On 17th May, a day before the official conclusion, the grain agreement – a four-party deal regarding the export of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports – was extended for another two months. This was announced by Turkey's President and presidential candidate, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The news was delivered in a televised address, where the Ukrainian export itself served as a pretext to discuss the speaker's significance for global food security and his influence on global processes. Let's recall that Turkey is in the midst of pre-election campaigns, between the two rounds of presidential elections.
"Through the efforts of our country, with the support of our russian friends, and the contribution of our Ukrainian friends, we have decided to extend the agreement on Black Sea grain for another two months," said Erdoğan, wishing success to the whole world and assuring that Turkey will continue its efforts to ensure the fulfilment of all conditions of the agreement and its extension in the future period. The Turkish President also announced that two additional ports – Mykolaiv and Olvia – may be involved in grain exports from Ukraine.
The achievement of reaching an agreement on the contract extension was also confirmed by other parties to the agreement. It will remain in effect until at least the 18th of July. Mind investigated whether the issue can be considered resolved and why or why not.
How likely was the termination of the grain corridor from 18th May? It was very likely – much higher than in October when, under similar circumstances, russia withdrew from the agreement and then re-joined it after not achieving the desired result.
A week before D-day, the grain corridor nearly ceased operations – only a few vessels could leave Ukrainian ports.
Why did this collision occur at all? As it often happens, it was due to russia's position. During the previous extension of the agreement in March, russia agreed to the operation of the corridor for only 60 days instead of the initially declared 120.
During this period, efforts were supposed to be made to implement the russian part of the agreement, namely the export of grain and fertilisers. It should be noted that agricultural product supplies from russia, despite sanctions, reached record levels last year.
Theory From the very beginning, russia aimed to disrupt the agreement by the specified date and created a problem, giving Erdoğan the opportunity to heroically resolve it and exploit it in the pre-election struggle.
Let's recall: the kremlin does not hide its sympathies for the current President of Turkey. And it's not surprising, as Erdoğan remains practically the only world-level politician who maintains contact with vladimir putin. The leader of the Turkish opposition, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, has stated that russia is behind a disinformation campaign in favour of the current president.
Is Erdoğan taking too much upon himself by guaranteeing the extension of the agreement? No, it corresponds to reality. Turkey's role in the Bosporus and the Black Sea is crucial, and Erdoğan is undoubtedly the architect of the grain agreement.
"On the one hand, we have always said that the grain agreement is 99% Erdoğan. On the other hand, we did not expect russia to go along with it 11 days before the second round of presidential elections in Turkey. Therefore, moscow believes that Erdoğan can win and is giving him another trump card for the pre-election campaign," believes Andriy Klymenko, the head of the Institute of Strategic Black Sea Studies and the chief editor of BlackSeaNews.
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What will russia get in return? Turkey could not promise to fulfil russia's main demands, such as connecting the russian agricultural bank to SWIFT, restoring the operation of the ammonia pipeline from Togliatti to Odessa, resuming the import of foreign agricultural machinery and spare parts to russia, lifting restrictions on insurance and access to ports for russian vessels, and unlocking fertiliser supplies. These are simply not within its power. Although it is entirely possible that UN representatives made some promises regarding this matter.
On his part, Erdoğan could guarantee putin the continuation of the re-export regime through Turkey for sanctioned goods, as it is happening now, which helps russia to plug the most glaring gaps in its industry and consumer market.
How did the participants of the Istanbul Agreement react to Erdoğan's statement? As expected, they welcomed the reached compromise.
"These agreements are important for global food security, as Ukrainian and russian products feed the world," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, acknowledging Turkey's mediation.
The russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs limited its response to confirming that russia considers the agreement on the extension of the agreement achieved.
Ukraine, represented by Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov, welcomed the extension of the agreement, emphasising the need for its effective implementation, referring to the blocking and delays of inspections by russia. Kubrakov's department also supplemented its neutral statement with the phrase that the agreement was supposed to be in effect anyway, as it was initially concluded for 120 days.
This denial of the obvious sounds somewhat senseless when the whole world, including the UN, has made considerable efforts to avoid the cessation of Ukrainian grain exports from May 18. However, according to available information, the Ministry of Infrastructure did not play a key role directly in the negotiations at the final stage – they were conducted by representatives of the military agencies.
Can the ports in Mykolaiv Oblast indeed be involved in grain exports? According to traders surveyed by Mind, it is most likely about the departure of foreign company ships that have been stuck there since before the war. There are seven such vessels.
Read also: Exporting grain from Ukraine is getting increasingly difficult. What can it be processed into within the country, where can it be used, and who can it be sold to?
The waters continue to be shelled until Kinburn Spit is liberated. Still, there is also a risk at the Odesa corridor level, and the safety of vessels there is guaranteed only by compliance with the agreements. Theoretically, the same guarantees can be applied to the ports of Mykolaiv and Olvia. But the reality is that there is no need for them: the bottleneck is formed not in Ukraine but in the Bosporus during inspections. In fact, currently, the capacities and ports of Great Odesa are significantly underutilised to consider involving Mykolaiv as well.
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