Vladimir Putin said he will open up grain and fertilizer exports if sanctions against Russia are lifted.
The Russian president made the offer in a phone call to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Thursday, according to an official statement from the Kremlin.
Putin said Russia “is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizers, provided that politically motivated restrictions from the West are lifted.” He didn’t say if the exports would be from Russia or Ukraine.
The Italian Prime Minister’s office said the two leaders talked about “a shared solution to the ongoing food crisis and its serious repercussions on the world’s poorest countries.” The statement did not mention sanctions.
The White House told Reuters on Thursday there were no discussions about the easing of sanctions against Russia in exchange for grain shipments. It did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment made outside regular business hours.
Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea have been blocked since Russia’s invasion on February 24, leaving more than 20 million metric tons of grains stuck in Ukraine, per Reuters. This disruption is exacerbating a world food crunch as Ukraine accounts for 12% of global wheat exports and 17% of global corn exports, per ING Economics. It’s also the world’s largest sunflower oil exporter.
Putin’s comments follow those from a senior Russian government official who said the Kremlin would allow ships carrying food to leave Ukrainian ports in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, per Interfax news agency. Ukraine called the suggestion “clear blackmail,” according to CNN.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday the West has only itself to blame for the food crisis, as it has taken a number of “illegal actions” leading to shipments getting blocked.
“They 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 told reporters, per Reuters.
Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, said on Thursday there is a “safe corridor” allowing access to the key Odesa port in Ukraine, according to a Reuters report. Ukraine needs to demine the waters before the safe corridors can be used, he said.
British foreign minister Liz Truss slammed Russia’s suggestions that sanctions be eased for food.
“It is completely appalling that Putin is trying to hold the world to ransom, and he is essentially weaponising hunger and lack of food amongst the poorest people around the world,” Truss said during a visit to Bosnia on Thursday, Reuters reported.
“What we cannot have is any lifting of sanctions, any appeasement, which will simply make Putin stronger in the longer term,” Truss added, per Reuters.
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