By withdrawing from a landmark deal that allowed Ukraine’s grain exports across the Black Sea, Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking a risk that could hurt Moscow’s relations with many of its partners, who have remained neutral or even backed the Kremlin invasion. could cause serious harm to neighbor.
At the United Nations, too, Russia is playing the spoilsport role, vetoing a resolution to expand humanitarian aid supplies through a key border crossing in north-western Syria and backing a push by the Malian military junta to expel UN peacekeeping forces – abrupt moves Moscow’s Reflecting willingness to raise elsewhere is at stake.
Putin’s stated goal in ending the Black Sea Grains Initiative was to get Western sanctions on Russia’s agricultural exports lifted. His longer-term goal could be to undermine the West’s resolve on the Ukraine issue and to get more concessions from the US and its allies as the war nears the 17-month mark.
The Kremlin doubled down on denouncing the grain deal, attacking Ukrainian ports and declaring much of the Black Sea unsafe for navigation.
But with the West showing little willingness to back down, Putin’s actions not only endanger global food security, but could also work against Russia’s own interests, potentially raising concern in China, straining Moscow’s ties with key partner Turkey, and damaging its ties with African countries .
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who helped negotiate the grain deal with the United Nations a year ago, has pushed for its extension and said he will negotiate with Putin.
Turkey’s role as a key trading partner and logistical hub for Russia’s foreign trade amid Western sanctions strengthens Erdogan’s position and could allow him to force concessions from Putin, whom he calls “my dear friend”.
Turkey’s trade with Russia nearly doubled to $68.2 billion last year, fueling US suspicions that Moscow is using Ankara to circumvent Western sanctions. Turkey states that the increase is largely due to higher energy costs.
Their relationship is often described as transactional. Although they have been on opposing sides in fighting in Syria, Libya and the decades-long conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, they have worked together in areas such as energy, defence, diplomacy, tourism and trade.
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund in Ankara, said the dual nature of the relationship dates back to the sultans and tsars.
“Sometimes they compete, sometimes they cooperate. At other times, they both compete and cooperate at the same time,” he said.
While the pendulum seems to have swung in Ankara’s favor for the time being, Unluhisarcikli pointed out that the Kremlin needs to pull some levers, such as lifting a gas payment moratorium or withdrawing funds for the Russian-built Akkuyu nuclear power plant. Moscow could also harm Turkey by restricting Russian tourists, who enter in greater numbers than any other nationality. provide a steady flow of cash.
“How much weaker the relationship will depend on how Russia reacts to Turkey’s rapprochement with the West,” he said.
Some observers in Moscow are speculating that in May Russia agreed to a two-month extension of the grain deal to help Erdogan be re-elected, but expressed dismay at his subsequent pro-Western turn.
Erdogan backed Sweden’s membership of NATO earlier this month. In another snub to Moscow, Turkey allowed several Ukrainian commanders who led the defense of Mariupol last year to return home. They surrendered after a two-month Russian siege and then moved to Turkey with an agreement to remain there until the end of the war.
Kerim Has, a Moscow-based expert on Turkey-Russia relations, said his re-election emboldened Erdogan to seek rapprochement with the West, appoint a “pro-Western” cabinet and adopt a stance that Kremlin caused “discomfort” .
“It’s a dilemma for Putin,” Has said. “He supported Erdogan’s candidacy, but in the coming period he will face a more active, pro-Western Turkey under Erdogan.”
Moscow may seek to pressure Erdogan by questioning Turkey’s interests in north-west Syria, where Ankara has supported armed opposition groups since the conflict began. Though Russia has joined forces with Iran to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government while Turkey has backed its enemies, Moscow and Ankara have negotiated ceasefire agreements.
But Russia abruptly hardened its stance this month when it vetoed a UN Security Council resolution supported by virtually all members that would allow humanitarian aid to continue to be sent to opposition-controlled areas through the Bab el-Hawa border crossing Turkey, a vital lifeline for about 4.1 million people, envisaged in the impoverished enclave. Moscow warned that if the competing draft is not adopted, the border crossing would be closed.
The presence of 3.4 million Syrians in Turkey is a sensitive issue for Ankara. Erdogan has advocated their voluntary repatriation to parts of northern Syria under Turkish control.
Dareen Khalifa, senior Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group, says Russia’s tough stance on the matter was an attempt to put pressure on Ankara.
“Turkey will be directly affected when the mechanism ends,” he said.
Others were skeptical that Russia could use the border crossing issue to pressure Ankara. “I don’t think Russia is able to increase its pressure on Turkey in Syria,” Has said.
Joseph Folge, a Swiss-Syrian researcher and professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, observed that Russia might try to put pressure on the West by raising the prospect of a new wave of refugees in Europe.
Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, noted that in addition to a tougher stance on Syria, Russia’s “disruptive” actions included helping Mali expel UN peacekeepers.
“It looks like Russia is looking for ways to anger the West over the UN,” he told The Associated Press.
As a sign of Moscow’s increasingly forceful stance, Russian military pilots have recently harassed US planes over Syria, heightening tensions between Moscow and Washington. The Pentagon called Russia’s maneuvers unprofessional and unsafe, while Moscow sought to turn the tables by accusing the US of violating deconflict rules designed to prevent clashes in Syria.
Amid the tough clashes at the United Nations and in Syria, Russia is courting African nations with promises of support.
The Kremlin has stressed that it stands ready to provide poor countries in Africa with grain for free after the end of the Black Sea deal, and Putin is expected to woo African leaders at a summit in St Petersburg later this month. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow’s offer of free grain shipments is on the agenda.
The Black Sea Agreement allowed Ukraine to ship 32.9 million tons of grain and other foodstuffs to world markets. According to official figures, 57% of Ukraine’s grain went to developing countries, while China received the bulk, nearly a quarter.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy indicated that 60,000 tons of grain destroyed in the Russian attack on the port of Odessa on Wednesday are destined for China.
Putin, in turn, accused the West of using the grain deal to “blamelessly enrich itself” instead of his stated goal of alleviating hunger. Despite this rhetoric, the Russian move will not go down well in African countries.
As the Kremlin tried to stem the damage to those relations, it launched more attacks on Odessa and other ports to thwart Ukraine’s attempts to resume grain shipments. Moscow called them “retaliatory strikes” for Monday’s attack that damaged the Kerch Bridge, which connects Moscow-annexed Crimea to Russia.
Hardliners in Moscow praised Putin for halting the deal, which they criticized as reflecting what they described as the Kremlin’s futile hope for a compromise with the West.
Pro-Kremlin commentator Sergei Markov praised the retaliatory strikes and argued that withdrawal from the deal was long overdue.
“The extension of the Grains Agreement caused the government’s ratings to drop and also fueled discussions about treason,” he said.
Andrew Wilks in Istanbul, Turkey, Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut, Lebanon and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at