ISTANBUL – A contentious freighter carrying allegedly stolen grain from Ukraine has returned to Russian territorial waters, a Turkish source told AFP on Thursday, sparking anger in Kyiv.
The marinetraffic.com website showed Zhibek Zholy moving at least 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Turkish Black Sea port of Karasu before apparently turning off his transponder and disappearing from sight.
A Turkish source said the ship had reached Russian territorial waters but had not yet docked at the port.
Kyiv alleges that the 7,000-ton ship set sail from the Kremlin-occupied Ukrainian port of Berdyansk after picking up confiscated wheat.
Ukraine demanded that Turkey seize the ship and return the allegedly stolen wheat.
But Russia says it has “nationalized” Ukrainian state assets and bought crops from local farmers.
Turkey, a member of NATO, tried to negotiate a solution that could preserve its good relations with Moscow and Kyiv.
It was not immediately clear what had happened to the wheat.
An unnamed crew member of the Zhibek Zholy told Russian news agency TASS that the ship intended to unload the grain on another ship so as “not to lose money”.
But the Turkish source said the vessel still appeared to be carrying grain.
“As far as we know, it is waiting loaded,” the Turkish source said.
Ankara has not issued an official statement on the Zhibek Zholy since arriving in Karasu last Friday.
But Ukraine’s foreign ministry summoned Turkey’s ambassador on Thursday to demand an explanation for the ship’s apparent release.
“Ignoring a call from Ukraine, the ship was released on the evening of July 6,” the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement.
He said he was “deeply disappointed” that Turkey did not follow up on his request to seize the ship.
“We regret that the Russian ship Zhibek Zholy, loaded with stolen Ukrainian grain, was allowed to leave the port of Karasu despite criminal evidence presented to the Turkish authorities,” the spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Twitter. Oleg Nikolenko.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month that Ankara was investigating reports of Ukrainian grain seized by Russia reaching its Black Sea shores.
But he added that Turkey had been unable to find shipments of stolen Ukrainian grain.
Turkey’s reluctance underscores the difficulty of its position in the war.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has had a tumultuous but close working relationship with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
He tried to use this access to push Turkey into the midst of diplomatic negotiations and talks on resuming grain shipments from Ukrainian ports.
But its relationship with Russia is complicated by Turkey’s international commitments as a member of NATO’s defense bloc.
Ankara is also supplying Ukraine with combat drones that have proven effective in slowing Russia’s advance into the Donbass war zone.