Putin ties Ukraine grain exports to sanctions relief

Kyiv has been unable to export grain supplies due to Russia’s invasion, which has sent global food prices soaring.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told the leaders of France and Germany that Moscow was “ready” to look for ways to ship grain stuck in Ukrainian ports but demanded the West first lift sanctions amid an escalating global food crisis.

In a lengthy phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron and Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday, Putin said the difficulties in supplying grain to world markets were the result of “erroneous economic and financial policies of Western countries”.

“Russia is ready to help find options for the unhindered export of grain, including the export of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports,” Putin told Macron and Scholz, the Kremlin said.

“An increase in the supply of Russian fertilisers and agricultural products will also help reduce tensions on the global food market, which, of course, will require the removal of the relevant sanctions.”

[Al Jazeera]

Russia’s offensive in Ukraine and Western sanctions have disrupted supplies of fertiliser, wheat and other commodities from the two countries, fuelling concerns about the risk of hunger around the world.

Russia and Ukraine produce 30 percent of the global wheat supply.

A number of issues

Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari reporting from Moscow said that Putin told Sholz and Macron that “there are a number of issues with the ships carrying Ukrainian wheat stuck in the Black Sea”. The Russians are saying mines have been placed along the routes by the Ukrainian army.

“Putin said that Russia is willing to allow the passage of those ships, roughly around 300 of them, from the main port in Odesa in Ukraine. That is something up for discussion, but of course, that is something that has to be done through the Russian military,” Jabbari said.

Macron and Scholz for their part urged Russia to lift the blockade of the Ukrainian port of Odesa to allow the export of grain, the French presidency said.

Both leaders “have taken note of the promise of the Russian president to grant ships access to the port for the export of grain without it being exploited militarily by Russia if it is first cleared of mines,” the French presidency added.

Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on February 24, which prompted the West to impose sanctions against Moscow.

As Ukraine’s Western backers were considering whether to send more arms supplies to Kyiv, Putin also told Macron and Scholz the continuing arms supplies were “dangerous”, warning “of the risks of further destabilisation of the situation and aggravation of the humanitarian crisis,” the Kremlin said.

The French and German readouts of the phone talks made no mention of the sanctions against Russia or the Western arms supplies to Ukraine.

The two Western leaders also asked Putin to hold “direct serious negotiations” with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the German chancellor’s office said.

The two EU leaders “insisted on an immediate ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian troops,” the chancellor’s office said.

Putin said Moscow was open to resuming dialogue with Kyiv, the Kremlin said without mentioning the possibility of direct talks between Putin and Zelensky.

Talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations have been held both in-person and via video-link since the Russian military offensive but have recently ground to a halt.

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