Kyiv has been unable to export grain due to the Russian invasion, which has pushed up world food prices.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has told leaders of France and Germany Moscow is “ready” to explore ways to ship grain stuck in Ukrainian ports, but urged the West first to lift sanctions amid an escalating global food crisis.
In a long phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday, Putin said the difficulties in supplying world markets with grain were the result of “erroneous economic and financial policies by Western countries”.
“Russia is ready to help find options for the unhindered export of grain, including the export of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports,” Putin told Macron and Scholz, according to the Kremlin.
“Increasing the supply of Russian fertilizers and agricultural products will also help ease tensions in the global food market, which of course will require the relevant sanctions to be lifted.”
Russia’s offensive in Ukraine and Western sanctions have disrupted shipments of fertilizers, wheat and other commodities from the two countries, raising concerns about the global risk of starvation.
Russia and Ukraine produce 30 percent of the world wheat supply.
A bunch of problems
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Moscow, said Putin told Sholz and Macron that “there are a number of problems with the ships transporting Ukrainian wheat that are stuck in the Black Sea.” The Russians say the Ukrainian army laid mines along the routes.
“Putin said Russia is ready to allow these 300 or so ships to pass through from the main port in Odessa, Ukraine. That is up for debate, but of course it has to be done by the Russian military,” Jabbari said.
For their part, Macron and Scholz called on Russia to lift the blockade of Ukraine’s port of Odessa to allow grain exports, the French presidency said.
Both leaders “have taken note of the Russian President’s promise to allow ships access to the port for the export of grain without it being militarily exploited by Russia if it is first cleared of mines,” the French presidency added.
Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on February 24, prompting the West to impose sanctions on Moscow.
As Ukraine’s Western backers considered sending more arms shipments to Kyiv, Putin told Macron and Scholz that the continued arms shipments were “dangerous” and warned “of the risks of further destabilizing the situation and worsening the humanitarian crisis.” said the Kremlin.
French and German transcripts of phone calls made no mention of sanctions against Russia or Western arms sales to Ukraine.
The two Western leaders also urged Putin to engage in “direct serious negotiations” with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the German chancellor’s office said.
The two EU leaders “insisted on an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops,” the chancellor’s office said.
Putin said Moscow is open to resuming dialogue with Kyiv, the Kremlin said, without mentioning the possibility of direct talks between Putin and Zelenskyy.
Talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations have been held both in person and via video link since the Russian military offensive, but have recently ground to a halt.