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US accuses Russia of weaponising food in Ukraine war

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – United States (US) Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia on Thursday of weaponising food and holding grain for millions of people around the world hostage to help accomplish what its invasion of Ukraine has not – “to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people”.

He told a United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting called by the US that the war has halted maritime trade in large areas of the Black Sea and made the region unsafe for navigation, trapping Ukrainian agricultural exports and jeopardising global food supplies.

Blinken said the meeting, which he chaired, was taking place “at a moment of unprecedented global hunger” fuelled by climate change and COVID-19 “and made even worse by conflict”.

Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, he said, its naval operations have sought to control access to the northwestern Black Sea and the Sea of Azov and to block Ukrainian ports which the US assesses to be “a deliberate effort” to block safe passage and shut down shipping.

“As a result of the Russian government’s actions, some 20 million tonnes of grain sit unused in Ukrainian silos as global food supplies dwindle, prices skyrocket, causing more around the world to experience food insecurity,” Blinken said.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia dismissed as “absolutely false” claims by the US and Western nations “that we want to starve everyone to death and that only you and Ukraine allegedly care about how to save the lives of the country”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tours the Ukrainian Institute of America on the Upper Eastside in Manhattan, New York. PHOTO: AP

“You assert that allegedly we are preventing agricultural products from being taken out of Ukraine by sea,” he said. “However, the truth is that it is Ukraine and not Russia that has blocked 75 vessels from 17 states in the ports of Nikolaev, Kherson, Chernomorsk, Mariupol, Ochakov, Odesa and Yuzhniy and has mined the waterways.”

Nebenzia warned that “unless this issue is resolved, we cannot speak of any opportunities to export Ukrainian grain by sea”.

He stressed that Russia remains “a responsible supplier of both food and energy”.

Russia expects a record wheat crop and can offer to export 25 million tonnes of grain from August 1 until the end of the year through the Novorossiysk port, he said, and it is also ready to discuss at least 22 million tonnes of fertiliser for export from June to December.

But Nebenzia said more than 10,000 sanctions on Russia have disrupted transportation routes, impeded movement of Russian vessels and banned them from entering ports, caused freight and insurance problems, restricted commercial transactions and created difficulties with banking transactions.

“If you do not want to lift your sanctions of choice, then why are you accusing us of causing this food crisis?” he asked.

“Why is it that as a result of your irresponsible geopolitical games, the poorest countries and regions must suffer?”