After being accused of using the food supply as blackmail and a bargaining chip, Russia said Wednesday its military will open up protected sea corridors for international shipping to pass through from seven Ukrainian ports that have thus far been blockaded.
According to a defense ministry statement reported by Bloomberg late in the day, "Humanitarian maritime corridors from ports on the Black Sea and Azov Sea, including Odesa, will operate from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily."
The announcement comes two days after the head of the United Nations World Food Program David Beasley ripped Moscow for what he dubbed a "declaration of war" on global food security. He's been urging "political solution" to the crisis of blocked Black Sea ports, saying the war in 'the world's breadbasket' threatens to unleash "famine, the destabilization of nations as well as mass migration by necessity." Millions of people in 43 countries dependent on grain from the war-torn region are "knocking on famine’s door," he said.
However, Russia has stressed that its military is engaged in extensive and complex demining operations due thousands of mines dotting Ukraine's coast placed by Ukrainian forces, making international shipping dangerous and impossible. As reported in the independent Moscow Times:
The port of Mariupol has resumed normal operations, Russia's Defense Ministry announced Wednesday.
The Defense Ministry said Black Sea Fleet specialists cleared more than 12,000 mines from the seaport and its surrounding areas.
Some one-third of global wheat supplies originate from Ukraine and Russia, with the bulk of it passing through the Black Sea.
On Wednesday Russia said it remains ready and willing to work with the West to reach a solution, but that easing sanctions is a necessity:
"We have repeatedly stated on this point that a solution to the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the lifting of sanctions that have been imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko was quoted as saying by Interfax.
But the statement called on Ukraine to cease deployment of sea mines, and to engage in immediate demining operations: "And it also requires the demining by the Ukrainian side of all ports where ships are anchored. Russia is ready to provide the necessary humanitarian passage, which it does every day," Rudenko added.
Resuming Ukrainian gain shipments will be time consuming given challenges that include mine-clearing in Black Sea ports and the need for cooperation from the very country that kicked off the war, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda says https://t.co/x4ORt9KDr8— Bloomberg Politics (@bpolitics) May 25, 2022
He further warned against such plans that have been floated lately by Lithuania and the UK which involve foreign military naval escorts accompanying cargo ships. Interfax quoted him as saying such a scenarios would "seriously exacerbate the situation in the Black Sea."
Also, addressing ongoing accusations that Russia is stealing Ukrainian grain and other food sources, he stressed to reporters: "We completely reject this. We don't steal anything from anyone."
Regarding mines, NATO in a message this month warned all commercial traffic in the Black Sea of the growing danger of drifting mines as spillover from the Russia-Ukraine war. "The latest statement of regional authorities, confirming another sighting of a mine, shows the threat of drifting mines in the Southwest part of the Black Sea still exists," a May 13 NATO shipping advisory said.
Most of #Ukraine and #Russia's grain exports originate at these 9 ports. Mykolaiv for Ukraine and Novorossiysk for Russia are the top ones.— Karen Braun (@kannbwx) March 1, 2022
🇺🇦&🇷🇺 account for 29% of world #wheat exports, but all grain & vegetable oil shipments from both are effectively cut off right now. pic.twitter.com/x4M6HVPVNc
"An additional stray mine was detected and deactivated on 06 of April 2022 in the Southwestern part of the Black Sea. National authorities stated that the searches for mine-like objects are ongoing. The threat of more drifting mines cannot be ruled out," it warned.