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ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said he still hoped that Russian leader Vladimir Putin would visit Turkey in August as Ankara works to re-establish a deal that allows Ukraine to export its grain via the Black Sea.

“There’s no precise date yet but my foreign minister and intelligence head are holding talks,” Erdogan told reporters after Friday prayers at an Istanbul mosque. “I believe that this visit will take place in August,” he said.

Turkey was a key player in the now collapsed deal that allowed for safe passage of Ukrainian grain shipments via the Black Sea.

The accord, brokered by Ankara and the United Nations in July 2022, ended last month after Moscow refused to renew it.

Erdogan on Wednesday urged Putin in a phone call not to further escalate tensions after Moscow struck facilities vital for grain shipments from Ukraine.

On Friday, Erdogan said he was on the same page with Russia over the need to export the grain to less developed African countries.

“We will turn the grain from the Black Sea into flour and transport them to poor, less developed African countries,” he said.

Last month, Erdogan announced that Putin would visit Turkey in August, during a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

But Moscow was annoyed when Zelensky returned from Istanbul with five top commanders from the Azov regiment who were supposed to have remained in Turkey until the end of the conflict under a prisoner exchange deal with Moscow.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said at the time that it was “a direct violation” of the agreement with Turkey.

NATO member Turkey has managed to have friendly ties with both Russia and Ukraine throughout the war.

Ankara has shied away from Western sanctions imposed on Russia but supplied arms to Ukraine.

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