The grain corridor has resurfaced on the global agenda as a sort of ideological fight. On July 17, Russia announced it would not extend that agreement, which was signed in Istanbul on July 22, 2022, thanks to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s efforts. Specifically, Moscow says it won’t honor the agreement unless sanctions targeting Russian fertilizer companies are lifted.
At the same time, Russia hosted representatives of African countries, which are disproportionately hurt by grain shortages, in St. Petersburg to inform them that they will receive free grains. The country also argues that the West sanctioned Russia without regard to the international community’s need for grains – thus pushing back against the Western accusation that Russia undermined global food security.
Still, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Moscow of turning food into a weapon of war. Recalling that all the alternative routes combined won’t reach the grain corridor’s total volume, he added Russia might be allowed to export food if the agreement is reinstated. Yet, Moscow does not believe such promises and demands that grain payments are targeted by sanctions.
Meanwhile, Russia targets Ukrainian ports on the Danube as Ukraine attacks Russian military bases and vessels. Amid escalating tensions in the Black Sea, it was noteworthy that the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described Erdoğan as the only leader capable of persuading Russian President Vladimir Putin. Indeed, Erdoğan announced last week that his Russian counterpart will visit Türkiye in August.
Describing the grain corridor as a bridge to peace, Ankara does two things simultaneously. It highlights the problems with the grain corridor’s alternatives to make the case in Western capitals that Russia must have a seat at the table. It also warns that Russia has been looking for an alternative route via the Caspian Sea.
At the same time, the Turkish government warns Moscow about the challenges that it would encounter if it does not reinstate the agreement. Recalling the rise in food prices, Türkiye strives to end the political and ideological fight between the West and Russia without further delay.
As a rising regional power, Türkiye plays an exceptional role in diplomacy amid the Ukraine war – which sets an example to other regional powers.
For example, Saudi Arabia just launched a new diplomatic initiative to invite representatives from 30 countries and organizations – including Türkiye, Brazil, India, South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, Zambia, Egypt, the United Kingdom, Poland and the European Union – to Jeddah for discussions on how to end the fighting.
Regional powers that did not join sanctions against Russia, which can pursue an independent foreign policy, can help manage the deepening rivalry between the great powers by launching diplomatic initiatives to end the Ukraine war.
It would be useful to ensure that regional powers continue such efforts in a multilateral context instead of acting alone – keeping in mind that the fight between the West and Russia, and the U.S.-China rivalry pose very serious threats like giving rise to new blocs, a new cold war and the use of nuclear weapons.
That idea might seem overly ambitious right now, but the national priorities and bilateral relations of each regional power could potentially limit the search for multilateralism. Again, the United States, China, the EU and Russia have ways to fuel antagonism among regional powers.
Still, the ongoing demise of Western-dominated, post-World War II multilateralism and the rise of the multipolar order entail chaos and certain risks. That’s why the rising power has a greater responsibility, which they cannot escape. Western-centric multilateralism pays too much attention to Western geopolitical interests. It attempts to ignore and push back against the priorities of rising powers.
Having declared at the United Nations that “a fairer world is possible” and adopted a unique policy toward the Ukraine war, Erdoğan’s Türkiye assumed a role that transcended its national interests. Thus arrive the footsteps of a search for solution-oriented new multilateralism.