Secretary of State Blinken says Russia is stealing Ukraine grain to sell around the world in a plot to ‘blackmail’ the West into lifting sanctions as fears grow food prices will get higher as war rages on
- Blinken said reports that Russia was stealing Ukrainian grain were ‘credible’
- He included it on a list of ways that Moscow was disrupting global food supplies
- The secretary of state said Russian forces had laid explosives in farmland, and its naval blockade meant 20 million tons of grain were stuck in port or on ships
- He accused Vladimir Putin of trying to blackmail the West into lifting sanctions
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday accused Russia of ‘exporting starvation’ by mining farmland in Ukraine, blockading Ukrainian food exports and of stealing grain to sell around the world as part of a plot to blackmail the West into lifting sanctions.
It follows repeated warnings that the conflict in Ukraine was driving up global food prices and could trigger a disaster in Africa.
During a meeting with aid agencies and private-sector groups, Blinken said that 20 million tons of wheat was trapped in silos near the Ukrainian port of Odessa, with more stuck on ships that could not depart because of Russian warships.
‘This is all deliberate,’ he said.
‘We know that President Putin is stopping food from being shipped and aggressively using his propaganda machine to deflect or distort responsibility, because he hopes it’ll get the world to give in to him and end the sanctions.
‘In other words, quite simply put, it’s blackmail.
‘The Kremlin needs to realise that it is exporting starvation and suffering well beyond Ukraine quarters, with countries in Africa that are experiencing an outsized share the pain.’
Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of ‘exporting starvation’ by stealing Ukrainian grain to sell around the world, and using food as a bargain chip to lift sanctions
Aerial photos taken of the Crimean port of Sevastopol last month show Russian-flagged carrier ships docking and loading next to huge silos, raising concerns about massive thefts
Piles of burning grain of and destroyed infrastructure can be seen in a grain silo destroyed by Russian airstrikes in the town of Sivers’k, Donbas, last month
According to the United Nations, Russia and Ukraine supply about 40 percent of the wheat consumed in Africa. And prices have already risen by about 23 percent.
Some 17 million people are already going hungry in the Horn of Africa following a drought.
And the New York Times reported that American officials have warned African nations against buying Russian wheat that may have been stolen from Ukraine.
Blinken added it to the list of Russian abuses.
‘They planted explosives throughout the fields,’ he said.
‘They’ve destroyed vital agricultural infrastructure.
‘There are credible reports, including as we saw in one of our leading newspapers today that Russia is pilfering Ukraine’s grain exports to sell for its own profit.
Russia is accused of destroying grain storage infrastructure, disrupting supplies from one of the world’s biggest suppliers
‘Now, Russia is reporting its food exports as well.’
Ukraine has already accused Russia of shipping Ukrainian grain to countries including Turkey and Syria.
The impact of Russian aggression on world food supplies has become one of the most pressing factors in the conflict.
It was raised during a United Nations Security Council session on Monday.
Moscow’s ambassador walked out after European Council President Charles Michel accused Russia on Monday of using food as ‘a stealth missile against developing countries.’
He addressed Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia directly as he described a recent visit to Odessa, where he said he saw millions of tons of grain stuck in storage facilities or on ships because of the Russian naval blockade.
‘This is driving up food prices, pushing people into poverty, and destabilizing entire regions,’ Michel said.
‘Russia is solely responsible for this looming food crisis. Russia alone.’
And earlier, British Prime Minister talked to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about ways to break the blockade.
Blinken also described the importance of Ukraine’s grain production for the world
‘Ukraine is one of the breadbaskets of the world,’ he said.
‘It’s a leading producer of wheat, corn, sunflower oil, among other things, and quite literally every place I go, this is what I hear.
‘Right now. A Russian naval blockade in the Black Sea is preventing Ukraine’s crops from being shipped to their normal destinations.
‘There somewhere around 20 million tonnes of wheat that’s trapped in silos near Odessa, and in ships literally filled with grain that are stuck in the Odessa port because of this Russian blockade.’
Department of Justice signs off on warrant to seize Roman Abramovich’s $350 million 787 Dreamliner and his Gulfstream jet as part of more sanctions on Russian billionaires since the invasion of Ukraine
U.S. authorities on Monday obtained warrants to seize two jetliners owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich for illegally flying to Russia despite sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It is the latest move by Washington to keep up pressure on the ultra-wealthy figures close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Abramovich has already been forced to sell Chelsea Football Club in London as part of the economic net tightening around Moscow.
Now his Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Gulfstream G650 ER aircraft are in the crosshairs, even though Abramovich himself has not been personally blacklisted by the U.S. – in part because he has been part of an effort to broker a ceasefire.
American officials said it should serve as a demonstration of how the U.S. would use any available too to enforce sanctions.
However, it was not immediately clear how the planes could be seized.
Court documents suggest the Boeing jet is worth an estimated $350 million making it one of the most expensive private planes in the world.
Russian businessman Roman Abramovich has seen his wealth half since Russia invaded Ukraine. He has not been personally sanctioned by the U.S. but the FBI on Monday obtained a warrant to seize two of his jets after they flew to Russia in defiance of export controls
Abramovich’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner is reportedly worth $350 million, making it one of the most expensive private jets in the world. It is currently in Dubai, UAE
Abramovich’s Gulfstream is in Moscow, putting it beyond the reach of U.S. authorities
The Gulfstream was bought for a far more modest $60 million in 2020.
An FBI affidavit says the planes flew to Russia after Moscow invaded Ukraine in breach of export controls, placed on Russian-operated aircraft.
‘Flight records for the Boeing reflect that, after the Russia sanctions went into effect on or about February 24 and March 2, 2022, the Boeing was reexported to Russia,’ it says.
‘Specifically, on or about March 4, 2022, the Boeing flew from Dubai, United Arab Emirates to Moscow, Russia. That same day, the Boeing flew back to Dubai, where it has remained since then.’
The Gulfstream flew from Istanbul, Turkey, to Moscow, before flying on Tel Aviv, Israel, and then returning to Moscow where it is believed to remain.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: ‘Today’s affidavit and warrant demonstrate the Southern District’s commitment to bring to bear every legal tool available for enforcement of sanctions and export controls imposed in response to Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine.’
Abramovich, 55, is one of the world’s richest man.
He is worth an estimated $8.8 billion after making his fortune when nationalized industries were sold off at steep discounts after the Soviet Union collapsed.
The Chelsea Football Club owner was seen in Tel Aviv airport in early March on his way to Istanbul, as the EU decided to follow the UK and sanction him
Abramovich’s luxury lifestyle is being squeezed by EU and UK sanctions – and now the US has moved to seize his planes. He has already been forced to sell Chelsea soccer club
But that is a far cry from his wealth before the Russian invasion. Last year, he was believed to have assets of about $16 billion.
Since then he has been forced to sell Chelsea, his assets have been frozen by the U.K. and European Union, and shares in his Evraz company have collapsed.
He dropped from eighth to 28th in the UK’s Sunday Times’ rich list.
FBI Assistant Director Michael J. Driscoll said: ‘These wealthy Russian oligarchs have helped foster an environment that enabled Russia to pursue its deadly war in Ukraine.
‘The seizure of their valuable possessions, including these two aircraft, is just one way the U.S government holds accountable those who break U.S. laws and support Russia in its attempt to conquer a sovereign nation.
‘Our work has only just begun and we won’t back away.’
The U.S. Department of Commerce also filed administrative charges against Abramovich, even though he named his Russian children as the beneficiaries of the ‘shell entities’ that owned the two planes.
It is seeking a fine of more than $300,000 and other export sanctions.
The charges come amid pressure on the oligarchs to convince Putin to end his war.
Last week the Treasury Department unveiled new sanctions meant to claw back prizes amassed by Putin’s inner circle and their family members – including seizing a 324-foot yacht valued at $150 million belonging to a member of the state Duma.
This time the government’s sanctions seek to go deeper into the Russian president’s financial network as Russia’s war on Ukraine surpasses its 100th day.
The sanctions hit five oligarchs and elites, including Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who has trashed the U.S. in her public statements.
The sanctions also target Sergei Roldugin, identified as the money manager for Putin’s offshore wealth, as well as the godfather to one of Putin’s daughters.
Treasury describes Roldugin as a ‘close friend’ to Putin, as well as his ‘middle-man’. He is also a cellist and conductor of the state-owned St. Petersburg Music House. His wife Elena Yuryevna Mirtova is a soprano singer and actress.
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