As Ukraine’s southern ports remain blocked by Russian ships and naval mines, stopping the export of tens of millions of tons of grain and fertilizer, the United Kingdom’s farming minister has called for an investigation into allegations that Russia has been stealing grain from Ukraine.
Speaking at the International Grains Council conference in London, Minister of State for Farming, Fisheries, and Food, Victoria Prentis, said that the British government had heard allegations that Russian soldiers were stealing grain from the southern city of Kherson.
Prentis claimed that she had heard the allegations first-hand from sources in the Kherson region.
The Kremlin has denied all allegations of grain theft and recently proposed exchanging the tens of millions of tons of grain stuck in Ukraine’s southern ports on the Black Sea for the relaxing of some economic sanctions against Russia’s financial institutions. Western countries have not taken Russia up on the deal, but Turkey has spent weeks negotiating with Russia to open up the ports and allow the grain to leave.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also faced pressure from African countries recently, meeting with African Union chairman and Senegal president Macky Sall, who warned that refusing to allow the grain ships to leave Ukraine would lead to a crisis on the African continent.
In a June 3 tweet, Sall claimed that the Russian president had agreed to allow the export of wheat and fertilizer stuck in Ukrainian ports.
“Russia is ready to ensure the export of its wheat and fertilizer,” Sall said.
Following weeks of negotiations, however, the ports remain blocked with no indication of when the Kremlin will order Russian troops to clear a path for the Ukrainian ships.
Is Russia Shipping Stolen Wheat to Syria?
Last week, Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey said that Russia was selling stolen grain from Ukraine to Turkey and Syria.
Ambassador Vasyl Bodnar claimed that the stolen grain is being transported to Crimea, the Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia in 2014, before being shipped out from ports in the Black Sea.
“Russia is shamelessly stealing Ukrainian grains and getting it out from the invaded Crimea. These grains are being shipped to foreign countries, including Turkey,” Bodnar claimed in a press conference in Ankara.
“We have made our appeal for Turkey to help us and, upon the suggestion of the Turkish side, are launching criminal cases regarding those stealing and selling the grains.”
Ukraine also identified the vessels being used by Russia to transport the allegedly stolen grain, naming the Nadezhda, Sormivskiy, Vera, Finikia, and Mikhail Nenashev ships.
Some 100,000 tons of stolen wheat have been shipped to Syria so far, according to the Ukrainian embassy in Lebanon.