Russia is ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine, Moscow’s deputy foreign minister Andrei Rudenko said on Wednesday, as concerns grow over a global food shortage due to the war.
Russia has blockaded Ukrainian ports, stopping exports from one of the world’s biggest grain producers and sending food prices skyrocketing around the world.
More than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos around Ukraine. Several of the world’s most insecure countries, such as Lebanon and war-torn Yemen, are highly dependent on Ukraine for food supplies.
Western allies of Ukraine have been discussing ways to break the Russian blockade without military intervention.
The idea of “safe corridors” for grain exports from Ukraine’s ports was raised by Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis in a call with British foreign secretary Liz Truss, it has been reported – though an unnamed western official warned that any such move without Russian consent would risk conflict.
The Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, said talks were “ongoing” between the UK and Kyiv to use Royal Navy warships to reopen Odesa and Ukraine’s other ports on the Black Sea and demine its waters. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of planting drifting mines in the Black Sea.
However, a UK government spokesperson said there were “no current plans” to use warships to break the blockade.
The US and EU have also been in crisis talks with Ukraine. The EU has pledged to open “solidarity channels” with Ukraine to move grain exports along land routes with neighbouring member states.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday that Russia was using food supplies as a weapon with global repercussions.
Mr Rudenko was quoted as saying in response: “We are always ready for dialogue with all those who seek … peaceful resolution of all problems. I leave Ursula von der Leyen’s statement to her conscience.”
Interfax reported the deputy foreign minister as saying: “We have repeatedly stated on this point that a solution to the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the lifting of sanctions that have been imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions.
“And it also requires the de-mining by the Ukrainian side of all ports where ships are anchored. Russia is ready to provide the necessary humanitarian passage, which it does every day.”
Russian has previously been accused of ignoring promised humanitarian corridors in Ukraine and has elsewhere sought to use them to gain advantage by attempting to direct the flow of refugees into Russian territory.
Mr Rudenko also said Russia would provisionally discuss the possibility exchanging prisoners with Ukraine and warned it was premature to establish a Russian military base in the Russian-controlled area of Ukraine’s Kherson region.