European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has called the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain exports a “real war crime”

Ukraine has recently exported by land an average of 1.5 million tonnes of grain a month.

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“In recent months, we have exported an average of 1.5 million tonnes of grain by land – by rail and by road,” Olha Trofimtseva, Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Coordinator of the Exporters and Investors Council, said at an online briefing on Monday. She noted that European infrastructure and logistics were not ready for the amount of grain exported by Ukraine. In this context, the diplomat praised the efforts of Poland, Germany and other countries to build transit hubs on the borders, accelerated passage of trains with Ukrainian grain between countries to ports where it can be loaded on ships. “We have recently heard President Biden saying that the United States will also build temporary grain storage facilities in Poland near the Ukrainian border to relieve Ukrainian grain storage facilities before the 2022 harvest,” said the coordinator of the Exporters and Investors Council. She also drew attention to the fact that European partners simplified all customs and phytosanitary control procedures as much as possible so that Ukrainian grain reaches final consumers promptly.

Hungary has offered its territory as a possible route for Ukrainian grain exports due to disruption of usual routes via the Black Sea caused by Russia’s invasion, Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó has said.

The German railway is planning to assist with Ukraine’s grain exports, and relevant trial operations are expected to be completed in July 2022. The relevant statement was made by Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Ukraine Anka Feldhusen during an online briefing. According to Feldhusen, Ukraine’s grain exports via Odesa ports are impossible now, and different export solutions via the Ukrainian-Polish border are being developed.

“We want to help. The German railway is actively working with Ukrainian partners to carry out trial operations. I really hope we will complete such operations in July and will be able to export [Ukrainian] grain on a daily basis,” Feldhusen said.

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As reported, 7 million tonnes of wheat, 14 million tonnes of corn grain, 3 million tonnes of sunflower oil, and 3 million tonnes of sunflower meal have not entered the world market due to Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian seaports. This has already led to a record rise in world market prices and will inevitably result in a global food crisis and rising inflation. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba said on May 31 that Ukraine was working on UN-led international operation with partner fleets to create safe trade routes for Ukrainian food exports.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has called the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain exports a “real war crime,” adding that the bloc’s sanctions on Russia have played no part in the global food crisis. Speaking to journalists on his way to a EU Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said that “it’s not the European sanctions” that are “creating this crisis.”

Some background: Russia’s war in Ukraine could push up to 49 million people into famine or famine-like conditions because of its devastating impact on global food supply and prices, the United Nations has said. Countries are scrambling to find a way around the blockade, and the US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby has said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “absolutely has weaponized food” by blockading grain exports out of Ukraine. Borrell’s remarks comes after Putin said that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are not responsible for the global food crisis and accused the United States of driving up food prices in his speech to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday.

Minister hits back at Putin’s remarks: Borrell countered these claims Monday, saying that the “the problem comes from the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain.” Countries who want to buy Russian fertilizers are free to so, Borrell said, reiterating that the bloc’s sanctions do not target food or fertilizers. “One cannot imagine that millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world people are suffering hunger. This is a real war crime,” Borrell said.” He added that he didn’t see the food crisis lasting “much longer,” expressing his hope that the UN “reaches an agreement” with Russia soon to unblock Ukrainian grain exports.

The U.S. agriculture secretary has called on Russia to rapidly open Ukraine’s ports to allow the export of millions of tons of stockpiled grain, while a U.S. satellite company says it has images of Russian ships delivering Ukrainian grain to Syria.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters at the UN in New York on June 16 that the situation is “serious” and said food should not be used “as a weapon.” A Russian Navy blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports for weeks has prevented commercial cargo ships from carrying grain to global markets. Moscow has demanded that economic sanctions on it be lifted in exchange for allowing grain exports. International grain prices have soared amid the standoff, and key importers in the Middle East and Africa are facing supply shortfalls.

UN officials, including Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, have expressed concern that the situation could worsen hunger in some parts of the world. UN negotiators have been trying to broker a deal to resume Ukrainian grain exports, as well as Russian food and fertilizer exports. Vilsack said he hoped that Russia’s participation in the talks is not just to “create an image.”

He urged Moscow “to make sure that they are negotiating in good faith about the reopening of the ports and they do so quickly. Because the need is immediate.” Turkey has said it would host a meeting with the United Nations, Russia, and Ukraine to organize safe corridors for grain exports, but there was no immediate comment from Moscow, which Ukraine says has been stealing its grain.

Those allegations appeared to be backed up on June 16 when the U.S. satellite imagery company Maxar said it has images of Russian-flagged ships carrying Ukrainian grain harvested last season to Syria. The images show two Russian-flagged ships docked in the Russian-controlled Crimean port of Sevastopol in May being loaded with grain. Days later, Maxar satellites collected images of the same ships docked in Syria, with their hatches open and trucks lined up to haul the grain away, Maxar said.

The company said another image from June showed a different ship being loaded with grain in Sevastopol. Ukraine has accused Russia of stealing grain from the territories that Russian forces have occupied since its invasion began in late February.

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