Is Russia exporting grain from Ukraine?

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    Russia is sending grain from Ukraine overseas, Russian-appointed officials in occupied southern Ukraine say.

    The claim – which the BBC has not been able to verify – comes as Ukrainian officials accuse Russia of stealing about 600,000 tonnes of its grain and exporting some of it.

    Russia denies it is stealing grain.

    Accessing Ukraine’s stockpiled grain has become urgent internationally: millions of tonnes are exported annually to Africa and the Middle East.

    But it cannot be shipped now because Russia’s navy is blockading Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

    And Russia says Ukraine must de-mine waters off the Black Sea coast for corridors to export the grain to become operational.

    The US alleges that Russia is trying to sell stolen Ukrainian wheat to drought-stricken countries in Africa, the New York Times reported.

    In mid-May, the US sent an alert to 14 countries, mostly in Africa, that Russian cargo ships were leaving ports near Ukraine laden with the grain, the paper reported, citing a State Department cable.

    What do the Russians say?
    Yevgeny Balitsky, in charge of Russian-held areas in Zaporizhzhia region, said grain had left the region on freight trains bound for Crimea – which Russia annexed in 2014 – and, from there, the Middle East.

    He told Russian state TV “the main contracts are being concluded with Turkey” – without giving details.

    A spokesman for the Russian occupation authority in Crimea, Oleg Kryuchkov, said 11 waggons of grain had arrived in Crimea from Melitopol, a city in Zaporizhzhia.

    He spoke to Russian state news agency RIA, which also said grain was being transported from the occupied Kherson region.

    The BBC has approached Russian authorities for comment.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed the grain problem with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara on Wednesday, but there was no breakthrough.

    Mr Lavrov denied that Russia was obstructing Ukraine’s wheat exports, saying the onus was on Ukraine to de-mine the waters off Odesa and other ports.

    A Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman said Ukraine could not de-mine the coast because Russia would “use grain corridors to attack southern Ukraine”.

    Russia also blames Western sanctions for the food crisis. The West however says Russia has “weaponised” food supplies.

    Turkey is trying to broker a deal to create safe maritime corridors.

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