LONDON: The Kremlin on Thursday said the West only had itself to blame for a brewing food crisis due to problems getting Ukraine’s grain out to world markets, demanding the United States and its allies scrap what it cast as illegal sanctions.
Besides the death and devastation sown by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the war and the West’s attempt to isolate Russia as punishment have sent the price of grain, cooking oil, fertilizer and energy soaring, hurting global growth.
The United Nations, which says a global food crisis is deepening, is trying to broker a deal to unblock Ukraine’s grain exports though Western leaders have blamed Russia for holding the world to ransom by blockading Ukrainian ports.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected those accusations and said the West was to blame for the situation.
“We categorically reject these accusations and, on the contrary, accuse Western countries that they have taken a number of illegal actions that led to this,” Peskov told reporters.
“They (the West) must cancel those illegal decisions that prevent the chartering of ships, that prevent the export of grain, and so on” so that supplies can resume, Peskov said.
Russia has captured some of Ukraine’s biggest seaports and its navy controls major transport routes in the Black Sea, where extensive mining has made commercial shipping dangerous.
Sanctions have also made it hard for Russian exporters to access vessels to move commodities to global markets.
Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies.
Chicago wheat futures hit a record price in March on supply concerns, and are still up by 30 percent since Feb. 24.
Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn, barley, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, while Russia and Belarus — which has backed Moscow in the war and is also under sanctions — account for over 40 percent of global exports of the crop nutrient potash.
Time is running out to get some 22 million tons of grain out of Ukraine ahead of the new harvest as Russia continues to blockade the country’s Black Sea ports, Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniia Kravchuk said on Wednesday.
“We have about maybe a month and a half before we start to collect the new harvest,” she told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos, adding there was not sufficient space to store the fresh harvest.
Ukraine has lost the ports of Kherson and Mariupol to Russian occupation, and fears Russia may try to seize a third, Odesa.
The Kremlin says Ukraine had made commercial shipping impossible by mining its waters.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen is among those who have accused Moscow of using food exports as a weapon, while Kyiv has said Russia has stolen hundreds of thousands of tons of grain in areas their forces have occupied.
“Putin is trying to hold the world to ransom, and he is essentially weaponizing hunger and lack of food among the poorest people around the world,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said during a visit to Bosnia on Thursday.