Russia seeks to blame West for food crisis


Moscow : Moscow pressed the West on Thursday to lift sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, seeking to shift the blame for a growing food crisis that has been worsened by Kyiv’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products while under attack. Britain immediately accused Russia of trying to hold the world to ransom, insisting there would be no sanctions relief, and a top U.S. diplomat blasted the sheer barbarity, sadistic cruelty and lawlessness of the invasion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Moscow is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizer on the condition that politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted, according to a Kremlin readout of the call. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the war and a Russian blockade of its ports have halted much of that flow, endangering world food supplies. Many of those ports are now also heavily mined. Russia also is a significant grain exporter, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the West must cancel the unlawful decisions that hamper chartering ships and exporting grain. His comments appeared to be an effort to lump the blockade of Ukrainian exports with what Russia says are its difficulties in moving its own goods. Western officials have dismissed those claims. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted last week that food, fertilizer and seeds are exempt from sanctions imposed by the U.S. and many others — and that Washington is working to ensure countries know the flow of those goods should not be affected. With the war grinding into its fourth month, world leaders have ramped up calls for solutions. World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said about 25 million tons of Ukrainian grain is in storage and another 25 million tons could be harvested next month.

European countries have tried to ease the crisis by moving grain out of the country by rail — but trains can carry only a small fraction of what Ukraine produces, and ships are needed for the bulk of the exports. At the same time, the Russian Defense Ministry proposed corridors to allow foreign ships to leave ports along the Black Sea, as well as Mariupol on the Sea of Azov. Mikhail Mizintsev, who heads Russia’s National Defense Control Center, said 70 foreign vessels from 16 countries were in six ports on the Black Sea, including Odesa, Kherson and Mykolaiv. He did not specify how many might be ready to carry food. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his country was ready to agree on safe corridors in principle, but it was not sure it could trust Russia to allow safe passage and not send its military vessels sneaking into the harbor to attack Odesa. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Putin was trying to hold the world to ransom by demanding some sanctions be lifted before allowing Ukrainian grain shipments to resume. He’s essentially weaponized hunger and lack of food among the poorest people around the world, Truss said on a visit to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. What we cannot have is any lifting of sanctions, any appeasement, which will simply make Putin stronger in the longer term. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for imposing even tougher sanctions on Russia, including for the European Union to ban Russian oil and gas.