By Cecilia Odey
Talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are under way in Sochi.
The talks are to wrangle over the resumption of a UN-brokered deal to safely ship Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea.
Putin received his guest outside his residence in Sochi on Monday afternoon, television images showed.
The trip to the Black Sea resort city marks a rare visit by a leader of a NATO country to Russia amid Moscow’s all-out war in Ukraine.
But Erdoğan has taken on the role of mediator between Ukraine and Russia and travelled to Russia to persuade Putin to rejoin the grain agreement.
Turkey has not endorsed Western war sanctions.
This will be the first meeting between the two leaders since Erdoğan’s re-election for a third term as president in May.
In July, Moscow said it was halting participation in the year-old deal, which created corridors for the export of tens of millions of tonnes of grains and fertilisers.
The deal, which Erdoğan helped to negotiate, is seen as essential to addressing global food insecurity and to containing grain prices.
Ukraine is also desperately dependent on income from exports.
But the Kremlin wasn’t satisfied with the way the pact, officially known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative, was being implemented.
Moscow says it wants obstacles to exports of Russia’s own foodstuffs lifted in exchange for further cooperation and is seeking relief from Western sanctions on payments, logistics and shipping insurance.
The United States and the European Union (EU) have dismissed Moscow’s complaints as without merit, saying their sanctions do not target Russian grain and fertilisers.
Since ending the deal, Russia has ramped up drone and missile attacks on Ukrainian grain ports and storage infrastructure.
Ukraine has said tens of thousands of tonnes of grain have also been destroyed in the process.
No representatives of the United Nations or Ukraine will be present at the talks in Sochi, making a breakthrough unlikely.
In recent weeks, Kiev has successfully organised the passage of ships through a Black Sea corridor, in spite of the risk of attack.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that two more cargo ships had navigated the route.
Russia has threatened to treat all ships calling at Ukrainian ports as potential military targets.
Beyond Ukraine, ties between Russia and Turkey have long been unsettled by their support for opposing sides in Syria’s civil war.
Meanwhile, in the disputed South Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey backs Azerbaijan, which won a war over the territory against Armenia in 2020.
Armenia, on the other hand has traditionally had its interest sees itself abandoned by Putin and its traditional protector Russia.
Ahead of Monday’s meeting, the Kremlin said only bilateral and international issues will be discussed.