EU looks to get Ukrainian grain exports moving again
By Dan Bilefsky and Matthew Mpoke Bigg
A day after the European Union agreed to punish Russia with an embargo on billions of dollars’ worth of Russian oil, European leaders on Tuesday were wrestling with how to help Ukraine export millions of tons of grain despite a Russian naval blockade that is battering the Ukrainian economy and threatening a growing global food crisis.
As European leaders wrapped up their meeting in Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, blamed Russia amid accusations that President Vladimir Putin is weaponizing food.
The developing food crisis is “only the fault of Russia,” von der Leyen said, adding that Russia was blocking 22 million tons of grain in Ukraine, bombarding facilities where wheat is stored and mining fields.
Fears of a global food crisis are intensifying as Russian attacks on Ukraine’s ability to produce and export grain have stymied the supply of one of the world’s breadbaskets. But overcoming the blockade will require overcoming a host of intractable challenges, including either confrontation or compromise with Russia.
Failure to end the blockade could lead to hunger in some countries and stoke political instability in others, in what may prove to be the most serious global consequence yet of the Russian invasion.
While Western allies are seeking to help bolster Ukraine’s beleaguered economy, fighting in the east of the country has reached pitched levels this week, according to Ukrainian and Russian officials, as Russia has directed the might of its artillery and missile systems on an already devastated 75-mile stretch of land straddling the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
For weeks, Russian forces have rained fire on the last Ukrainian-controlled city in the Luhansk region, Sievierodonetsk, forcing civilians unable to flee to cower in basements and bomb shelters.
Serhiy Haidai, head of Luhansk regional military administration, acknowledged that Russian forces had occupied parts of Sievierodonetsk and were “gradually moving toward downtown.” But he added that they had yet to encircle the city, leaving Ukrainian soldiers a route in and out.
In other developments:
— Gazprom, Russia’s state-run energy giant, cut its supply early Tuesday to a Dutch company, GasTerra, because the company had refused to pay in rubles.
— President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine offered condolences in his nightly address to the family and colleagues of French journalist Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, who was killed Monday in eastern Ukraine.
— Kalush Orchestra, the Ukrainian band that won the Eurovision Song Contest, auctioned off its trophy and the lead singer’s signature pink bucket hat to buy drones for the Ukrainian army.