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Russia reportedly said Wednesday that it is ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for ships carrying food to leave Ukraine – but it would require some sanctions to be lifted.
“We have repeatedly stated on this point that a solution to the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the lifting of sanctions that have been imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko was quoted as saying, according to the Interfax news agency.
“And, it also requires the demining by the Ukrainian side of all ports where ships are anchored. Russia is ready to provide the necessary humanitarian passage, which it does every day,” he said.
The official said a possible escort by Western ships of Ukraine’s vessels carrying grain would “seriously exacerbate the situation in the Black Sea,” and told news agency RIA that it is in touch with the United Nations.
Western powers have been discussing the idea of setting up “safe corridors” for grain exports from Ukraine.
The Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia’s invasion in February and more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos there.
Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies and Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.
The total area planted with grain is already expected to be up to 30% smaller than last year.
“The anxiety around access to food at a reasonable price globally is hitting the roof,” Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said this week.
As air strikes continue in Ukraine’s eastern region, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused Russia on Tuesday of deliberately bombing grain warehouses.
“Russia is now hoarding its own food exports as a form of blackmail — holding back supplies to increase global prices, or trading wheat in exchange for political support,” she said. “This is using hunger and grain to wield power.”
Von der Leyen noted that vulnerable populations would suffer the most.
World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley warned The Associated Press that if Ukraine’s supplies remain off the market, the world could face a food availability problem in the next 10 to 12 months.
In a Wednesday intelligence update, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense said that Ukraine’s overland export mechanisms are “highly unlikely to substitute for the shortfall in shipping capacity caused by the Russian blockade.”
“Fighting has already placed indirect pressure on global grain prices,” it noted. “While the threat of Russia’s naval blockade continues to deter access by commercial shipping to Ukrainian ports, the resulting supply shortfalls will further increase the price of many staple products.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.