Latest news on the Russian-Ukrainian war: NATO, Putin and other updates
The United Nations is coordinating talks between Ukraine, Russia and Turkey in hopes of working out security guarantees that would allow Ukraine to export its grain and help ease a global food crisis exacerbated by the war.
But the Ukrainian government negotiator expressed skepticism in a recent interview with The New York Times that Russia would honor any guarantee unless Kyiv had the military might to enforce it.
Ukrainian negotiator Rustem Umerov told The Times that the country was preparing for talks in Istanbul to discuss a way to end Russia’s de facto blockade of the Black Sea port of Odessa to allow shipment of the 20 million metric tons of grain that Ukraine has in storage silos.
But he said only the delivery of powerful naval weapons from Western allies would guarantee effective security, and he accused Russia of seeking to use the issue to shore up its own position in the Black Sea.
“If we open the ports, that means the northwest Black Sea will open up to them,” he said. No international backer, he added, “the one that guarantees us,” could be called upon to retaliate if Russia then attacked Ukrainian shipping.
“And they understand it,” he said. “That’s why they are pressuring the world to urge Ukraine to open the ports.”
Before the start of the war, Ukraine exported about six million tonnes of grain a month, Kate Newton, emergency coordinator for the United Nations World Food Program in Ukraine, said at a press conference in Kyiv on Thursday. . Today, the country can only export about one million metric tons per month, she said.
“We do everything we can,” she said, “exporting grain by truck, rail and water.” But, she said, without the use of Black Sea ports, it would not be possible to increase export levels much.
Russian forces have also shelled grain storage centers and fields across Ukraine. When Ukraine began shipping grain from a port on the Danube, the Russians bombed the main bridge trucks that could get there.
In previous negotiations, Moscow had insisted on the right to “inspect” all ships carrying Ukrainian grain, a condition that Kyiv would not agree to.
Ukraine’s military said on Thursday it had driven Russian forces from Snake Island, a strategically important outcrop whose loss could undermine Moscow’s control over the Black Sea shipping lanes. But Russia’s de facto blockade has shown no signs of easing.
Mr. Umerov and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have accused Russia of sowing disinformation about those responsible for the blockade. The grain issue, and even the prospect of a famine, are now part of an information war waged by Moscow, Umerov said.
“They weaponize starvation,” Mr. Umerov said. “They go to African states saying, ‘We are always ready to support you, it’s the Ukrainians who don’t open the ports.’ African countries are heavily dependent on grain from Russia and Ukraine.
The Russian Defense Ministry presented its withdrawal from Snake Island as a humanitarian gesture and repeated that it was not responsible for the food crisis. But in a recent appearance, Kremlin RT spokesperson editor Margarita Simonyan appeared to suggest the crisis could be to Moscow’s political advantage.
“I’ve heard it many times in Moscow from many people: ‘All our hope is in starvation,'” she told the St. Petersburg Economic Forum on June 20, adding that these people s expected the famine to push countries to lift sanctions against Russia.
Kyiv has worked to counter this narrative. Last week, Mr. Kuleba spent an hour talking to reporters from Africa, stressing the urgency for Ukraine to resume exports.
“The only country that’s not really pressed for time here is Russia,” he said in an interview. “Everyone is running out of time, whether it’s us as suppliers, African and Asian countries as recipients, or the United Nations, whose reputation is at stake.”