the Turkish Executive, main adviser to President Erdogan and one of those involved in the negotiations, explained in an interview with this newspaper that the plan would involve taking out the Ukrainian grain through the port of Odessa in freighters. escorted by Turkish military ships. It would be an operation under the umbrella of the UN and with a center in Istanbul, from where the grain would be distributed to international markets and where the Russian and Ukrainian representatives who would supervise the process would establish their base.

“We cannot trust Putin”

The most delicate point of the plan is that, for merchant ships to enter and leave the port of Odessa, Ukraine must remove the floating mines that it placed to defend it. Turkey has offered to collaborate in demining and Russian President Vladimir Putin has given his word that he does not intend to attack the port city. But the Ukrainians do not trust the Russian leader, even less when last month Odessa was again in the crosshairs of the bombings. “Putin says that he will not use trade routes to attack Odessa. It is the same Putin who told the German Chancellor [Olaf] Scholz and the French President [Emmanuel] Macron that he was not going to attack Ukraine days before launching a full-scale invasion of our country. We cannot trust Putin, his words are worthless,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba wrote on Twitter on Monday.

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In Turkey, they hope that the backing and support that the United Nations can give will serve to clear the Ukrainian doubts. Minister Lavrov was optimistic on Tuesday about the possibility of reaching an agreement. The delegation that he will lead in Ankara includes experts in food and military issues, so it is expected that the details of the plan will be discussed at a technical level. “We are in talks with all parties to reach a solution and we have come a long way. Now we are dealing with the technical aspects: how the mines will be cleared, who will do it, how the corridor will be established, who will offer the escort… Both parties ask for guarantees from the other and we are trying to make sure of it,” he explained to the press. Press the Turkish Defense Minister, General Hulusi Akar, this Tuesday after a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigú.

However, during his stay in Turkey, Lavrov will not maintain contacts with Ukrainian representatives, diplomatic sources in kyiv explained. The Ukrainian government has not been invited to the Ankara talks either, so it is difficult to think about how the obstacles to reaching an agreement will be overcome. “We appreciate Turkey’s efforts to unblock Ukrainian ports. At the same time, we must underline that there is still no agreement on this issue between Ukraine, Turkey and Russia. We want to emphasize that decisions must be made with the participation of all parties. We will reject any agreement that does not take into account the interests of Ukraine,” the Foreign Ministry warned in its statement. Ukraine also does not welcome the demand that ships participating in the operation to unblock Ukrainian agricultural products be inspected by Russia.

grain theft

Another of kyiv’s complaints is that Russia is distributing Ukrainian grain stolen from the occupied territories. “We have seen that around half a million tons of grain have been stolen. There are tests in all the temporarily occupied regions: Kherson, Zaporizhia, Luhansk, Donetsk and Kharkiv. The cargo is brought to Russia, mainly from the Kharkov, Donetsk and Luhansk regions, or through Crimea, from the Zaporizhia and Kherson regions,” Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Agrarian Policy Taras Visotsky said last week.

In the Crimean peninsula, occupied by Russia since 2014, the cereal goes through the port of Sevastopol to international markets. “These cereals are taken to foreign countries, including Turkey. We have asked Ankara for help to solve this problem,” the Ukrainian ambassador to Ankara, Vasil Bodnar, denounced last Friday. Ukrainian diplomats have shared with the Turkish authorities the names of at least five cargo ships – some of which operate under the Russian flag and others under the Syrian flag – that would have participated in the sale of the stolen grain and that, according to their records, have recently called at Turkish ports.

kyiv has also thanked Egypt and Lebanon for refusing the docking of at least one Russian ship loaded with grain suspected of being stolen in Ukraine. According to analyzes based on open sources, the Reuters agency concluded that this rejected cereal ended up being unloaded in the Syrian port of Latakia.

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