Officials representing Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations met Wednesday in Istanbul in an effort to forge an agreement to allow Ukraine to resume exporting its corn, wheat and sunflower seed oil from the country’s primary ports, three of which are in Odesa.

Turkish officials only confirmed that the four-part talks were held, but the Russian embassy in Turkey said that Russia used the meeting to offer up proposals for allowing Ukrainian exports that are desperately needed in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere.

“Our committee has prepared and presented a proposal package for the fastest possible practical solution,” the Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday in a tweet from the embassy.

Ukraine continues to expand its exports of wheat, corn and other farm commodities through alternative routes, but farmers there are hopeful the talks will open up core export routes through ports in Odesa and Mykolaiv, Vitaly Kushnir, an adviser to the Ukraine Agriculture Ministry, tells Agri-Pulse.

“We are at the final stage,” Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said in an interview with El Pais. “Now all depends on Russia. If they really want it, the grain export would be resumed in the nearest future. If they use it to continue their hunger games, then they would continue insisting on further negotiations.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine continues efforts to send grain by rail to ports in Poland and Lithuania in the west and to the Danube River in the south.

The Danube route got a major boost recently when Russian forces retreated from Zmiinyi Island — known commonly as Snake Island — which is off the coast of the southernmost part of Ukraine that borders Romania.

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Now that there is no longer a Russian military threat to commercial ships on Zmiinyi, the nearby Bystroye channel — a deep water entrance to the Danube on the Ukrainian side of the border with Romania — can be used to receive grain from the inland Ukrainian ports of Kiliya, Izmail and Reni, says Kushnir. Previously, only the shallower Sulina channel on the Romanian side of the border was available for grain exports.

“Thanks to the liberation of Zmiiny Island and the opening of another mouth of the river, the export capacity has increased significantly, but there will be a queue of 90 barges for several more weeks," Ukrainian Deputy Agriculture Minister Taras Vysotskyi said Wednesday.

The Ukrainian Ag Ministry lauded the opening of a new export route on the Danube, but stressed in a statement that it will not be satisfied until the country’s primary ports in Odesa and Mykolaiv are once again free to operate.

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