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Military hotline advances Ukrainian grain talks

A hotline has been established between Russian and Ukrainian generals to negotiate the question of safely getting ships loaded with grain out of the port of Odessa, Turkish media outlets reported on Wednesday, citing the defense ministry in Ankara. Millions of tons of the food stuff are stranded in Ukrainian ports. 

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has set up a “hotline” between the defense ministries in Moscow and Kiev, with a general officer designated at both ends, to discuss the technical issues of unblocking the ships, state broadcaster TRT reported on Wednesday.

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“Our technical work goes on,” Akar was quoted by TRT as saying. He described the proposed arrangement as having Ukrainians clear the mines in their ports so the ships can leave, then having the Russian navy escort the ships from the ports to the designated assembly areas – while clearing any stray mines along the way – at which point the Turkish navy would take over the escort through the Black Sea, to ensure their safety.

“We want to end this as soon as possible,” Akar told the outlet “We’re having intense negotiations both with Russia and with Ukraine. Both sides have some reservations. We are working to resolve those differences. We hope for the best,” he added.

READ MORE: Turkey to help unblock Ukraine grain – media

The plan Akar referenced sounds very much like the “grain corridor” proposal reported by multiple media outlets earlier this month. Kiev has publicly denounced the idea, however, continuing to accuse Russia of deploying mines outside Odessa and “stealing” Ukrainian grain to sell abroad.

Moscow, meanwhile, repeated that its assertion that Ukraine had laid the mines outside Odessa and other Black Sea ports. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Kiev was using the grain ships as “hostages” to get aid from the West.

An estimated 22.5 million tons of grain have ended up stuck in Ukrainian ports since February, due to the conflict with Russia. Ukraine accounts for around 9% of the world’s grain exports. Another 20% usually comes from Russia, but has been disrupted by embargoes imposed by the US and its allies on Russian commercial shipping.

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