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Top EU diplomat says Russia's blockade of Ukraine 'a real war crime'

Top EU diplomat says Russia's blockade of Ukraine 'a real war crime'
European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell on Monday accused Russia of committing a war crime by blocking food exports from Ukraine. File Photo by Johny Thys/EPA-EFE

June 21 (UPI) -- Russia's blockade of wheat and other food goods in Ukraine is "a real war crime," the European Union's top diplomat said while accusing the Kremlin of using hunger as a weapon of war.

Josep Borrell, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, made the comment to reporters Monday ahead of the 27-member bloc's meeting in Luxembourg to discuss ways to make available millions of tons of grain stuck in Ukraine.

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Fears that war in Ukraine could threaten global food security have been voiced since the fighting began in late February as the warring nations produce 30% of the world's supply of wheat, 20% of its maze and 80% of its sunflower seed oil.

However, a Russian blockade of Kyiv ports in the Black Sea has exasperated the situation as it has stifled commercial shipping in the region, leaving food goods, including at least 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain, waiting for export.

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The Kremlin has blamed the crisis on sanctions imposed against it by democratic nations.

Borrell has repeatedly rebuked this accusation while stating the sanctions imposed do not affect food and fertilizers from Russia.

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The EU's top diplomate has also raised issue with the "battle of narratives" around the food crisis in Africa as Macky Sall, Senegal's president and head of the African Union, has been in contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Sall tweeted earlier this month that Putin told him that he is ready to facilitate the export of Ukrainian wheat as well as Russian wheat and fertilizers.

"I call on all partners to lifts sanctions targeting wheat and fertilizer," Sall said.

On Thursday, Borrell warned that there is risk of a great famine, especially in Africa, but that Russia's blockade is to blame and not sanctions.

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"It is unconceivable," he said. "One cannot imagine that millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world, people are suffering [from] hunger.

"This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer. Otherwise, it will be something that Russia will be accountable for."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky echoed this sentiment during a speech Monday to the African Union in which he said the continent had been taken "hostage" by Russia with its war.

He said the war has deteriorated access to Ukrainian agriculture exports, which are "one of the foundations of the stability of the global food market."

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"If it was not for the Russian war against Ukraine, there simply would be no shortage in the food market. It if was not for the Russian war, our farmers and agricultural companies could have ensured record harvests this year. If it was not for the Russian war, people in Africa, people in Asian and anywhere else in the world would not suffer from the catastrophic rise in food prices," he said.

War in Ukraine: Scenes from Kharkiv

A woman eats food given to her by volunteers at a food delivery station run by a Hare Krishna group in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 20, 2022. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

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