Moscow begins exporting Ukraine grain to Russia

The move could increase fears over global food insecurity

<p>A combine harvester at the middle of a wheat field</p>

A combine harvester at the middle of a wheat field

A senior administrator in Ukraine’s Russian-controlled Kherson region said on Monday that they had begun exporting grain to Russia, in a move that is likely to anger Kyiv and deepen concerns over an impending global food crisis.

“We have space to store [the new crop] although we have a lot of grain here,” Kirill Stremousov told Russian state-owned news agency TASS. “People are now partially taking it out, having agreed with those who buy it from the Russian side.”

Since the start of the invasion on 24 February Russia has blockaded all of Ukraine’s seaports and interrupted its grain exports. This in turn has impacted global food prices, caused food insecurity and affected vulnerable populations.

In addition to blockading the country’s sea routes, Ukraine has also accused Russia of going as far as stealing its grain.

Satellite images from 19 and 21 May revealed two Russian carrier ships in Crimea being loaded with the crop. It is unclear if the ships were carrying stolen goods, but crop theft in wartime is a common weapon.

During his remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky warned of famine and hunger catastrophes and accused Russia of blocking Ukraine from exporting 22 million tonnes of food products.

According to a report from October 2021 by the US Department of Agriculture, Ukraine produced roughly 80 million metric tonnes of grain, including wheat corn and barley. This year it is expected to make less than half of that. Together with Russia, Ukraine accounts for roughly 30 per cent of the world’s wheat exports.

It is unclear if the Kherson grain is set to be exported abroad or if Russia will make use of it domestically – either way Ukraine will not benefit from it.

In a phone call on Saturday with French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Olaf Scholz, Russian president Vladimir Putin told the European leaders that Russia was “ready” to ship grain stuck in Ukraine.

Kherson, just north of Crimea, is the only regional capital that Russian troops have captured since Mr Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. On Sunday Ukrainian soldiers launched a counter-offensive, in a fierce battle for the disputed city.

On 11 May Mr Stremousov told Russian state media that the local government was set to ask Mr Putin to incorporate the region into Russia by the end of 2022. He said at the time: “There will be no referendums.

“With time, we will completely abandon the dollar, completely abandon the hryvnia’s dependence on the dollar and move to the rouble system, as they did in Crimea.”

Meanwhile, Mr Putin said Russia was ready to facilitate the unhindered export of grain from Ukrainian ports in coordination with Turkey, according to a Kremlin readout of talks with President Tayyip Erdogan.

“During the discussion of the situation in Ukraine, emphasis was placed on ensuring safe navigation in the Black and Azov seas and eliminating the mine threat in their waters,” the Kremlin said of Mr Putin’s call with Mr Erdogan.

“Vladimir Putin noted the readiness of the Russian side to facilitate the unhindered sea transit of goods in coordination with Turkish partners. This also applies to the export of grain from Ukrainian ports.”

Mr Putin, according to the Kremlin, added that if sanctions were lifted, Russia could “export significant volumes of fertilisers and agricultural products”.

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