Russia criticizes the sanctions and seeks to blame the food crisis
Kyiv, Ukraine (AFP) – Moscow pressed the West on Thursday to lift sanctions imposed on Russia over the war in Ukrainewhich seeks to blame a growing food crisis exacerbated by Kyiv’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products due to the conflict.
Britain immediately accused Moscow of “trying to impose ransom on the world” and insisted there would be no sanctions relief.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but war, including a Russian blockade of its ports, has prevented much of that production from leaving the country, jeopardizing global food supplies.. Many of these ports are now heavily mined.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tried to blame the crisis squarely on Western sanctions.
“We accuse the Western countries of committing a series of illegal measures that led to the blockade,” he said in a conference call with reporters.
Russia also considers itself a significant grain exporter, and Peskov said the West “should eliminate illegal decisions that impede ship chartering and grain exports.”
His comments appeared to be an attempt to deliberately muddy the waters, by dumping Ukraine’s export ban on what Russia says are its difficulties in exporting its products.
Western officials denied the allegations. Last week, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken referred to an exception for foodstuffs, fertilizers and seeds of the sanctions imposed by the United States and many others — and that Washington is working to ensure that countries know that the flow of those goods must not be affected.
As the war enters its fourth month, world leaders intensified their calls for solutions this week.
“This food crisis is real and we must find solutions,” World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday.
She said about 25 million tons of Ukrainian grain is currently in storage, and another 25 million tons could be harvested next month.
European countries tried to ease the crisis by taking grain out of the country by rail – But trains can only carry a small part of what Ukraine produces, and ships are needed to do most of the exports.
Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry on Wednesday proposed opening a corridor to allow foreign ships to leave Black Sea ports and another to allow ships to leave Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.
Mikhail Mizintsev, head of Russia’s National Defense Monitoring Center, said 70 foreign ships from 16 countries are now in six ports on the Black Sea, including Odessa, Kherson and Mykolaiv. He did not specify how many people might be willing to carry the food.
Ukraine has expressed skepticism about the Russian proposal.
Speaking in Davos, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his country was ready to agree on safe corridors in principle – but was not sure if it could trust Russia to stick to any deal.
The issue, he said, was “how to ensure that Russia will not violate the safe passage agreement at night or early morning and that its military ships will not infiltrate the port and attack Odessa.”
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “trying to impose a ransom on the world” by demanding that some sanctions be lifted before Ukraine’s grain shipments are allowed to resume.
“It basically promoted hunger and food shortages among the poorest people all over the world,” Truss said during a visit to Sarajevo.
“What we can’t have is any lifting of sanctions, any appeasement, which will simply make Putin stronger in the long run,” she added.
The World Food Program paid to get wheat out of Ukrainian ports while also making room for the harvest of the recently planted grain.
“The flow has to be continuous, you can’t have a few ships full,” said John Dumont, a spokesman for the World Food Programme. “They are planting now. Where are they going to put that wheat when the harvest comes at the end of June and July? There is nowhere to go.”
On the battlefield, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army said Thursday that Russian forces continued their attempts to launch their offensive in several sections of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on the front line. That major industrial area of coal mines and factories is now the focus of the fighting after Russia suffered a series of setbacks and the war was forced to pursue limited goals.
Military officials said that Russian forces continued their efforts to gain a foothold in the Severodonetsk region, the only part of the Donbass Luhansk region under the control of the Ukrainian government. They also said that Russia has also launched missiles and air strikes on infrastructure facilities across the country.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haiday said the Russian bombing had killed three people in and around the eastern city of Lysekhansk, which is a major focus of the fighting.
Talks to end the fighting stalled long ago, but each side continued to try to work out a negotiating position.
On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Peskov said he expected Ukraine to recognize the current situation. This appears to point to the Kremlin’s hopes that Ukraine will recognize Russian control of southern Ukraine’s cities such as Kherson, Melitopol and other areas north of Crimea, which it seized in 2014, as well as the Donbass regions it seized.
Russia has previously demanded that Ukraine recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea and recognize the independence of the Russian-backed separatist regions of Donbass.
Picatoros reported from Kramatorsk, Ukraine.
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