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Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized grain exports from Ukraine under a UN-brokered deal, claiming that they are failing to reach poorer countries as intended, and he warned that the current food crisis could intensify into a "humanitarian catastrophe."
The comments raise doubt about the fate of a six-week-old deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to ship millions of tons of grain from Ukraine's blockaded ports.
Speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum in the eastern city of Vladivostok on September 7, Putin suggested that Moscow will "have to think about changing routes" for Ukrainian grain shipments.
He said Russia had done all it could to ensure Ukraine can export grain.
Asked by Reuters whether Moscow had initiated changes in the grain-export deal, Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskiy said after Putin's speech that "we have not seen anything at our level."
Global food and energy prices have spiked since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion to subdue smaller post-Soviet neighbor Ukraine.
"Almost all the grain exported from Ukraine is sent not to the poorest developing countries, but to EU countries," Putin said in Vladivostok, without providing evidence.
He added that "with this approach, the scale of food problems in the world will only grow" and he warned of a "looming humanitarian catastrophe."
Ukrainian ports, infrastructure, and agriculture have been slammed by what Moscow calls a "special military operation," which began in late February and included a smothering boycott of Ukraine's Black Sea ports.
The UN- and Turkey-brokered deal between Russia and Ukraine in July was intended to unblock millions of tons of grain and fertilizer whose export was being prevented.
By late August, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine had exported more than 1 million tons of agricultural products by sea in the first month since the grain-export deal.
U.S. officials have cited the grain-export deal to rebuff Kyiv's insistence that Russia should be designated a "terrorist state," saying designation would prevent the kind of exchanges that made that breakthrough.
Western financial, trade, and other sanctions on Russia have been compounded by Moscow's countermeasures including the embargo and cutoffs of natural gas.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov complained on September 6 that the West was not honoring its promise to help Russian food exports reach global markets.
In August, the head of the UN’s World Food Program warned that even with the resumption of Ukraine’s exports, “we’re talking about a global food crisis at least for another 12 months.”
Amir Abdulla, UN coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, warned weeks later that the grain deal had “started creating some space" but millions of tons of food needed to be moved from Ukrainian silos to make room for the next harvest.
Ukraine is historically one of the world's biggest grain exporters.
The deputy chairman of the Ukrainian Agrarian Council predicted this week that Ukraine's exports of agricultural products would total about 50 million tons this marketing year from a total harvest of 60 million-65 million tons.
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