Since Thursday, Russia began transporting grain from the occupied territory of Ukraine, with a ship loaded with 7,000 tons of grain from the occupied port of Berdyansk in Ukraine.
Kyiv has for weeks accused Russia and its allies of stealing its grain from southern Ukraine, contributing to global food shortages caused by the blockade of grain exports at Ukrainian ports.
Until now, the shipments have been transported by land, Kyiv says.
The grain transport set sail last Thursday from the port of Berdyansk marks the opening of a sea route for exporting wheat from Ukraine to third countries.
“After several months of delay, the first merchant ship has left the commercial port of Berdyansk, 7,000 tons of grain is on its way to friendly countries,” Evgeny Balitsky, head of the pro-Russian administration, said on Telegram.
Russian Black Sea ships “are ensuring the safety” of the voyage, he said, adding that the Ukrainian port had been demined.
Balitsky did not specify the final destination of the cargo.
Berdyansk is a port city on the northern shore of the Sea of Azov, in the Zaporizhzhia region of southeastern Ukraine.
The southern Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia have been largely under Russian control since the first weeks of Moscow’s military intervention, and are now being forcibly integrated into Russia’s economy.
Pro-Moscow officials in the two Ukrainian regions claim they have “nationalized” state infrastructure and property there and buy their crops from local farmers.
A representative of the pro-Moscow authorities, Vladimir Rogov, told the state news agency RIA Novosti that 1.5 million tons of grain can be exported through Berdyansk.
Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, a country known as the breadbasket of Europe, has pushed up food prices and caused shortages, as Russia’s blockade of Black Sea ports prevents the shipment of millions of tons of grain.
The crisis has sparked fears of famine in vulnerable countries that rely heavily on Ukrainian exports, particularly in Africa.
Russia insists it will allow Ukraine to ship its grain if Kyiv forces sea lanes to be de-mined.
Kyiv fears that Russia will launch an attack on the Ukrainian Black Sea coast.
Talks involving Turkey and the UN have so far yielded no results.
On Thursday, Russia said it had withdrawn its forces from Ukraine’s Snake Island, calling it a “goodwill gesture” to allow Kyiv to export agricultural products.
Russia, the world’s largest wheat exporter, has said it faces difficulties exporting its own grain due to unprecedented Western sanctions over its intervention in Ukraine.
Pro-Moscow officials in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions hope that the occupied territories will be able to hold a referendum and join Russia in the near future.
On Wednesday, pro-Russian authorities said they were launching bus and train services between Moscow-annexed Crimea and the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.
The pro-Moscow administration of the Kherson region also announced the opening of a branch of the Russian Pension Fund responsible for paying state pensions.
Putin has said Russian forces will not occupy Ukraine, reports TheMoscowTimes.com
The Kremlin claims that local residents will choose their own future, suggesting that they are in favor of a referendum on the status of the occupied territory of Ukraine.
Source: AFP / theMoscowtimes.com