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Russia Holds Grain Hostage, Demands The West Lift Sanctions

  • Supplies of grain from Ukraine have taken a major hit due to Russia’s blockade of the country’s ports.
  • The UN has accused Russia of weaponizing food, warning that its actions could lead to a global food crisis. 
  • Turkey is in talks with Russia to resume grain shipments, but Russia may not agree unless Western sanctions are lifted. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, has made progress toward accepting a plan that would restart Ukrainian grain shipments from its seaports to help stave off a looming global food crisis as EU officials again accused Moscow of weaponizing food. Supplies of grain from Ukraine, a major exporter, have been drastically reduced due to Russia's blockade of the country's ports and the targeted bombardment of warehouses as part of its war against Ukraine, launched in late February.

Cavusoglu told journalists on June 8 that an international effort will be needed to open a safe passage for Ukraine's agricultural exports but that he believed it was achievable.

"Various ideas have been put out for the export of Ukrainian grains to the market and most recently is the U.N. plan (including) a mechanism that can be created between the U.N., Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey," Cavusoglu said.

"We see it as reasonable...Of course, both Ukraine and Russia must accept it," he added.

Lavrov again blamed Ukraine for the impasse, saying President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had "categorically refused" to resolve the problem of demining areas around Ukraine's ports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, threw doubt on any real progress being made on the issue, reiterating on June 8 that any possibility of grain shipments would be conditioned on the lifting of international sanctions against Russia for its unprovoked invasion.

Related: Why Nuclear Energy Is More Relevant Than Ever

Western governments have ruled out such a move, prompting many of them to accuse Russia of weaponizing the global food-supply crisis.

"Food has become now part of the Kremlin's arsenal of terror, and we cannot tolerate this," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on June 8.

She added that 20 million tons of grain are currently trapped in Ukraine.

Turkey, which has good relations with both Russia and Ukraine, has said it is willing to play a role within an "observation mechanism" based in Istanbul if a deal is reached.

The director of the Ukrainian grain traders union, Serhiy Ivashchenko, however, said that Turkey alone is not strong enough to be the sole guarantor of grain shipments.

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