ISTANBUL, July 5 (Reuters) – Ukraine has asked Turkey to help investigate three Russian-flagged ships as part of Kyiv’s effort to investigate what it claims was the theft of grain from the territory occupied by Russia, according to official documents.
In a June 13 letter, which has not been previously reported, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office asked the Turkish Ministry of Justice to investigate and provide evidence on the three named vessels it suspects of having been involved in transporting grain that was allegedly stolen in recently occupied Ukrainian territories, such as Kherson.
The letter, which Reuters has reviewed, says the ships traveled from Crimea’s main grain terminal in Sevastopol in April and May and pressed Ankara for documents about their cargo and their arrival at Turkish ports. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
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The three big dry bulk carriers – Mikhail Nenashev, Matros Pozynich and Matros Koshka – are owned by a subsidiary of a Western-sanctioned Russian state-owned company called United Shipbuilding Corporation, according to Equasis, a shipping database. The Russian company did not respond to a request for comment.
If it is established that United Shipbuilding Corporation transported grain from recently occupied Ukrainian territory, it would add to new evidence of the involvement of Russian state-owned entities in the export of what Kyiv claims to be goods. stolen. Ukraine has publicly accused Moscow of stealing grain since the February invasion; Russia has repeatedly denied stealing Ukrainian grain.
The conflict in Ukraine has heightened food security concerns both in Ukraine and around the world, pushing global food prices to record highs this year. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain exporters, but is struggling to export goods with war raging along its southern coast and many of its ports blocked. Cereals make up almost a fifth of all the country’s exports, according to official data.
Reuters was unable to determine the origin or ultimate destination of the grain in the vessels Kyiv named in the letter.
The Kremlin did not respond to requests for comment. Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-installed administration in Kherson, said grain from the region goes to Crimea and local farmers are responsible for transporting it there. He said he was not aware of any shipments to Turkey or the Middle East.
Reuters reported on Friday that Kyiv, in a separate letter dated June 30, had asked the Turkish Justice Ministry to detain and arrest another Russian-flagged ship carrying what it said was Ukrainian grain from the port. occupied Berdyansk. On Monday, a senior Turkish official said Turkey had stopped the cargo ship and was investigating Ukraine’s claim. Read more
NATO member Turkey, which has good relations with Moscow and Kyiv, criticized the invasion but also rejected Western sanctions against Russia. Ankara has agreed with Ukraine to block commercial shipments between Crimea and Turkey since 2014.
At the same time, Turkey has 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 declined to comment on the two letters from Kyiv and referred to recent comments by the Turkish Foreign Ministry that it had investigated Ukraine’s public claims that grain stolen by Russia had been transported to Turkey and had determined that there were no problems.
“We have seen that the port of departure of the ships and the origin of the goods is Russia,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on June 23, without identifying which ships. “We are against Ukrainian grain or other goods taken by Russia…and we will not allow these goods to reach us.” The Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment on Berdyansk’s ship which arrived in Turkey late last week.
A Turkish diplomatic source added that Kyiv had shared with Ankara its claims about the transport of allegedly stolen grain to Turkey via Russian ships and that cooperation with Ukrainian officials was ongoing.
Ukraine’s attorney general’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Taras Vysotskiy, the first deputy to Ukraine’s agriculture minister, told Reuters that Kyiv estimates around 400,000 tonnes of stolen grain was exported. Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey, Vasyl Bodnar, told Reuters that Ukraine believes most of it went to Turkey and that Kyiv sent what it considers evidence of the involvement of 13 ships to the Turkish authorities.
The June 13 letter said at least two of the ships turned off tracking systems that were broadcasting openly before entering Sevastopol port.
He also said that Kyiv suspected grain was being taken from recently occupied territory, particularly from Kherson, where he said there were several grain silos that owners do not have access to due to the occupation. He did not identify the owners. Kyiv, in the letter, added that it was investigating criminal violations of Ukraine’s rules and customs of war, without naming individuals.
The Ukrainian embassy in Beirut told Reuters that at least seven companies that own storage units in the newly occupied territory have filed criminal charges with Ukrainian authorities alleging Russia stole their wheat. Two of the companies, Ukrlandfarming and State Food and Grain Corporation of Ukraine, confirmed to Reuters that they had submitted a document to Ukrainian authorities but declined to provide details. The others did not respond to requests for comment.
Ukraine also said Russia had sent wheat to its Syrian ally that is believed to have been stolen from Ukraine since its invasion in February. Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut told Reuters that at least 150,000 tonnes of what it called ‘stolen’ wheat had arrived in Syria since February, mostly on Russian ships, without specifying how it knew about it. .
Neither the Syrian Ports Authority, which is part of the Ministry of Transport, nor the Syrian Ministry of Information responded to requests for comment.
One of the ships Kyiv named in the June 13 letter, the 169-meter-long Mikhail Nenashev, was at the Avlita grain terminal in Sevastopol from June 14 to 16, according to satellite images captured by Planet Labs PBC, a private satellite operator, which show the ship moored next to grain silos topped with cranes.
The ship arrived eight days later in Iskenderun, Turkey, according to ship tracking data from Refinitiv Eikon. Photos and videos provided by Yoruk Isik, an Istanbul-based geopolitical analyst and head of consultancy Bosphorus Observer, show port cranes lifting what appears to be golden grain-like cargo from the Mikhail Nenashev into trucks on June 27 near the port of Dortyol.
Since March, the 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 case, it offloaded 27,000 tonnes of wheat at Turkey’s Derince seaport on April 22, according to Refinitiv Eikon data, which shows the cargo was loaded in Sevastopol, Crimea. Ukraine, in its June 13 letter, said Mikhail Nenashev loaded 27,500 tonnes of grain at the Avlita grain terminal in Sevastopol in April, without specifying on what day.
Dortyol Port did not respond to questions from Reuters about the shipments or the precautions taken in light of the Ukrainian claims. Derince Port confirmed it had received “Russian ships carrying grain”, but did not comment on the screening processes. There was no response from Avlita’s head office, and a person from the Sevastopol office who answered the phone denied any knowledge of Ukrainian grain at the port and hung up the phone.
Another of the ships, the Matros Pozynich, has docked in Syria at least three times in a week or two after visiting the Avlita grain terminal in Sevastopol, satellite imagery and ship tracking data show. The third ship, Matros Koshka, left the Sevastopol grain terminal at least three times before turning off the ship’s transponders, according to satellite imagery and tracking data. On one such occasion, it docked in Syria 10 days later, according to a Planet Labs satellite image.
All three vessels are owned and managed by Russian company Crane Marine Contractor LLC and were purchased in December or February, according to Equasis ownership records. The company is a subsidiary of United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), according to a copy of Crane Marine’s charter currently on its website. USC’s website also lists Crane Marine as one of its companies. Russian company records show that Crane Marine is owned by the Caspian Energy Group, which is part of USC, according to USC company press releases dated 2018.
Crane Marine did not respond to a request for comment.
The United States sanctioned USC in 2014 in response to Russia’s efforts “to destabilize eastern Ukraine”, saying the state-owned defense technology company was manufacturing weapons and building ships for the Russian Navy. In April, Washington renewed and expanded its sanctions on the company. Britain sanctioned USC in February.
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Reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul and Reade Levinson in London Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Azra Ceylan, Ali Kucukgocmen, Daren Butler and David Gauthier-Villars in Istanbul, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Maya Gebeily in Beirut, Mark Trevelyan and Jonathan Saul in London and Gus Trompiz in Paris Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low
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