Ukraine’s president called on the international community on Monday to take immediate steps to end a Russian blockade of his country’s ports to allow wheat exports and prevent a global food crisis.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made his comments in an online post after speaking to European Council President Charles Michel who was visiting the city of Odesa, a major Black Sea port for exporting agricultural products.
“It is important to prevent a food crisis in the world caused by Russia’s aggressive actions,” Zelenskiy wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “Immediate measures must be taken to unblock Ukrainian ports for wheat exports.”
He did not specify what measures he would like taken. NATO countries including the United States have ruled out armed intervention for fear of triggering a wider war.
Michel, who chairs summits of the European Union’s national leaders, wrote on Twitter that he had seen silos full of grain, wheat and corn in Odesa that was ready for export but blocked.
“This badly needed food is stranded because of the Russian war and blockade of Black sea ports. Causing dramatic consequences for vulnerable countries. We need a global response,” he wrote.
Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports since invading on Feb. 24 have added to volatility in international financial markets, sending commodity prices higher.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week the problem of global food security cannot be solved without restoring Ukrainian agricultural production to the world market.
Ukraine was the world’s fourth largest exporter of maize (corn) in the 2020/21 season and the number six wheat exporter, according International Grains Council data. But nearly 25 million tonnes of grains are now stuck in Ukraine, a U.N. food agency official said on Friday.
Ukrainian agriculture officials say the exportable surplus is around 12 million tonnes, and agriculture analysts have said Ukraine’s stocks are so high that there will not be enough room to store the new harvest when it comes.
Ukraine has sown about 7 million hectares of spring crops so far this year, or 25-30% less than in the corresponding period of 2021, Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi said earlier on Monday.
He said Ukraine had exported 1.090 million tonnes of grain in April, but that the sowing was not of the same quality as last year and the sowing area for corn was smaller.
Solskyi underlined the importance of exports of Ukrainian grain via Romania, where they are being taken by rail, but said those exports could be complicated in two months by exports of the new wheat crop in Romania and Bulgaria.
Baltic ports offered the most attractive other alternative for exporting grain, he said.
Repeating allegations that Russia has been stealing grain from Ukraine during the war, Solskyi said Ukraine regarded any ships carrying grain via the port of Sevastopol in the Crimea region to be stolen.
“Work is under way so that this stolen grain can be quickly seized,” he said, without giving details.
Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, has denied stealing Ukrainian grain. Moscow says its “special operation” in Ukraine is designed to disarm and denazify its smaller neighbor. Ukraine and the West say this is a false pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression by Russia.
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