The deal between Ukraine and Russia to unblock Ukrainian grain exports may offer a way forward to a possible ceasefire in the five-month conflict, said former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The good news is that the Kremlin wants a negotiated solution,” Schroeder told Stern weekly and broadcasters RTL/ntv on Wednesday, adding he had met Putin in Moscow last week.
“A first success is the grain deal, perhaps that can be slowly expanded to a ceasefire,” he said.
The Razoni, the first grain-carrying ship to leave Ukrainian ports in wartime with more than 26,000 tonnes of corn, safely anchored off Turkey’s coast on Tuesday.
An inspection team of Turkish, Ukrainian, Russian and UN officials – working under the Joint Control Centre (JCC) – started to inspect the vessel on Wednesday.
After the checks are complete, it will sail off towards the Lebanese city of Tripoli.
The easing of Russia’s blockade has raised hopes that a growing food crisis, in which millions in the world face hunger, can be thwarted.
If the first shipment reaches its final destination without obstacles, 16 other ships are expected to leave Ukraine to export grain to the world market.
The move was made possible earlier this month when Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu and Ukrainian infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov signed agreements with UN and Turkish officials on reopening blocked Black Sea delivery routes.
Earlier, Kyiv and Moscow had traded blame for the crisis.
Schroeder also said solutions to problems such as Crimea could be found over time, “maybe not over 99 years, like Hong Kong, but in the next generation”.
He said an alternative to NATO membership for Ukraine might be armed neutrality, like Austria. The future of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, the scene of fierce fighting, however, was more complicated, he said.
“A solution based on the Swiss cantonal model will have to be found,” he said, adding it would have to be seen if Putin would go back to a pre-war “contact line” in a ceasefire.
Schroeder, chancellor from 1998 to 2005, has criticised the war in Ukraine but refused to condemn Putin, whom he still calls a close personal friend.
Distancing himself from Putin now would not help the situation, he said.
Increasingly derided in Germany for his pro-Russia stance, Schroeder has been stripped of his right to a publicly funded office.
A champion of the Nord Stream pipeline which carries Russian gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea, Schroeder is chairman of the shareholders’ committee of Nord Stream AG, an operator of the pipeline majority-owned by Russia’s Gazprom, according to the professional networking website LinkedIn.
After intense criticism, Schroeder in May stood down from the board of Russia’s state-owned oil company Rosneft and declined a nomination for a board position at Gazprom.