President Vladimir Putin mooted on Wednesday reopening a U.N.-brokered deal for Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea and threatened to halt all energy supplies to Europe if Brussels caps the price of Russian gas.
In a combative speech to an economic forum in Russia’s Far East region, Putin also said that Russia would not lose its war in Ukraine and had strengthened its sovereignty.
Ukraine remained guarded about its counter offensive in the east but warned that Russia could turn to nuclear weapons and other nations could be drawn into a protracted “Third World War.”
The grain pact, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, created a protected corridor after Kyiv lost access to its main export route when Russia attacked via land, air and sea.
Designed to help ease global food prices by increasing supplies, the pact has been the only diplomatic breakthrough between Moscow and Kyiv in more than six months of war.
But Putin said the accord was delivering grain, fertiliser and other food to the European Union and Turkey rather than to poor countries.
“It may be worth considering how to limit the export of grain and other food along this route,” he said, adding that Russia would continue to abide by its terms, hoping it would fulfil its original goals.
“I will definitely consult the President of Turkey, Mr. (Tayyip) Erdogan, on this topic because it was he and I who worked out a mechanism for the export of Ukrainian grain first of all, I repeat, in order to help the poorest countries.”
The pact is up for renewal in late November.
UKRAINE RAPS ‘AGGRESSIVE’ RUSSIA
Ukraine, whose ports had been blockaded by Russia, said the terms signed on July 22 were being strictly observed and there were no grounds for renegotiation.
“Such unexpected and groundless statements rather indicate an attempt to find new aggressive talking points to influence global public opinion and, above all, put pressure on the United Nations,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, a presidential adviser.
The deal gave Kyiv much-needed revenue for an economy devastated by war. It does not stipulate which countries Ukrainian grain should go to, and the United Nations has stressed it is a commercial – not humanitarian – operation.
According to data from the Istanbul-based coordination group which monitors the deal, 30% of cargo, which includes that earmarked for or routed via Turkey, had gone to low and lower-middle income countries.
The other main global repercussion of the conflict has been a surge in energy prices as the West responded with sanctions and Moscow restricted exports of gas to Europe, blaming Western restrictions and technical problems.
As the European Union prepared to propose a price cap on Russian gas to try to contain an energy crisis threatening widespread hardship this winter, Putin threatened to halt all supplies if it took such a step.
“Will there be any political decisions that contradict the contracts? Yes, we just won’t fulfil them. We will not supply anything at all if it contradicts our interests,” Putin said.
“We will not supply gas, oil, coal, heating oil – we will not supply anything.”
Europe usually imports about 40% of its gas and 30% of its oil from Russia.
Turkey’s Erdogan chided the West for provoking Putin while Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that if Europeans were counting on military victory for Ukraine then they should brace not for a cold but a “polar” winter.
Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the Ukrainian army’s commander in chief, said there was a real threat of Russia using nuclear weapons.
“It is also impossible to completely rule out the possibility of the direct involvement of the world’s leading countries in a ‘limited’ nuclear conflict, in which the prospect of a Third World War is already directly visible,” he wrote in an article with a lawmaker.
Moscow has in the past denied speculation of potential nuclear or chemical weapons use.
Ukraine also said it might have to shut down the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, to avoid a disaster and urged residents nearby to evacuate.
Asked about what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine at the forum in Vladivostok, Putin said: “We have not lost anything and will not lose anything … the main gain has been the strengthening of our sovereignty.”
Andrei Turchak, the leader of Putin’s United Russia party, said that people in occupied regions of Ukraine should vote on Nov. 4 on whether they wanted to become part of Russia. That would mirror a vote in occupied Crimea in 2014 after Russia had annexed it from Ukraine by force.
The governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, which Russia has said it has taken over on behalf of separatist proxies, said on Tuesday a Ukrainian counter-attack was enjoying “some success” but avoided details.