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EU condemns Russian grain blockade

June 20, 2022

Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief, has called for Russia to end its blockade of Ukrainian ports. His comments come ahead of a meeting of the bloc's 27 foreign ministers.

Grain storage tanks are pictured at the Mariupol commercial sea port
Ukraine has been dubbed Europe's bread basket due to its fertile soilImage: Vladimir Gerdo/ITAR-TASS/IMAGO

The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called Russia's blockade of key grain exports from Ukraine a "real war crime" on arrival at a EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.

"We call on Russia to deblockade the [Ukrainian] ports... It is inconceivable, one cannot imagine that millions of tonnes of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world people are suffering hunger," Borrell told reporters.

He accused Russia of weaponizing "the hunger of the people" and said Moscow would have to be held "accountable" for its actions.

Germany pledges support

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that Berlin will support Poland and Romania in adapting their rail networks to help bring the millions of tonnes of grain out of Ukraine.

"The railway tracks need to be modernized, we need the right cargo wagons — the German government is working on this with many other actors," she said on arrival at the EU foreign ministers meeting.

"It is clear that, in the end, we will certainly not be able to get out all grain but if we even just manage to free part of it, on various routes, then this will help as we are facing this global challenge."

Sudan food crisis aggravated by Ukraine war

Baerbock added that Germany will host a conference on Friday on the question of securing food exports from Ukraine to "improve the humanitarian situation worldwide and to set global food security on a more stable footing."

Global food security crisis

Ukraine is one of the world's largest exporters of key goods such as wheat and vegetable oil. The restriction of these goods from the global market — along with rising fuel prices — has helped keep food prices well above normal levels.

The EU has been working on solutions to get grains and other goods out of Ukraine to be exported to other countries.

The bloc has given its support to a UN plan to mediate an agreement between Russia, Ukraine and Turkey in order to allow ships to safely access Ukraine's ports in the Black Sea.

The EU has also had to contend with claims by Russia that Western sanctions are to blame for food price hikes and shortages in Africa and the Middle East.

Borrell on Monday rejected this narrative, saying: "I want to insist that it's not the European sanctions that are creating this crisis. Our sanctions don't target food, don't target fertilizers."

Hungary offers territory for grain transport

At the meeting, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto offered his country's territory as a possible route for Ukrainian grain export.

"We have offered to let through Hungary's territory, moreover, to facilitate the passage of any food shipments destined for various parts of the world from Ukraine, mainly to North Africa or the Middle East," Szijjarto said.

He did not elaborate on how much grain Hungary could accomodate, but offered up two logistical hubs on its eastern border.

"So in case any type of grain or other produce were to be exported from Ukraine to the Middle East or North Africa through Hungary, that could happen quickly," Szijjarto said. "Rail access to ports in Southeastern Europe is fast from Hungary."

ab/kb (dpa, Reuters, AFP)