Putin: We could reopen Odesa, but we want sanctions removed

In what sounds like bargaining rather than an unconditional promise, Russian President Vladimir Putin toyed with the idea of reopening the Odesa port for grain exports — while again calling for the lifting of Western sanctions against Russia.

Putin made the remarks during a call Saturday with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as concerns worsened over a looming food crisis due to the inability to export Ukraine’s grain amid the conflict.

The Franco-German push for Odesa’s reopening comes weeks after the EU’s farm commissioner proposed “alternative routes” to ship the grain out via Poland’s Baltic Sea ports and poured cold water on the idea of setting up humanitarian corridors to export food from the Black Sea.

Macron and Scholz “insisted with President Vladimir Putin on the urgency of lifting the blockade of Odesa in order to allow the export of Ukrainian cereals by the Black Sea and to avoid a world food crisis,” according to a readout issued by the Elysée Palace in Paris. “They took note of the promise of the Russian president to grant ships access to the port for the export of grain without it being exploited militarily by Russia if it was first cleared of mines,” the French government added.

In the Kremlin’s statement regarding the call, Putin told the duo that “Russia is ready to help find options for unhindered grain exports, including the export of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports.” But it added: “Putin explained the real reasons for the difficulties with food supplies, which were the result of the erroneous economic and financial policies of Western countries, as well as the anti-Russian sanctions imposed by them.”

“Increasing the supply of Russian fertilizers and agricultural products will also reduce tensions in the global food market, which, of course, will require the lifting of the relevant sanctions,” the Kremlin noted.

There’s no mention of de-mining in the Russian statement, contrary to the French statement.

Separately, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that “we’re working intensively to find ways to resume grain exports and avert a global food crisis.”

Zelenskyy said he asked Johnson for defense support and fuel, adding: “We must work together to prevent a food crisis and unblock ports.”

Before the war, Ukraine was able to export around 5 million metric tons of grain and up to 700,000 tons of sunflower oil per month via the Black Sea. In April, Ukraine managed to export less than 1 million tons of grain.

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