Martin Griffiths, one of the UN officials leading the talks, met with Russian officials from the Defense and Foreign Ministries over the Russian blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports during his visit to Moscow , according to a second UN official. The UN declined to say whether Griffiths or Rebeca Grynspan, the other UN official leading the talks, addressed Russia’s calls for sanctions relief during their talks. US officials are not in the room during the talks, but a State Department and a UN official separately confirmed that a UN delegation recently briefed US officials on the talks.
“The bottom line is that, in addition to taking advantage of land routes, we need to get ports back up and running so we can increase food supplies for those who need it most,” a spokesperson said. from the State Department.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield expressed general US support for the early talks, but also noted that there are no sanctions preventing Russia from exporting its own food and agricultural products as fertilizers, as Putin suggested. State Department aides appear more optimistic about the negotiations than others in the Biden administration, but most officials said they were waiting for the talks to progress further to see if Russia drops its calls for easing of sanctions.
“It is difficult to view Russian offers in good faith given how they are actively and intentionally destroying food in Ukraine and exacerbating global food insecurity,” a US official said, referring to continued targeting of facilities Ukrainian farms and fields by Russian forces.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have also bristled at Russian calls for sanctions relief. Sen. jim risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview that Moscow’s demand for sanctions relief in exchange for lifting its Black Sea blockade amounts to “blackmail.”
“Putin is waging war on other innocent people around the world by holding Ukrainian food and related exports hostage,” Risch said.
US lawmakers, however, have been pushing for the Biden administration to help Ukraine reopen its Black Sea port of Odessa, the country’s only port still under their control. But the Biden administration has so far ruled out sending military ships to the region, which would risk Russian retaliation. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told reporters on Tuesday that clearing Ukrainian ports and navigating the Russian naval blockade “would be a high-risk military operation that would require considerable effort.”
Instead, the administration plans to continue sending weapons to help Ukraine fight Russian forces attacking Odessa and eastern regions of the country, while pushing to open more land routes to transport the seed.
Biden officials were originally hesitant to publicly associate Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with likely devastating food shortages and price hikes around the world, fearing it would unnecessarily panic Americans. United being a major grain exporter, the domestic market is insulated from the worst of the Ukraine-related shocks). But in recent weeks, the president has increasingly warned that the Russian blockade would cause long-term damage to global economies and strain food systems while driving up already high food prices. Discussing the more than 20 million tonnes of grain trapped in Ukrainian ports, Biden noted that “normally this would have already been exported to the world market,” Biden said during remarks on the economy on Friday. “But because of Putin’s invasion and a blockade of the port where they could transport that grain for the rest of the world, that’s not the case.”
And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned this week that Russia’s crippling military blockade in the Black Sea threatens to trigger mass starvation, protests and migration around the world amid growing global hunger. U.S. officials expect the global fallout to worsen over the summer, risking widespread unrest this fall.
There are some small signs of progress in other efforts to get grain out of Ukraine. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, an ally of Putin, told the UN’s Guterres on Friday that Belarus would be willing to discuss allowing Ukraine to ship grain through its territory to Baltic Sea ports. , if Belarus could also use these ports to ship goods.
African Union chairperson Senegalese President Macky Sall also met Putin on Friday and planned to press him on the blockade, which has cut off critical food supplies to many African countries already reeling from severe drought.