Russia is ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine, in return for the lifting of some sanctions, the Interfax news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko as saying on Wednesday.
Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia sent thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 and more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos in the country.
Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies and the lack of significant grain exports from Ukraine ports is contributing to a growing global food crisis.
Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.
Western powers have been discussing the idea of setting up “safe corridors” for grain exports from Ukraine’s ports, adding that any such corridor would need Russian consent.
“We have repeatedly stated on this point that a solution to the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the lifting of sanctions that have been imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions,” Rudenko was quoted as saying.
“And it also requires the demining by the Ukrainian side of all ports where ships are anchored. Russia is ready to provide the necessary humanitarian passage, which it does every day,” he said.
Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of planting drifting mines in the Black Sea.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday that Russia was using food supplies as a weapon with global repercussions.
“We are always ready for dialogue with all those who seek … peaceful resolution of all problems. I leave Ursula von der Leyen’s statement to her conscience,” Rudenko said.
He said that Russia would discuss the possibility exchanging prisoners with Ukraine, once those who surrendered had been convicted. Russian and separatist officials have said some of those who surrendered should be tried for war crimes.
Rudenko also said it was premature to establish a Russian military base in the Russian-controlled area of Ukraine’s Kherson region.