Russia’s UN envoy walked out of a meeting after Moscow’s actions in Ukraine were blamed for creating a “looming food crisis”.
It came as Charles Michel, president of the European Council, said he had witnessed grain and wheat being stuck in containers and ships at the port of Odesa because of a Russian blockade.
He said Russian tanks, bombs and mines were also preventing Ukraine from planting and harvesting, which was “driving up food prices, pushing people into poverty, and destabilising entire regions”.
“Russia is solely responsible for this looming food crisis,” said Michel. “Russia alone.”
He accused Russia of using food supplies as “a stealth missile against developing countries” and said Russian soldiers were stealing grain from areas it has occupied “while shifting the blame to others” calling this “cowardly” and “propaganda, pure and simple”.
His words prompted Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, to walk out of the UN Security Council meeting.
“You may leave the room,” said Michel. “Maybe it’s easier not to listen to the truth, ambassador.”
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, said Michel’s comments were “so rude” that Nebenzia had left the chamber.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, at a virtual roundtable discussion with private sector groups on food security issues arising from the conflict, accused Russian forces of planting explosives in captured farmland and of hoarding Ukraine’s food exports.
“The Kremlin needs to realise that it is exporting starvation and suffering well beyond Ukraine borders,” with Africans experiencing “an outsize share of the pain,” he said.
Ukraine and Russia together produce almost a third of the world’s wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil.
Global food crisis
The Security Council meeting was supposed to focus on sexual violence during the war in Ukraine, but issues around global food shortages and rising prices were also raised.
During the session, Michel also gave strong backing to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ efforts to get a package agreement that would allow grain exports from Ukraine and ensure that Russian food and fertiliser have unrestricted access to global markets.
Guterres warned last month that global hunger levels “are at a new high,” with the number of people facing severe food insecurity doubling in just two years from 135 million before the COVID-19 pandemic to 276 million today.
He said more than 500,000 people are living in famine conditions – an increase of more than 500% since 2016.
Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the UN Security Council on Monday that his country remains committed to finding solutions to prevent the global food crisis, and is ready to create “the necessary conditions” to resume exports from the key southern port of Odesa.
“The question is how to make sure that Russia does not abuse the trade route to attack the city itself,” he added.
Kyslytsya said the question has become more relevant since four Russian missiles hit a plant in the capital Kyiv on Sunday, where freight cars that carry grain to Ukrainian ports were being repaired.
“It means all Putin’s fairy tales about his readiness to facilitate Ukrainian wheat export that he so eloquently tells his rare interlocutors remain too far removed from reality,” the Ukrainian ambassador said.