A Russian-flagged ship has been seized by Turkish authorities over claims the thousands of tons of grain onboard have been stolen from Ukraine.
The Zhibek Zholy is being held and investigated in the Black Sea port of Karasu after Kyiv claimed the ship was illegally transporting 7,000 tonnes of grain out of the south-east Ukrainian port Berdiansk, currently under Russian occupation.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that the ship was Russian-flagged but not Russian-owned, stating that the contract for the shipment also did not involve Russia as the Kremlin attempts to distance itself from Ukrainian claims.
“The ship really is Russian-flagged, but I think it belongs to Kazakhstan and the cargo was being carried on a contract between Estonia and Turkey,” Lavrov told reporters.
Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russia of stealing grain from the territories it occupies, but this is believed to be the first shipment identified and seized.
The Zhibek Zholy’s voyage had been hailed by Moscow as a sign of total control of the region, but the office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general wrote to Turkey’s justice ministry, making the claim of theft and requesting authorities to conduct an inspection of the ship.
The Turkish government has been walking a tightrope between satisfying its NATO allies whilst maintaining strong trade relations with Russia. Authorities in the country have complied with the inspection request but it is unclear at present what findings they will present.
Proving the origins of the grain will be a difficult task, and Turkey will be reluctant to point the finger at Russia with anything less than 100% certainty.
Ukrainian ambassador to Turkey Vasyl Bodnar remained upbeat though that the grain would be confiscated.
“We have full cooperation. The ship is currently standing at the entrance to the port. It has been detained by the customs authorities of Turkey,” said Bodnar, speaking on Ukrainian television.