Blinken says reports of Russia 'pilfering' Ukrainian grain for profit are credible

Ukraine has accused Russia of shipping Ukrainian grain to countries including Turkey and Syria. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday (June 6) there are "credible reports" that Russia is "pilfering" Ukraine's grain exports to sell for profit.

Speaking during a virtual roundtable with philanthropies, non-governmental organisations and private sector entities, Mr Blinken said the alleged theft was part of broader Russian actions during its war in Ukraine that have hit Ukraine's ability to export its wheat crop and worsened a global food security crisis.

"There are credible reports, as we saw in one of our leading newspapers today, that Russia is pilfering Ukraine's grain exports… to sell for its own profit," Mr Blinken said, an apparent reference to a New York Times story that said Washington last month warned 14 countries, mostly in Africa, that Russia was trying to ship stolen Ukrainian grain to buyers overseas.

Ukraine has accused Russia of shipping Ukrainian grain to countries including Turkey and Syria.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia stormed out of a UN Security Council meeting on Monday as European Council President Charles Michel addressed the 15-member body and accused Moscow of fuelling a global food crisis with its invasion of Ukraine.

According to the New York Times, the US in mid-May sent an alert to 14 countries, mostly in Africa, that Russian cargo vessels were leaving ports near Ukraine laden with what a State Department cable described as “stolen Ukrainian grain.”

The cable identified by name three Russian cargo vessels it said were suspected of transporting it.

The American alert about the grain has only sharpened the quandary for African countries, many already feeling trapped between East and West, as they potentially face a hard choice between, on one hand, benefiting from possible war crimes and displeasing a powerful Western ally, and on the other, refusing cheap food at a time when wheat prices are soaring and hundreds of thousands of people are starving.

The alarm sounded by Washington reinforced Ukrainian government accusations that Russia has stolen up to 500,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat, worth US$100 million (S$137.51 million), since Russia’s invasion in February.

Much of it has been trucked to ports in Russia-controlled Crimea, then transferred to ships, including some under Western sanctions, Ukrainian officials say.


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