ISTANBUL: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday that Ankara is working hard to extend a UN-backed initiative that has enabled Ukraine to export grain from ports blockaded by Russia following its invasion.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last July allowed grain to be exported from three Ukrainian ports. The agreement was extended in November and will expire on March 18 unless an extension is agreed.

Russia has signalled it is unhappy with aspects of the deal.

“We are working hard for the smooth implementation and further extension of the Black Sea grain deal,” Cavusoglu said in a speech at the United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries being held in Doha, Qatar.

Russia has said it would only agree to extend the Black Sea grain deal if the interests of its own agricultural producers are taken into account.

On Sunday, Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, reiterated this position.

“If this agreement is equal, then we have always fulfilled our part and are going to fulfil it in all the agreements,” she said according to TASS news wire, adding that Russia would be against “goading and machinations”.

Russia’s agricultural exports have not been explicitly targeted by Western sanctions, but Moscow says restrictions on its payments, logistics and insurance industries are a “barrier” to it being able to export its own grains and fertilisers.

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