Moscow pressed the West on Thursday to lift sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, seeking to shift the blame for a growing food crisis worsened by Kyiv’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products because of the conflict.
Britain immediately accused Moscow of “trying to hold the world to ransom” and insisted there would be no sanctions relief.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the war, including a Russian blockade of its ports, has prevented much of that production from leaving the country, endangering the world food supply. Many of those ports are also now heavily mined.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tried to put the blame for the crisis squarely on Western sanctions.
“We accuse Western countries of taking a series of unlawful actions that has led to the blockade,” he said in a conference call with reporters.
Russia itself is also a significant exporter of grain, and Peskov said the West “must cancel the unlawful decisions that hamper chartering ships and exporting grain.”
His comments appeared to be an effort to deliberately muddy the waters, by lumping the blocking of Ukrainian exports in with what Russia says are its difficulties in exporting its own products.
Western officials have dismissed those claims. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted last week that food, fertilizer and seeds are exempt from sanctions imposed by the U.S. and many others — and that Washington is working to ensure countries know the flow of those goods should not be affected.
With the war grinding into its fourth month, world leaders ramped up calls for solutions this week.
“This food crisis is real, and we must find solutions,” World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday.
She said about 25 million tons of Ukrainian grain is presently in storage and another 25 million tons could be harvested next month.
European countries have tried to ease the crisis by bringing grain out of the country by rail — but trains can carry just a small fraction of what Ukraine produces, and ships are needed to do the bulk of the exports.
Over 6 million people flee Ukraine