Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that a landmark deal allowing Ukraine to export grain safely through the Black Sea amid the war won't be restored until the West meets Moscow's demands on its own agricultural exports.
Ukraine and its Western allies have dismissed the Kremlin's demands as a ploy to advance its own interests.
Still, Putin's remarks dashed hopes that his talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could revive an agreement seen as vital for global food supplies, especially in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Russia refused to extend the deal in July, complaining that a parallel agreement promising to remove obstacles to Russian exports of food and fertilizer hadn't been honored. It said restrictions on shipping and insurance hampered its agricultural trade, though it has shipped record amounts of wheat since last year.
Putin reiterated those complaints Monday, while also telling reporters that if those commitments were honored, Russia could return to the deal "within days."
Erdogan also expressed hope that a breakthrough could come soon. He said Turkey and the U.N. -- which both brokered the original deal -- have put together a new package of proposals to unblock the issue.
"We believe that we will reach a solution that will meet the expectations in a short time," Erdogan said at the news conference held with Putin in the Russian resort of Sochi.
Russia has demanded the removal of obstacles to its exports of food and fertilizer, some of which were hit immediately after it invaded Ukraine as banks, insurers and shipment companies steered clear of Russian goods and Baltic nations ceased handling Russian volumes through their ports. That hasn't stopped Russia's exporting record volumes of wheat, and its fertilizer exports are also recovering to pre-war levels.
Russia also wants to reopen an ammonia pipeline that traverses Ukraine and reconnect Rosselkhozbank, a state-owned lender focused on agriculture, to the SWIFT system for international payments.
The United Nations has worked closely with private-sector banks and insurance providers to try to address Russia's concerns. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently sent Moscow a revised proposal he said could form the basis of a revamped deal.
"We cannot have a Black Sea Initiative that moves from crisis to crisis, from suspension to suspension," Guterres told reporters in New York on Thursday. "We need to have something that works, and that works to the benefit of everybody."
Ukrainian crops will still make it to market without a new deal, but higher transport costs could depress the next grain plantings soon to be underway -- curtailing global supplies longer-term.
The 1 million-ton plan appears to be a separate bid to ameliorate concerns in Africa, where Russia has sought to build its influence at the expense of the West. Erdogan said Turkey was ready to receive Russian grain and process it into flour to send to the continent, with Qatar prepared to offer financial support.
"We have reached an agreement on these issues," he said.
Earlier, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock lashed out, saying Putin's "game with the grain agreement is cynical."
"It's only because of Putin that the freighters don't have free passage again," she told reporters in Berlin.
A lot is riding on the negotiation. Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other goods that developing nations rely on.
Data from the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, which organized shipments under the deal, shows that 57% of the grain from Ukraine went to developing nations, with the top destination being China.
Grain prices shot up after Russia pulled out of the deal but have since fallen back, indicating that there isn't a big crunch in the market for the moment.
But failure to revive the agreement will have "drastic impacts" in countries such as Somalia and Egypt that rely heavily on Black Sea grain, according to Galip Dalay, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London.
Putin is looking for some relief from sanctions and at the same time is engaged in a "war of narratives," Dalay said, because the Russian leader "doesn't want to come across as the bad guy in the eyes of the global south as a result of this food insecurity."
Ukraine and its allies have often noted that Russia's move left many developing nations in the lurch, since so many were recipients of the grain.
Perhaps in an effort to address that accusation, Putin said Monday that Russia was close to finalizing an agreement to provide free grain to six African countries. In July, he promised shipments to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea and Central African Republic.
The Russian leader added that the country will ship 1.1 million tons of cheap grain to Turkey for processing and delivery to poor countries.
In addition to pulling out of the grain deal, Russia has repeatedly attacked the Odesa region, where Ukraine's main Black Sea port is. Hours before the Sochi meeting, the Kremlin's forces launched a second barrage in two days on the area. The Ukrainian air force said it intercepted 23 of 32 drones that targeted the Odesa and Dnipropetrovsk regions. It did not specify damage caused by those that got through.
Russia may be hoping it can use its power over Ukraine's Black Sea exports as a bargaining chip to reduce Western economic sanctions.
Some companies have been wary of doing business with Russia because of those sanctions, even though Western allies have made assurances that food and fertilizer are exempt. Still, Moscow remains unsatisfied.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Monday urged Moscow to return to the deal, insisting "there were no legal and political grounds for Russia to withdraw from the agreement."
Monday's talks took place against a backdrop of Ukraine's recent counteroffensive against the Kremlin's invasion forces.
Putin and Erdogan -- authoritarian leaders who have both been in power for more than two decades -- are said to have a close rapport, fostered in the wake of a failed coup against Erdogan in 2016 when Putin was the first major leader to offer his support.
The Turkish president has maintained those during the 18-month war in Ukraine. Turkey hasn't joined Western sanctions against Russia following its invasion, emerging as a main trading partner and logistical hub for Russia's overseas trade.
At the same time, Turkey, a member of NATO, has also supported Ukraine, sending arms, meeting Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and backing Kyiv's bid to join the Western alliance.
Russia, meanwhile, has taken steps to strengthen its military ties with North Korea. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who traveled to Pyongyang in July, said Monday that the two countries may hold joint war games.
U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson noted that Shoigu sought to persuade North Korea during his trip to sell artillery ammunition to Russia.
The U.S. has reason to think North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un "expects these discussions to continue" and "to include leader-level diplomatic engagement in Russia," Watson said Monday.
Another U.S. official, who was not authorized to address the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. expects Kim will travel to Russia within the month.
Information for this article was contributed by Matthew Lee and staff writers of The Associated Press and by Selcan Hacaoglu, Megan Durisin, Áine Quinn and Daryna Krasnolutska of Bloomberg News (TNS).