By Jared Malsin and Alistair MacDonald, Wall Street Journal
ISTANBUL–Russia’s decision to pull out of a deal allowing Ukrainian grain to be exported globally is a high-stakes gamble by President Vladimir Putin that risks diplomatic tensions with two of his country’s most influential partners, China and Turkey.
Russia’s move to choke off Ukraine’s massive grain exports will further cripple its adversary’s economy and could boost Russia’s own grain export revenue by sending global grain prices higher. But it comes with a major cost by putting economic pressure on China, the largest recipient of Ukraine grain under the deal, and straining relations with Turkey, another major buyer that helped broker the original agreement between Russia and Ukraine last year.
Russia’s moves are part of a renewed attempt by Putin to play diplomatic hardball with both adversaries and partners as the war in Ukraine drags on. In addition to backing out of the deal, Russia launched a wave of missile strikes on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and grain export infrastructure and threatened to attack civilian ships in the waterway, heightening tensions around the sea’s strategic shipping lanes. Russia moved a warship into a shipping corridor in the southern Black Sea this week, the British Defense Ministry said.
Putin has ignored requests by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to negotiate a return to the pact, according to diplomats and analysts. Erdogan said repeatedly in recent weeks that he planned to speak with Putin to resurrect the deal, but so far the phone call hasn’t taken place, diplomats say. Turkish officials have continued to press the issue through various other channels into the Kremlin, they said.
The clock is ticking to try to renew the deal. By September, Ukraine’s grain harvest will begin to pile up in storage, making it harder to export in time and putting pressure on Erdogan and other leaders to get a resumption of the deal done in time.
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