TCSS Security Commentaries #027

Turkey may also use its experiences to fructify the grain corridor agreement to resolve the energy and migration crises.

Diren Dogan, Alanya Alaaddin Keykubat University, Turkey

UN Secretary-General Guterres and Turkey’s President Erdoğan at the Black Sea Grain Corridor signing ceremony in Istanbul  (Source: UNIC Ankara/Levent Kulu)

The agreement, abbreviated as the “Black Sea Grain Corridor Agreement, ” covers a 120-day action plan to transport approximately 25 million tons of grain through commercial ships from Odesa and two other Ukrainian ports. The agreement mandates demining the ports’ waters, and Russia will not intervene militarily. Secondly, the grains will be brought from the ports to the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) in Istanbul, opened on July 27, by pilot ships. These ships will then be under the supervision of Russia and Turkey, and finally, they will be allowed to sail to international destination ports from the JCC. The JCC hosts five representatives each from the four parties to monitor the arrivals and departures.

In his speech at the signing ceremony, UN Secretary-General Guterres remarked the agreement as a “beacon of hope – a beacon of possibility – a beacon of relief.” Guterres’ statements are very important in assessing the parties’ role and risk in signing the agreement. For Turkey, the mediation process initiated at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum significantly boosted Turkey’s international posture. The West’s antagonism towards Russia after the invasion created a serious deadlock, especially affecting energy and food security. In such an atmosphere, Turkey provided diplomatic support to Ukraine. In addition, Turkey-supplied Bayraktar TB-2 UCAVs achieved significant successes on the battlefield.

Turkey’s response to the sanctions against Russia and the call to keep the dialogue path open ensured the continuation of communication with Russia. As a result, Turkey maintained communication channels with both parties and gained a “mediator country” role. With this role, it is a commendable success to bring together two war-fighting nations for negotiations on establishing a safe passage grain corridor.

Considering Africa’s heavy dependence – 40 percent of overall wheat imports – on Russian and Ukrainian wheat supplies, the success can be considered a strategic step in solving a global problem. In addition, the back sea grain corridor agreement further bolstered the critical role of Turkey as a key party to the 1936 Montreux Convention, frequently mentioned amidst the Ukraine Crisis. According to the 1936 agreement, Turkey is responsible for the safe passage of civilian ships through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, which are closed to all warships during wartime.

Turkey played out its strategies in line with the provisions of Montreux to reduce the tensions in the Black Sea. However, as much as Turkey’s role is appreciated, it must be admitted that the potential failure of the agreement puts a serious burden on Turkey. Especially, the risk of Russia seizing the demined ports of Odessa, Chernomorsk, and Yuzni is very high. Reports indicate that Russia hitting the Odesa port within 24 hours after the agreement is a serious concern for Turkey. After the attack, Turkey’s President Erdogan implicitly warned the signatories of the successful implementation of the agreement.

On the other hand, the grain corridor agreement also contains various risks for Ukraine. Firstly, demining three Ukrainian-controlled ports during the ongoing Russian invasion poses a serious security risk. In addition, Russian paramilitary groups deployed in the occupied territories may provoke the agreement independently of the chain of command.

While it may reflect a rather pessimistic viewpoint, the grain corridor agreement is the only way out for Ukraine, which made 90% of its exports by sea before the war. For the world, reopening Russian and Ukrainian supply chains is only the fastest solution. Responding to the global food crisis is an important course correction opportunity for Russia, which has been criticized and sanctioned by the international community for its aggression. It is a good opportunity for Turkey, which has played its role as a key mediator, to reassert its historically balanced strategy.

Expanding the matrix of beneficiaries of the grain corridor agreement is possible. However, the actors who led the initiative and were positively affected by the agreement, such as Turkey, are also willing to face much more serious risks. Turkey may also use its experiences to fructify the grain corridor agreement to resolve the energy and migration crises. Turkey is expected to table a similar resolution between the parties as a mediator country. On the 120th day of the grain corridor agreement, the state of conflict in Ukraine and the agreement’s progress will serve as a guide for the resolution of subsequent crises.