World leaders call for action to free trapped Ukrainian food
By Mark Landler, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Erika Solomon and Patricia Cohen
World leaders called Tuesday for international action to deliver 20 million tons of grain trapped in Ukraine as fears of a global food crisis rose.
A Russian blockade of Ukrainian seaports and attacks on its grain warehouses have choked off one of the world’s breadbaskets, deepening concern that President Vladimir Putin is using food as a powerful new weapon in his three-month-old war.
Some Western officials warned that unless the port of Odesa was opened soon, there was a threat of famine in some countries and political unrest in others, in what could be the gravest global repercussion yet of Russia’s assault on its neighbor.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, accused Russia of confiscating Ukrainian grain stocks and agricultural machinery, bombarding grain warehouses and trapping Ukrainian cargo vessels laden with wheat and sunflower seeds in the Black Sea.
“The consequences of these shameful acts are there for everyone to see,” she said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Global wheat prices are skyrocketing, and it is fragile countries and vulnerable populations that suffer most.”
The European Union, she said, was working to open alternative routes for shipments overland linking Ukraine’s borders to European ports. Among the proposals was for a flotilla escorted by vessels from non-NATO countries to break the Russian blockade off Odesa and escort Ukrainian cargo ships.
But doing so would risk a wider confrontation with Russia, an escalation the West has been trying to avoid.
“It’s a perfect storm within a perfect storm,” said David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. “If we don’t get the port of Odesa open, it will compound our problems.” Calling the situation “absolutely critical,” he warned, “We will have famines around the world.”
In other developments:
— Russia’s military pounded civilian areas, including high-rise buildings, in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk overnight and into Tuesday, killing four civilians, as the forces tried to complete a stranglehold on the riverside city, which is critical for control of the wider Donbas region.
— Ukraine’s economy has lost about $1 trillion because of Russia’s invasion, according to Oleh Ustenko, an economic adviser to the Ukrainian president. He said the estimate was based both on direct losses, such as destruction of infrastructure, and indirect losses such as reduced investment and exports.
— Russian forces broke into the home of an employee of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine and shot him, causing severe wounds, the country’s nuclear energy operator said.
— Finland and Sweden were sending delegations to Turkey on Tuesday to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has expressed opposition to the Nordic countries’ bid to join NATO.