Oct 30, 2022 - World

U.S. accuses Russia of "weaponizing food" after halting Ukraine grain exports

The first UN-chartered vessel MV Brave Commander

The first U.N.-chartered vessel MV Brave Commander loads grain to export to Ethiopia, in Yuzhne, Ukraine, east of Odesa on the Black Sea coast, on Aug. 14. Photo: Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday accused the Kremlin of "weaponizing food" after it announced that it would suspend its participation in an agreement allowing grain exports to leave Ukrainian ports.

Driving the news: Russia announced a halt to the agreement Saturday after accusing U.K. navy personnel of directing Ukrainian drone attacks on ships in Crimea.

  • The U.K. denied the allegations, saying the false claims are intended to distract from Russian military failures in Ukraine.

What they're saying: "In suspending this arrangement, Russia is again weaponizing food in the war it started, directly impacting low- and middle-income countries and global food prices, and exacerbating already dire humanitarian crises and food insecurity," Blinken said in a statement Saturday, adding that the U.S. urged Russia to resume its participation in the agreement.

  • President Biden said Saturday that Russia's decision was "purely outrageous" and "going to increase starvation," according to a transcript from the White House.
  • "Russia’s decision to suspend participation in the Black Sea deal puts at risks the main export route of much needed grain and fertilisers to address the global food crisis caused by its war against Ukraine," Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief, tweeted Sunday. "The EU urges Russia to revert its decision."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement Saturday that Russia has been "deliberately aggravating the food crisis" since September.

  • "From September to today, 176 vessels have already accumulated in the grain corridor, which cannot follow their route. Some grain carriers have been waiting for more than three weeks. This is an absolutely deliberate blockade by Russia," Zelensky added.
  • "How can Russia be among the G20 if it is deliberately working for starvation on several continents?"

The big picture: Ukraine is one of the world's top exporters of wheat, sunflower oil and other agricultural products.

  • Russia's blockade of Ukrainian ports in the first few months of the war contributed to a deepening food crisis around the world, especially in Africa.
  • But in July, an agreement brokered by the United Nations with the help of Turkey allowed for the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports in August.
  • The Joint Coordination Center, the body established to coordinate exports of foodstuffs from Ukraine, said it was "discussing next steps” in light of Russia's decision, Politico reported.
  • U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is "deeply concerned" about the agreement's pause and has delayed travel to the Arab League Summit to focus on the matter, his spokesperson said in a statement Sunday.
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