Moscow (The Times Groupe)- The Russian foreign ministry says opening up Ukraine’s Black Sea ports – and thereby alleviating pressure on global food supplies – would only be considered if sanctions against Ukraine are lifted.
The comments by Moscow come after the United Nations food chief warned Putin that millions would die as a result of the blockade.
Global food shortages are a consequence of the war in Ukraine, warn international authorities.
The country ranks among the world’s top cereal producers, along with Russia. However, Moscow’s blockade of Black Sea ports means exports are halted.
“You have to not only appeal to the Russian Federation but also look deeply at the whole complex of reasons that caused the current food crisis,” the Interfax news agency reported Russian deputy foreign minister, Andrei Rudenko, as saying.
“In the first instance, these are the sanctions that have been imposed against Russia by the US and the EU that interfere with normal free trade, encompassing food products including wheat, fertilizers and others,” he added.
David Beasley, United Nations food chief, appealed directly to the Russian president earlier.
“If you have any heart at all for the rest of the world, regardless of how you feel about Ukraine, you need to open up those ports,” he said.
Russia is being urged by the United Nations to ensure food supplies reach the areas that need them most.
“There is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as the food and fertilizer produced by Russia and Belarus, into world markets — despite the war,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
“Russia must permit the safe and secure export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports.”
“And Russian food and fertilizers must have unrestricted access to world markets without indirect impediments.”
Several factors contributed to food insecurity before the war, including conflicts, climatic changes, and economic crises.
Over the next fifteen months, the World Bank will give $12 billion (€11.3 billion) in aid, mostly to African, Middle East, and Eastern European countries.
“This is a crisis that is poised to get worse compared to the food price crisis in 2007 to 2008, affecting many, many poor households,” said Martien Nieuwkoop, Agriculture and Food Global Director of the World Bank.
“We see already food insecurity at very high levels. The support will be used to protect poor households by scaling up social safety nets.
“It will help farmers to get ready for the next planting season. It will also be used to make sure that export restrictions are avoided. And that food and food trade stays open, to avoid price increases.”
The United States has also reiterated its commitment to fight famine and malnutrition.
According to the United Nations, the number of people who suffer from severe food insecurity has doubled in just two years, from 135 million before the COVID-19 pandemic to 276 million today.
Last year, 193 million people in 53 countries experienced acute food insecurity.
“In total, this represents more than $30 billion (€28.3 billion) available for the implementation of the fight against food insecurity over the next 15 months,” noted the World Bank.
“Rising food prices are having devastating effects on the poorest and most vulnerable,” said World Bank President David Malpass.
“To inform and stabilise markets, it is essential that countries make clear statements now on future production increases in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”