Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected an alternative proposal from Russian President Vladimir Putin to open negotiations on the grain export deal that ensures safe navigation for cargo ships in the Black Sea, during talks in Sochi on Monday.
Mr Erdogan had brokered the original deal and travelled to Russia to revive the agreement and use it as a basis for broader peace talks.
“The alternative proposals brought to the agenda could not offer a sustainable, secure and permanent model based on co-operation between the parties like the Black Sea Initiative,” Mr Erdogan said at a media appearance with Mr Putin in Sochi.
Mr Erdogan and Mr Putin spoke in the Black Sea resort, where the Russia leader said he could base an alternative to the UN initiative on Moscow's direct agreements with African nations to secure food supplies. In the Kremlin proposal Turkey would act as a hub for Russian trade.
“We are close to completing agreements with six African states where we intend to supply foodstuffs for free and even carry out delivery and logistics for free,” Mr Putin said.
The Turkish leader said that revisions to the original agreement to incorporate elements like the Africa initiative were the most viable option. “We believe that the initiative should be continued by eliminating its shortcomings. In this context, we prepared a package containing new suggestions in consultation with the UN,” he added.
“I think it's possible to make progress. As Turkey, we believe that we will reach a solution that will meet the expectations in a short time.”
The Turkish President indicated he would seek concessions from Ukraine on Russia's Africa plan. “Ukraine needs to especially soften its approaches in order for it to be possible for joint steps to be taken with Russia,” Mr Erdogan said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he expected President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to talk to Mr Erdogan after the meeting.
“I am convinced that, based on the results of Erdogan's conversation with Putin, there will be contact between President Erdogan and President Zelenskyy,” Mr Kuleba said in Kyiv.
“There is trust in relations between President Zelenskyy and President Erdogan.”
Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other goods that nations rely on.
Russia pulled out of the deal involving three Ukrainian ports in July, complaining that a parallel agreement promising to remove obstacles to Moscow's exports of food and fertiliser were not honoured.
It claims restrictions on shipping and insurance hampered its agricultural trade although it has shipped record amounts of wheat since last year.
Since withdrawing from the deal, Russian missiles have hit Ukrainian grain export infrastructure while Ukrainian drones struck a Russian naval vessel and an oil tanker.
In the lead-up to the talks, Russia launched waves of drone attacks on the southern Odesa region, damaging storage and industrial facilities as well as agricultural equipment.
It also hit two river ports that are the main alternative export routes to the Black Sea.
Uncertainty about the future of supplies from one of the world’s largest grain exporters has contributed to weeks of volatility in wheat prices, as has the surge in hostilities in and around the Black Sea.
Ihor Zhovkva, Mr Zelenskyy’s deputy chief of staff, said on Monday that his country was depending on Turkey to support the restoration of the grain deal and was ready to export to nations in Africa and Asia.
“The crops in Ukraine this year are quite good. So, we are ready,” Mr Zhovkva said. “The world is suffering when Russia is using aggressive instruments in the food security area.”
Nato member Turkey hopes to use the agreement as a basis for restarting peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv.
Ankara has maintained friendly ties with the two sides throughout the war, shying away from western sanctions imposed on Russia and supplying arms to Ukraine.
Russia has demanded the removal of obstacles to its exports of food and fertiliser, some of which were hit immediately after it invaded Ukraine as banks, insurers and shipment companies steered clear of Russian goods and Baltic nations stopped handling Russian volumes through their ports.
Russia also wants to reopen an ammonia pipeline that crosses Ukraine and reconnect Rosselkhozbank, a state-owned lender focused on agriculture, to the Swift system for international payments.
Russia said it would not reopen the trade corridor unless its conditions were met.
The UN, which was instrumental in sealing the original deal, has worked with private-sector banks and insurance providers to try to address Russia’s concerns.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently sent Moscow a revised proposal he said could form the basis of a revamped deal.
It remains to be seen if the new terms will be enough to break the impasse.
“We cannot have a Black Sea Initiative that moves from crisis to crisis, from suspension to suspension,” Mr Guterres said last week. “We need to have something that works and that works to the benefit of everybody.”