EU calls Russia's Ukraine grain blockade ‘real war crime’

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock blamed a Russian blockade for millions of tonnes of grain stuck in Ukraine. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP, REUTERS) - EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday (June 20) that Russia should be held “accountable” if it keeps blocking the export of vitally needed grain from Ukraine.

“One cannot imagine that millions of tonnes of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world people are suffering hunger. This is a real war crime,” Borrell said at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers.

The West has demanded Moscow stop blockading Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to allow vast stores of grain to be taken to world markets as fears rise of famines in vulnerable regions.

The EU backs United Nation efforts to mediate a deal between Ukraine, Russia and Turkey to get the grain out but these have failed to make any headway so far.

The 27-nation bloc has struggled to counter Moscow’s claims that rising prices and shortfalls in the Middle East and Africa are down to EU sanctions imposed over the invasion of Ukraine.

“I want to insist that it’s not European sanctions that are creating this crisis – our sanctions don’t target food, don’t target fertilisers,” Borrell said.

“The problem comes from the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grains.”

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna insisted that “Russia must stop playing with global hunger” as it seeks leverage on the West.

“Leaving cereals blocked is dangerous for stability in the world,” she said.

Earlier, Germany said it supports Poland and Romania in adapting their railways to enable the export of millions of tonnes of the stuck grain.  

"The railway tracks need to be modernised, we need the right cargo wagons - the German government is working on this with many other actors," German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said as she arrived for a meeting with her European Union counterparts in Luxembourg.

"It is clear that, in the end, we will certainly not be able to get out all grain but if we even just manage to free part of it, on various routes, then this will help as we are facing this global challenge."

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