European leaders urge Putin to unban Ukraine’s grain supplies

European leaders have stepped up diplomatic efforts to loosen Russia’s hold on Ukraine’s grain supplies as Kyiv’s prospects in the eastern Donbas region worsen and the risk of a wage crisis looms. global reality increases.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the situation with Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Saturday. Putin told them that Moscow was ready to find a way to block grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and could increase its own agricultural and fertilizer exports if related sanctions were lifted.

Their conversation comes two days after Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi discussed the matter with the President of Russia in an attempt to defuse a global food crisis that threatens to plague new market economies. floating.

Ukraine and some Western allies have accused Russia of blocking the port of Odesa, preventing the export of large grain shipments.

Putin, Scholz and Macron discussed whether a negotiated solution could be found to open Odesa allowing grain exports to leave Ukraine, according to an Elysée press conference after the call. The leaders of France and Germany “take note of the Russian President’s promise to allow ships to dock at the port to export grain without military use by Russia – if the port has been removed first”, according to the press conference. .

Berlin said the call lasted 80 minutes and was “dedicated to Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine and efforts to end it”.

The risk of a global food crisis has increased since Mr. Putin launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine, a major grain producer and exporter, on February 24. Fertilizer and agricultural exports. Russian assets were also disrupted, which Moscow blamed on Western sanctions.

Putin told Macron and Scholz that Russia is “ready to contribute to the search for options for unhindered grain exports,” according to a summary of his words released by the Kremlin in a statement.

The increased supply of fertilizers and agricultural products to Russia, which will, of course, require the lifting of the relevant sanctions, will also help ease tensions in the global food market, the Kremlin said. .

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky discussed the blockade of the Black Sea in a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“We talked about increasing defense assistance to Ukraine, increasing security work, supplying Ukraine with fuel. We must work together to prevent a food crisis and block Ukraine’s ports,” Zelensky wrote on Twitter.

Johnson emphasized “active work is underway with international partners to find ways to resume grain exports from Ukraine to avert a global food crisis” and said “the UK will work with G7 partners to accelerate progress urgently,” Downing Street said in the report.

Italian leader Draghi discussed the issue with Zelensky in a call on Friday and had previously raised the issue with US President Joe Biden.

Some Western capitals fear the looming food crisis and its devastating impact on poor households in Africa and the Middle East could trigger a new wave of migration to Europe.

Russian forces have stepped up attacks on Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region and claim to have taken full control of Lyman, a railway hub. The area was once the site of the heaviest fighting of the three-month conflict after Ukraine withdrew from the area. Kyiv said the battle was still going on.

Ukraine claims it has pushed back Russian forces from Sievierodonetsk, the only major city not yet under Russian control in Luhansk that makes up Donbas along with neighboring Donetsk.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Ukrainian troops “repelled the Russians to their former positions” after two-thirds of the city was besieged, but warned that Russian forces “must not give up their encirclement efforts.” our troops and disrupting logistics.”

The Kremlin said Putin also discussed the military situation with Macron and Scholz. He said Russia was ready to return to the negotiating table and blamed Kyiv for stalling the talks.

The Elysée Palace said Macron and Scholz reiterated that any end to the war must respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They also demanded that Russia release 2,500 soldiers guarding the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and have since been detained by Russia, claiming that they were indeed prisoners of war.

In a late-night speech, Zelensky said he was confident Ukraine would recapture the areas Russia is attacking with Western military aid.

“We are protecting our land the way our current defense resources allow. We are doing everything to increase them. And we will increase them,” Zelensky said. “If the occupiers thought that Lyman or Severodonetsk would be theirs, they were wrong. Donbas will be Ukrainians”.

Additional reporting by Joe Miller in Frankfurt and Amy Kazmin in Rome

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