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Russia-Ukraine: Ambassador accuses Moscow of exporting 'stolen' grain to Turkey

Vasyl Bodnar said grain was being shipped out of Crimea and Kyiv was working with Ankara and Interpol to find the culprits
Before Russia’s invasion in February, Ukraine was a major exporter of wheat and sunflower oil (AFP)

Ukraine's ambassador to Turkey has accused Russia of "stealing" and sending Ukrainian grain abroad to countries that include Turkey, during a news conference marking the 100th-day since the conflict began. 

Speaking in Ankara on Friday, Vasyl Bodnar said Russia was shipping the stolen grain out of Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, and added that Kyiv was working with Turkey and Interpol to find the culprits.

"Russia is shamelessly stealing Ukrainian grains and getting it out from the invaded Crimea. These grains are being shipped to foreign countries, including Turkey," he told reporters in the Turkish capital.

"We have made our appeal for Turkey to help us and, upon the suggestion of the Turkish side, are launching criminal cases regarding those stealing and selling the grains," he said.

The Ukrainian Embassy in Ankara later said the vessels involved in the stolen grain shipments were the Nadezhda, Finikia, Sormivskiy, Vera, and Mikhail Nenashev ships. Reuters was not able to independently verify the embassy's claims.

On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara was in talks with Moscow to establish a safe corridor for blocked Ukraine grain exports via Istanbul.

Putin floats Belarus solution

Before Russia's invasion in February, Ukraine was a major exporter of wheat and sunflower oil. However, Russia's army has seized much of the country's southern coastline and Russian warships control access to Ukraine's Black Sea ports. 

Russia-Ukraine war: Turkey facilitating talks to establish safe corridor for grain exports
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More than 20 million tonnes of grain are now stuck in silos in Ukraine, which has had a knock-on effect on many countries in the Middle East and Africa that have suffered a shortage and a subsequent rise in food prices. 

However, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin denied on Friday that Moscow was preventing Ukrainian ports from exporting grain, blaming rising food prices on the West. 

Speaking on national television, Putin said: "We are now seeing attempts to shift the responsibility for what is happening on the world food market, the emerging problems in this market, onto Russia."

He said the best solution would be for western sanctions on Russian ally Belarus to be lifted and for Ukraine to export grain through that country.

Balancing act

So far, Ankara has maintained a delicate balance between Kyiv and Moscow.

Turkey has delivered combat drones to Ukraine and has sought to act as a mediator in the conflict. But it has also refrained from placing sanctions on Russia, which it relies on for grain and energy. 

At the request of the United Nations, Ankara has offered to help secure maritime corridors for the export of Ukrainian grain. 

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, will be in Turkey on Wednesday to discuss the issue. 

Since the war began in February, thousands of people have died and millions have been uprooted from their homes.