The Kremlin says anti-Russia sanctions will must be reviewed first if Moscow is to heed an appeal by the United Nations to open Ukraine’s Black Sea ports for grain export.
Since the onset of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, waves of unprecedented sanctions from the United States and its European allies have been imposed on Moscow.
David Beasley, executive director of the UN’s World Food Programme, appealed on Wednesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin to open Ukraine’s Black Sea ports for grain export from the ex-Soviet country, which is one of the world’s biggest grain producers.
Ukraine, which is a major exporter of corn, barley, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, used to export most of its goods through its main ports on the Black and Azov seas, but since the operation began, it has been forced to export by train or via its small Danube River ports.
The ongoing conflict has reduced its grain exports this month by more than half compared to a year ago.
The WFP, which purchases almost 50 percent of its grain from Ukraine, feeds some 125 million people around the world.
On Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko responded to Beasley, saying, “You have to not only appeal to the Russian Federation but also look deeply at the whole complex of reasons that caused the current food crisis.”
Referring to anti-Russia sanctions, Rudenko added that “in the first place", these are the sanctions that have been imposed against Russia by the US and the EU that interfere with normal free trade, encompassing food products including wheat, fertilizers and others.”
'1,730 Ukrainian soldiers surrendered'
Separately, Russia's defense ministry announced in a statement that 1,730 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered since Monday at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol, which is under full control of Russian troops.
“Over the past 24 hours, 771 militants of the Azov nationalist regiment surrendered,” the statement said, adding, “In total, since May 16, 1,730 militants have surrendered, including 80 wounded.”
Mariupol is the biggest city Russia has managed to capture since February 24.
The ministry also released a video appearing to show the surrendered soldiers walking out of the maze-like metal works complex, some visibly injured and others with the aid of crutches.
Five Portuguese diplomats expelled
Russia's foreign ministry said on Thursday that it was declaring five Portuguese diplomats persona non grata in a retaliatory move, effectively ordering their expulsion.
Last month, Lisbon ordered 10 Russians - though no diplomats - to leave the country in early April.
“They are required to leave the country within 14 days of the delivery of the corresponding note to the Ambassador,” the ministry added in its statement.
The Portuguese government denounced the decision, saying it had “no justification other than simple retaliation.”
A day earlier, Russia said it was expelling a total of 85 embassy staff from France, Spain and Italy in response to similar moves by those countries.
France, Italy, and Spain are among the European nations that have ousted more than 300 Russians since the onset of Moscow’s operation in Ukraine.