Ukraine seeks UN-backed mission to ship grain from ports blocked by Russia

US announces further sanctions on oligarchs as Zelenskiy says war driving world to ‘brink of food crisis’

Ukraine has called for the urgent creation of an international mission, under the auspices of the United Nations, to ship millions of tonnes of grain from ports on its Black Sea coast that are being blocked and bombed by the Russian military.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia now occupied a fifth of all his country’s territory and threatened to pitch tens of millions of people around the world into hunger unless its blockade of Ukraine’s southern ports could be broken.

Friday will be the 100th day of the Kremlin’s all-out invasion of Ukraine.

“Ukraine discusses with partners the ways to establish an international mission under the auspices of the United Nations, which will take over the functioning of maritime routes for the export of Ukrainian agricultural goods,” Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said on Thursday.

“We welcome the readiness of a number of countries to join the process of restoring security in the Black Sea and Azov Sea,” he added, without naming which states he had in mind.

“Russia must withdraw its forces from the territorial waters of Ukraine and provide security guarantees against attacks on ports and commercial convoys … Russia must immediately unblock Ukrainian seaports, stop shelling Odesa and other coastal cities, withdraw its navy to a distance that will make it impossible to attack merchant ships.”

Mr Nikolenko said some 22 million tonnes of grain were stuck in port due to the blockade, and could not efficiently be exported via Ukrainian road and rail networks that can carry comparatively small volumes of cargo and are also under Russian bomb and missile attack.

“Because of this act of aggression by the Russian state, the world is on the brink of a food crisis … There is a threat of hunger for tens of millions of people in different countries,” said Mr Zelenskiy, warning that food supply problems could lead to “political chaos” in parts of Africa and Asia and a “migrant crisis” and “large-scale protests” in Europe.

Turkish media reported that a “roadmap” for grain exports from Ukraine’s ports would be discussed in the coming days by representatives of Turkey, Ukraine, Russia and the UN, with Istanbul potentially hosting a “command centre” for the maritime operation.

The office of Senegalese president Macky Sall, who is the head of the African Union, said he would visit Russia on Friday to talk to president Vladimir Putin about “freeing up stocks of cereals and fertilisers, the blockage of which particularly affects African countries”.

Russia says western sanctions on its economy were causing the food supply problems but insisted it was eager to resolve the brewing crisis.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said this week that if Ukraine cleared sea mines from its coastal waters, “then Russia’s naval forces will ensure safe passage for these [grain-carrying] ships to the Mediterranean Sea and further to their destinations”.

The US government has imposed a new range of sanctions against Russian oligarchs and senior figures.

The US department of the treasury also said it would be targeting a Kremlin-aligned yacht brokerage, several prominent Russian government officials, and a money manager, Sergei Roldugin, who it maintained was a custodian of president Vladimir Putin’s offshore wealth.

“The two have known each other for over four decades, and Roldugin is the godfather to one of Putin’s daughters. Roldugin is a cellist, conductor, and the artistic director of the St Petersburg Music House, a state-owned cultural institution in Russia. Elena Yuryevna Mirtova, Roldugin’s wife, is a soprano opera singer and actress who has performed alongside her husband. Roldugin was previously designated by the European Union, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.”

It said it was also identifying two luxury yachts, the “Russia-flagged Graceful and Cayman Islands-flagged Olympia, as blocked property in which president Putin has an interest”.

US secretary of state Anthony Blinken said sanctions would be placed on six additional Russian officials and entities.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent