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RUSSIA IS WEAPONIZING FOOD SUPPLIES IN UKRAINE, EUROPE SAYS

The bloc’s foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell also cast doubt on Russia’s claims that it isn’t hindering the export of grain

By Isabel Coles

June 7, 2022

The Wall Street Journal

KYIV, Ukraine—European officials blamed Moscow for a looming global food crisis as Russia’s ongoing blockade of Ukrainian ports threatens the country’s grain exports, while fighting rages in the east.  Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, walked out of a Security Council meeting on Monday after European Council President Charles Michel accused the Kremlin of weaponizing food supplies, in a heated exchange.

European Union foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell also cast doubt on Russia’s claims that it isn’t hindering the export of grain, citing reports that Moscow struck Ukraine’s second-biggest grain terminal in the southern port city of Mykolaiv over the weekend.

The Ukrainian military’s southern command said Russia had fired cruise missiles from over the Black Sea toward Mykolaiv on Sunday. Two missiles were shot down, the command said, but others hit port facilities and grain storage silos.  “In light of such reports, the disinformation spread by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin deflecting blame becomes ever more cynical,” Mr. Borrell said on Twitter on Monday.

Mr. Putin has previously rejected accusations that Moscow is hindering Ukrainian wheat exports. He said it was up to Ukraine to demine Black Sea ports, and said Russia was ready to export Ukrainian wheat via ports it now controls on the adjacent Azov Sea.

Russian officials have expressed willingness to ease the blockade if sanctions on Moscow are lifted. Ukraine has questioned whether Russia could be trusted and U.S. and U.K. officials voiced early opposition to such a deal.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it would impose sanctions on dozens of U.S. nationals in what it said was a response to U.S. sanctions on Russians. The list of 61 Americans published by the ministry late Monday includes U.S. officials and current and former executives at large U.S. corporations, including Delta Air Lines Inc. CEO Edward Bastian, the president of Universal Pictures, Peter Cramer, and Netflix Inc. CEO Reed Hastings. The foreign ministry didn’t specify what the sanctions would involve. The companies weren’t immediately available for comment.

As diplomats seek alternative export routes for the country’s grain, Ukrainian forces were hanging on in the eastern city of Severodonetsk—recently a key target of Russia’s offensive. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a rare visit to the front lines near Severodonetsk over the weekend, as Ukraine awaits heavier weaponry from the West, including long-range rocket systems from the U.S. it hopes will help blunt Russian artillery.

Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region where Severodonetsk is located, said street fighting continued on Tuesday, more than a week after Russian forces entered the city.

Since pulling back from Ukraine’s capital and other areas of northern Ukraine in March, Russia has concentrated its firepower on the east, making slow progress toward its aim of seizing the entire Donbas area, which includes Luhansk and the neighboring Donetsk region. At the same time, Russian forces are continuing to shell border areas while striking strategic targets deeper inside Ukraine, including railway infrastructure and grain storage facilities.

Mr. Michel said he had seen millions of tons of grain and wheat stuck in containers and ships at the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odessa several weeks ago. Russian attacks on transport infrastructure and grain-storage facilities, as well as tanks, bombs and mines are also preventing Ukraine from planting and harvesting, Mr. Michel said. “This is driving up food prices, pushing people into poverty, and destabilizing entire regions,” Mr. Michel said. “Russia is solely responsible for this looming food crisis. Russia alone.”

The blockade of Ukraine’s ports has pushed crops across roads and rail to Ukraine’s western borders or down the Danube to be loaded onto ships in Romania. Ukraine is rushing to fix damaged railways, roads and bridges.

 

Ann M. Simmons contributed to this article.