Turkey told to urgently intervene in Black Sea crisis as Putin’s ships plot next target


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In a previously unreported letter send on June 13, the prosecutor general’s office asked ‘s justice ministry to investigate and provide evidence on three named ships. All three large dry bulk carriers – Mikhail Nenashev, Matros Pozynich and Matros Koshka – are owned by a subsidiary of a Western-sanctioned state-owned company called United Shipbuilding Corporation, according to Equasis, a shipping database.

The letter said they travelled from Crimea’s main grain terminal in Sevastopol in April and May, urging Ankara to obtain documentation about their cargo and arrival at Turkish ports. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

The Russian company has not yet responded to a request for comment.

If United Shipbuilding Corporation is proven to have transported grain from recently occupied Ukrainian territory, it would add to emerging evidence of the involvement of Russian-state-owned entities in exporting what Kyiv alleges is stolen goods.

Ukraine has publicly accused Moscow of stealing grain since the February invasion, with Russia repeatedly denying it has done so.

Erdogan Putin

Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin (Image: GETTY)

Mikhail Nenashev

Russian-flagged bulk carrier Mikhail Nenashev is unloaded at the MMK Port in Dortyol, Turkey (Image: Reuters)

The Ukraine conflict has heightened concerns about food security both in Ukraine and the rest of the world, driving up world food prices to record levels this year.

Ukraine, which is sometimes referred to as the “breadbasket of Europe”, is one of the world’s largest grain exporters, but has struggled to export goods with war raging along its southern coast and many of its ports blocked. Official data indicates grain accounts for nearly a fifth of all the country’s exports.

The origin or end destination of the grain in the ships named by Kyiv in the letter is unclear. Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-installed administration in Kherson, has insisted grain from the region was going to Crimea and that local farmers were responsible for transporting it there. He denies any knowledge of shipments to Turkey or the Middle East.

In a separate letter, dated June 30, Ukraine asked Turkey’s justice ministry to detain and arrest another Russian-flagged ship carrying what it said was Ukrainian grain from the occupied port of Berdyansk. On Monday, a senior Turkish official said Turkey had halted the cargo ship and is investigating Ukraine’s claim.

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Mikhail Nenashev

A satellite image shows the Russian-flagged Mikhail Nenashev at Avita grain terminal in Sevastapol (Image: Reuters)

NATO member Turkey, which has good ties with both Moscow and Kyiv, has criticised the invasion but has also rejected Western sanctions on Russia. Ankara has nevertheless agreed with Ukraine to block commercial shipments between Crimea and Turkey since 2014.

Turkey has also played a key role in discussions between the United Nations, Russia and Ukraine on a potential Black Sea corridor to export grain from Ukraine.

Turkey’s justice ministry refused to comment on Kyiv’s two letters and referred to recent comments by the Turkish foreign ministry that it had investigated Ukraine’s public claims that grain stolen by Russia had made its way to Turkey and determined there was no issue.

Speaking on June 23, and without identifying the vessels in question, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters: “We saw that the ships’ port of departure and the origin of the goods is Russia on the records. We are against Ukrainian grains or other goods being taken by Russia and we will not allow these goods to come to us.”

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Matros Koshka

Matros Koshka sails in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea (Image: Reuters)

Matros Pozynich

Matros Pozynich also pictured in the Bosphorus (Image: Reuters)

The foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the ship from Berdyansk that arrived in Turkey late last week.

A Turkish diplomatic source added that Kyiv had shared with Ankara its claims about allegedly stolen grain being brought to Turkey via Russian ships and that cooperation with Ukrainian officials was ongoing.

The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office has not responded to requests for comment. However, Taras Vysotsky, the first deputy to Ukraine’s agriculture minister, said Kyiv estimated roughly 400,000 tonnes of stolen grain has been exported.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey, Vasyl Bodnar, said his country believed most had gone to Turkey and Kyiv has sent what is considered to be evidence of the involvement of 13 ships to Turkish authorities.

Ukraine disputed territories

Ukraine’s disputed territories mapped (Image: Express)

The June 13 letter said at least two of the ships switched off tracking systems before entering Sevastopol port. It also claimed Kyiv suspected grain was being taken from recently occupied territory, especially Kherson, where it said there were several grain elevators to which the owners do not have access due to the occupation. The letter did not identify the owners.

Kyiv warned it was investigating criminal violations of Ukraine’s rules and customs of war, without naming individuals.

Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut said at least seven companies who own storage units in newly occupied territory have registered criminal cases with Ukrainian authorities alleging Russia stole their wheat. Ukraine’s embassy says at least 150,000 tonnes of what it said was “stolen” wheat has made it to Syria since February, mostly on Russian ships.

One of the vessels Kyiv named in the June 13 letter, the 169-metre long Mikhail Nenashev, was at Sevastopol’s Avlita grain terminal from June 14 to 16, according to satellite imagery captured by Planet Labs PBC, a private satellite operator, which shows the ship docked beside grain silos with cranes towering above.

Matros Pozynich

Matros Pozynich, in Sevastopol in May, and, days later, in Latakia, Syria (Image: Reuters)

The vessel arrived eight days later at Iskenderun, Turkey, according to Refinitiv Eikon ship-tracking data.

Since March, Mikhail Nenashev has visited the Sevastopol grain terminal on at least three other occasions before arriving in Turkey between 5 and 15 days later, according to satellite imagery and ship-tracking data. In one instance, it unloaded 27,000 tonnes of wheat in the Turkish seaport of Derince on April 22.

Derince Port confirmed it received “Russian ships carrying grains” but did not comment on screening processes.

Another one of the ships, the Matros Pozynich, docked in Syria on at least three occasions within a week or two of visiting Sevastopol’s Avlita grain terminal, according to satellite imagery and ship-tracking data. The third ship, Matros Koshka, has on at least three occasions left Sevastopol’s grain terminal before turning off ship transponders. On one of those occasions, it docked in Syria 10 days later.


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