Kyiv is summoning Turkey’s ambassador to Ukraine after Ankara released the Zhibek Zholy cargo ship with “stolen” Ukrainian grain Wednesday evening, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote in a statement today.
“Ignoring the appeal of the Ukrainian side, the ship was released on the evening of July 6,” the statement reads. “In connection with the unacceptable situation, the ambassador of Turkey in Kyiv was invited to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.”
The diplomatic spat threatens to damage relations between Ukraine and Turkey at a highly sensitive time. Turkey has been trying to play the role of neutral broker between Moscow and Kyiv in talks on a truce to allow commercial shipping to resume in the Black Sea.
But tensions over the Zhibek Zholy have complicated the prospects for negotiating an agreement. Turkey’s status as a neutral partner now appears to be compromised in the eyes of officials in Kyiv.
Early on the morning of June 30, news broke that the Russian cargo ship had left the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk carrying 7,000 tons of grain, according to the Moscow-appointed head of the occupied Zaporizhzhia region.
The ship was expected to unload in Turkey’s port of Karasu on the evening of July 1, but Ukraine asked Turkey to take “urgent measures” and inspect the grain, suspecting it of having been seized from Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine — which Moscow denies.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and international partners of Ukraine condemn the criminal actions of the Russian Federation on the abduction and export of grain from Ukrainian territory to foreign countries,” the ministry writes, calling the case of the Zhibek Zholy ship “particularly egregious” as it “was trying to transport stolen grain from occupied Berdyansk to the Turkish port of Karasu.”
Kyiv says that the Zhibek Zholy “was unable to unload the stolen goods” — at the time of writing, the whereabouts of the cargo ship are unknown, as it appears to have turned off its tracker Wednesday at 7 p.m., local time, according to the website MarineTraffic.
Russia has blocked all commercial shipments of Ukrainian food products through the Black Sea since it invaded Ukraine, which is pushing up food prices and increasing hunger around the world.
The United Nations and Turkey are attempting to broker a deal between Russia and Ukraine aimed at safely reopening the sea lanes. An open question remains whether Russia and Ukraine will agree to attend another potential round of talks in Turkey in the coming days.
“I don’t want to join the chorus of those who say the agreement will take place next week,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Bloomberg on Wednesday.