Turkiye reports progress on freeing up ships stuck in Ukraine ports

Turkish diplomats have reported that, after two days of diplomatic talks last week with Russia and Ukraine, progress had been made towards an agreement to release all Turkish cargo ships from Ukraine, where 60 to 80 foreign vessels have been trapped by a Russian naval blockade since February 2022. The agreement would require a guarantee from Russian forces not to fire on foreign ships as they depart. 

The Turkish foreign ministry said that “the parties expressed their positive approach regarding the coordination of the return of our merchant ships and their crews, which were stranded in Ukrainian ports due to the conflict conditions”.

The hope is that the release of Turkish vessels could lead to the freeing of other stranded foreign ships. The initial operation “will serve as a model for the evacuation of ships from other countries” that have been stranded in Ukraine due to the Russian invasion, Turkiye said.

What was not specified was whether Mariupol would be part of the deal, as that Ukrainian port is now under the control of Russia.

Meanwhile, Turkish diplomats also expressed cautious optimism on the chances of a successful renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. That is scheduled to expire this week. In a rare positive sign from the Russians, its state media reported on Friday May 12th that the deal would be extended by another 60 days while talks continued. According to the Turkish foreign ministry, the parties are “heading towards an agreement on the extension of the grain deal.”