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Ukraine’s foreign ministry on Thursday pushed back on Russia’s claims that it cannot remove its naval blockade in the Black Sea until Kyiv demines the vital port thoroughfare.
“After attacking Ukraine, Russia has blocked Ukrainian seaports. The Russian army has mined areas of the sea, and is constantly trying to break through the defense of Odesa and other coastal cities on the Black Sea,” spokesman of Ukraine’s foreign ministry, Oleg Nikolenko, said in response to comments made earlier this week by a top Russia official.
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Government leaders, officials from the United Nations and humanitarian groups have been sounding the alarm that Russia’s naval blockade not only illegally violates Ukraine’s sovereignty, but is causing a global food crisis.
In the lead up to the war, Ukraine was a leading nation in exports on sunflower oil, maze, barley and wheat, particularly for nations in Africa and Middle East.
Roughly 90 percent of all Kyiv’s exports left Ukraine from ports along its Black Sea coastline.
But since Russia’s invasion nearly 100 days ago, millions of tons worth of food supplies remain holed up in storage units and officials have warned that nearly 50 million people worldwide now face famine and starvation.
The UN has been working to negotiate the safe passage of food exports from the Black Sea and have called on Russia to remove its naval vessels.
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But on Tuesday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the demining process should be Kyiv’s problem to solve.
“If Kyiv solves the problem of demining ports, the Russian Navy will ensure the unimpeded passage of ships with grain to the Mediterranean Sea,” he told Russian media.
But Nikolenko said Ukraine would not remove any defenses it has established until Moscow withdrew “its forces from the territorial waters of Ukraine and provide[d] security guarantees against attacks on ports and commercial convoys.”
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Kyiv also called on those nations who are expected to suffer the most at the hands of Russia’s blockade and urged them to use their contacts with Moscow to circumvent even greater food shortages.
Nikolenko said Ukrainian officials continue to work with partners and the UN to secure maritime export routes.