UNITED NATIONS: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia on Thursday (May 19) of using food as a weapon in Ukraine by holding "hostage" the food supply for not just millions of Ukrainians, but also millions around the world who rely on Ukrainian exports.
Addressing the United Nations Security Council, Blinken appealed to Russia to stop blockading Ukrainian ports. Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24 to carry out what Moscow calls a "special military operation".
"The Russian government seems to think that using food as a weapon will help accomplish what its invasion has not - to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people," he said. "The food supply for millions of Ukrainians and millions more around the world has quite literally been held hostage by the Russian military."
The war in Ukraine has caused global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertiliser to soar.
Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies. Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn, barley, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, while Russia and Belarus - which has backed Moscow in its war in Ukraine - account for more than 40 per cent of global exports of potash, a crop nutrient.
Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said it was "absolutely false" that Russia was to blame for a global food crisis that had been brewing for several years.
He accused Ukraine of holding foreign vessels in its ports and mining the waters and said the Russian military had repeatedly tried to open safe corridors for vessels.
Nebenzia blamed Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over the Ukraine war for having a chilling effect on Russian exports of food and fertiliser. Blinken rejected Russian claims that sanctions were fuelling the food crisis.
"The decision to weaponise food is Moscow's and Moscow's alone," Blinken said. "As a result of the Russian government's actions some 20 million tons of grain sit unused in Ukrainian silos as global food supply dwindle, prices skyrocket, causing more around the world to experience food insecurity."
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is trying to broker a "package deal" that will allow Ukraine to resume food exports through the Black Sea and revive Russian food and fertiliser production to world markets.
"There is enough food for everyone in the world. The issue is distribution, and it is deeply linked to the war in Ukraine," Guterres told the council on Thursday.