Zelensky warns of ‘hunger catastrophe’, accusing Russia of blocking grain exports from Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned of starvation and a “catastrophe” of hunger, accusing Russia of blocking grain exports from his war-torn country – in what the United States described as an effort ” to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people”.

During remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, Zelensky said Russian forces were preventing Ukraine from exporting 22 million tons of food products, including “our grains, our barley, our sunflower and Moreover”.

“If we do not export in the coming months, if there are no political agreements with Russia through intermediaries, there will be famine, there will be a disaster, there will be a deficit, there will be a high price,” Zelensky said.

Earlier in May, Ukraine closed its four ports – Mariupol, Berdyansk and Skadovsk in the Sea of ​​Azov, and Kherson in the Black Sea – “until control is restored”. Some of the ports were captured by Russian forces, while others were blockaded.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warns of a “catastrophe” to the global food supply during a video conference broadcast during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, May 23. (Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In Davos, Zelensky said: “You can unlock them in different ways. One of the solutions is a military solution. This is why we turn to our partners for any question concerning the weapons concerned.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has had a ripple effect around the world: it has disrupted supply chains and contributed to soaring fuel prices and scarcity of grain and fertilizer. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said in April that Russia’s war on Ukraine was mainly responsible for the 17.1% rise in the price of wheat, barley, corn and other cereals.

At a meeting of the UN Security Council on May 19, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of weaponizing food and holding grain hostage “to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people”.

The meeting, which was convened by the United States, was taking place “at a time of unprecedented global hunger” fueled by climate change and COVID-19, “and compounded by conflict,” Blinken said.

Blinken said Russia has sought to control Ukrainian ports and access to the Black Sea and Sea of ​​Azov since launching its invasion in February, and he called it a “deliberate effort” to stop navigation and block any safe passage.

“Due to the actions of the Russian government, some 20 million tonnes of grain sit idle in Ukrainian silos as global food supplies dwindle, prices soar, causing food insecurity around the world,” he said. he declares.

The accusations were described as “absolutely false” by Vassily Nebenzya, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations.

“You claim that we are allegedly preventing agricultural products from leaving Ukraine by sea,” Nebenzya said. “However, the truth is that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that blocked 75 ships from 17 states in Nikolaev ports. [known as Mykolaiv in Ukraine]Kherson, Chernomorsk, Mariupol, Ochakov, Odessa and Yuzhny and operated the waterways.

Russian soldiers patrol a street in Berdyansk.

Russian servicemen patrol a street near the port of Berdyansk on April 30. (Andrey Borodulin/AFP via Getty Images)

“Unless this issue is resolved, we cannot speak of any opportunity to export Ukrainian grain by sea,” he warned.

The United States has few options to help end Russia’s blockade. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said at a Monday press conference with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that the United States has no ships in the Black Sea.

“I think it’s quite important for Ukraine’s economy, and many countries around the world depend on Ukrainian grain,” he told reporters.

“For the moment, it’s a bit of an impasse [in the Black Sea region] between Ukrainians who want to make sure there is no amphibious landing against Odessa,” its key port, he said.

A green wheat field in Ukraine.

A wheat field in Ukraine. (Rick Mave/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Russia itself has everything to gain from blocking Ukrainian exports; since it is a major grain producer and, according to Nebenzya, expects a record wheat harvest. He said Russia could offer to export 25 million tonnes of grain from August 1 until the end of 2022 through the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk.

The UN ambassador went on to accuse the more than 10,000 sanctions against Russia of disrupting transportation routes, banning Russian ships from ports and causing other problems.

“If you don’t want to lift the sanctions of your choice, then why are you accusing us of being the cause of this food crisis? He asked. “Why do your irresponsible geopolitical games mean that the poorest countries and regions have to suffer?”

In a recent statement, G-7 foreign ministers urged Russia to “immediately cease its attacks on key transportation infrastructure in Ukraine, including ports.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he was ready to facilitate grain and fertilizer exports, but only if sanctions against Russia are lifted.

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