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Global grain supplies are at stake in a meeting between Russia and Turkey

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Global grain supplies are at stake in a meeting today between the leaders of Russia and Turkey.

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

Yeah. Ukraine is among the world's top producers, but it faces Russia's invasion and a de facto sea blockade. For about a year, grain and fertilizer shipments were allowed to continue in a deal mediated by Turkey and the United Nations. In July, Russia canceled the deal, and now they're back at the table.

FADEL: NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Istanbul to discuss this. Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hello.

FADEL: So why does Turkey play such an important role in this?

KENYON: Well, there's a few reasons. Geographically, Turkey has long seen itself as a regional power, one that follows its own path. For instance, Turkey never joined the international sanctions against Russia after it invaded Ukraine. Turkey continues with relatively good ties to Moscow. It's continued trade and other contacts. The Russian tourists are back in droves here. In addition, Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has long sought to portray Turkey as a regional mediator. He took some credit for the agreement reached last year - the one Moscow pulled out of in July. So as things stand, Turkey remains a loyal, if sometimes difficult, NATO ally supporting a U.N. plan to ease this crisis while at the same time maintaining ties with Russia.

FADEL: I think the big question is, what's possible here? What does it seem like Russia wants, and what can Turkey and the West offer?

KENYON: Yes. Moscow has been quite clear about what it sees as the problematic implementation of this grain deal. Russia had high expectations that the deal would provide a big boost to its own agricultural and other exports, which had been curtailed by sanctions - sorry - by sanctions. But Russian officials have complained that even under the deal, sanctions against Russia engaging in certain financial transactions, other restrictions on shipping, insurance, things like that - they've continued. Some people point out that Russian exports are, in fact, quite a bit higher than they were when the deal kicked in. But that doesn't seem to be good enough for Russia.

FADEL: Now, we know this grain is vital for global food supply. So what happens if it and other commodities don't get moving again?

KENYON: Well, this grain deal has been a big benefit not just to Ukrainian grain farmers, but also to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The United Nations has called it a major success in reducing the spike in prices we saw at the beginning of the war. So should this deal somehow collapse, should Russia resume a tougher blockade of Ukrainian cargo ships in the Black Sea, experts say the prospect of food shortages in those regions would increase significantly.

And then beyond that, some wonder if this grain deal breaks down, what else could that trigger - a push for more sanctions against Moscow? Could Russia double down on its drive to occupy Ukraine or part of it? In that light, some analysts say a credible move to increase Russian exports beyond where they stand now could be seen as a sensible course of action. Others, of course, warn against appeasing Moscow. So we'll have to see how that plays out.

FADEL: So a lot at stake today, and a lot at stake for people who need these food supplies.

That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thank you so much for your reporting.

KENYON: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.