Turkey’s president has called on Russia and Ukraine to avoid escalating their conflict and urged the resumption of a deal that had enabled Ukraine to export its grain across the Black Sea, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said on Wednesday after he spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin.
The call, believed to be the first between the leaders since Moscow unilaterally pulled out of the grain deal more than two weeks ago, came after a series of Russian strikes that have damaged Ukrainian port and grain facilities. Those attacks, the latest of which took place overnight, appear intended to deter any effort by Ukraine to export its grain by ship.
Mr. Erdogan said that Turkey was working to restore the Black Sea deal, which it helped broker along with the United Nations last summer. “Turkey will keep up with its intense efforts” to reinstate the grain deal, the statement said, adding: “Steps that would escalate the tension in the war between Russia and Ukraine should be avoided.”
In its own statement about the call, the Kremlin repeated its position that it would be willing to rejoin the agreement only if its conditions were met, signaling that its stance has not changed since it terminated the deal.
Russia’s decision has halted Ukrainian exports that were permitted under the deal, and caused global wheat prices to rise briefly. Because Ukraine is a major producer of grain and other foodstuffs, the agreement had helped keep global food prices stable and alleviate one part of the fallout from Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine 17 months ago.
Russia’s Navy holds sway over the Black Sea, through which the bulk of Ukraine’s grain exports travel, giving it considerable leverage in any talks over a resumption of the deal. Moscow has also warned that it would consider any ship approaching one of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to be potentially carrying military cargo.
Moscow says that sanctions imposed by the United States and Ukraine’s European allies restrict its ability to sell its agricultural products. Its demands for a resumption of the deal include allowing its agricultural bank access to the international SWIFT banking system, which would facilitate its own grain and other exports.
The Kremlin statement said there had been a “complete lack of progress” in meeting its conditions. It reiterated the government’s willingness to supply grain for free to some countries in Africa where a hunger crisis has been exacerbated by Russia’s decision.
Mr. Erdogan, unusually for the leader of a NATO member, has maintained close ties to Mr. Putin since Russia’s invasion, and some analysts say that a visit to Turkey by the Russian leader could be key to a resumption of the deal. The Turkish statement said that Mr. Putin would visit Mr. Erdogan, without specifying a time frame, although the Kremlin statement spoke only of preparations for a “possible meeting” between the leaders.