The Russian military is holding up more than 20 million tons of grains at Ukraine’s export routes, creating what could become a “catastrophe,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
The Ukrainian president warned on Friday that nearly half of their grain exports are currently being blocked and that they’re unable to move it through the Black and Azov seas.
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“Famine doesn’t come alone. It is always accompanied by political chaos that exacerbates the situation, ruins people’s lives, creating unsafe conditions for ordinary people," he said while addressing an Indonesian foreign policy think tank on Friday, according to CNN. "In July, when many countries will exhaust their stock of last year’s harvest, it will become obvious the catastrophe is truly coming."
Ukraine is the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil, fourth largest of corn, and fifth of wheat. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said no ships carrying those grains would be allowed to leave until the West lifts its sanctions on Russia, according to the Washington Post.
“The international community is deeply concerned about grain shipments coming out of Ukraine and the blockade and the effect that the blockade is having, and then you’ve seen it. You’ve seen some European nations be willing to accept grain by rail,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday.
"The world community is mindful of the weaponization of food that Mr. Putin is now doing,” he added.
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Gen. Christopher Cavoli, who is slated to become NATO’s new supreme allied commander, warned U.S. lawmakers on Thursday that Russia’s blockade could ultimately require U.S. intervention. He declined to say if that’s what he would recommend if confirmed to the position.
“It’s going to be a combination of modes of transportation that we’re going to have to use” to get around Russia’s blockade, said the current commander of all U.S. Army troops in Europe and Africa.