© Reuters. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a joint news conference with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala (not seen), as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine October 31, 2022. REUTERS/Viacheslav Ratynskyi
By Ali Kucukgocmen and Jonathan Landay
ANKARA/MYKOLAIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Turkey set out Russia’s terms on Wednesday for the resumption of a deal to free up grain exports from war-torn Ukraine that are vital to global supplies, saying Moscow wanted to secure its own exports of grain and fertilizers.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, whose country helped broker the July 22 deal alongside the United Nations with the aim of easing a world food crisis, said Ankara believed an agreement would be reached to extend it.
Russia suspended its involvement in the deal over the weekend, saying it could not guarantee safety for civilian ships crossing the Black Sea because of an attack on its fleet there. Ukraine said that was a false pretext.
Ships have continued to carry Ukrainian grain on the route despite the suspension, but that was unlikely to continue for long because insurance companies were not issuing new contracts due to Russia’s move, industry sources told Reuters.
“Russia has some security demands after the recent attack on its ships,” Cavusoglu said of the weekend attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which Moscow said it had fended off.
Moscow is also concerned about its fertiliser and grain exports, Cavusoglu said.
These are not on the list of sanctions “but the ships that are carrying these still cannot dock,” he said, echoing comments by Russian officials.
“They still cannot get insurance and payments are not made,” he said. “Therefore, a lot of countries’ ships are shying away from carrying these loads.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the world should respond firmly to any Russian attempts to disrupt Ukraine’s export corridor across the Black Sea, which was blocked after Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24.
The Russian blockade has exacerbated food shortages and a cost of living crisis in many countries as Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of grain and oilseeds.
In a Tuesday night video address, Zelenskiy said ships were still moving out of Ukrainian ports with cargoes thanks to the work of Turkey and the United Nations.
“But a reliable and long-term defence is needed for the grain corridor,” Zelenskiy said.
“Russia must clearly be made aware that it will receive a tough response from the world to any steps to disrupt our food exports,” Zelenskiy said. “At issue here clearly are the lives of tens of millions of people.”
The grains deal aimed to help avert famine in poorer countries by injecting more wheat, sunflower oil and fertilizer into world markets and to ease a steep rise in prices. It targeted the pre-war level of 5 million metric tonnes exported from Ukraine each month.
The U.N. coordinator for grain and fertiliser exports under the accord said on Tuesday he expected loaded ships to leave Ukrainian ports on Thursday and Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said eight vessels were expected to pass through the corridor during the day.
Having spoken to his Russian counterpart twice in as many days, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Tuesday he expected a response from Russia “today and tomorrow”.
Russia fired missiles at Ukrainian cities including the capital Kyiv in what President Vladimir Putin called retaliation for the attack on the fleet. Ukraine said it shot most of those missiles down, but some had hit power stations, knocking out electricity and water supplies.
Seven regions were experiencing power cuts on Wednesday, grid operator Ukrenergo said. The Kyiv region around the capital and Kharkiv region around the country’s second biggest city were among them.
“We will do everything we can to provide power and heat for the coming winter,” Zelenskiy said. “But we must understand that Russia will do everything it can to destroy normal life.”
Authorities in Kyiv were preparing more than 1,000 heating points throughout the city in case its district heating system is disabled, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.
The United States denounced the attacks, saying about 100 missiles had been fired on Monday and Tuesday targeting water and energy supplies.
“With temperatures dropping, these Russian attacks aimed at exacerbating human suffering are particularly heinous,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters. Russia denies targeting civilians.
Kyiv came under further attack overnight, authorities said.
Zelenskiy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak said Ukrainian soldiers shot down 12 out of 13 Iranian drones.
“We are now actively conducting a dialogue regarding the supply of modern air defense systems, we are working on this every day,” he said on the Telegram messaging app.
The attacks on infrastructure are among ways Russia has esacalated the conflict since a Ukrainian counter-offensive began putting pressure on its forces. The Russians are now dug in along a frontline along Ukraine’s south and east after failing to capture the capital soon after the invasion.
On Tuesday, Russia told civilians to leave an area it occupies along the eastern bank of Dnipro River in the southern Ukrainian province of Kherson ahead of an expected Ukrainian counter-attack on the region, a gateway to Russian-held Crimea.
Moscow describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special military operations to demilitarise and “denazify” its neighbour. Ukraine and Western nations have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for a war of conquest.