European leaders press Putin on food crisis, call for diplomacy to end war in Ukraine

European leaders press Putin on food crisis, call for diplomacy to end war in Ukraine

European leaders on Saturday pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin to lift his blockade of Ukrainian grain exports as world leaders brace for a looming food crisis.

In a call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Mr. Putin committed to allowing vessels to access Odesa, a key Ukrainian port city on the Black Sea, once the waterways are cleared of mines, according to a French readout of the call.

Ukraine and Russia are among the world’s top producers of wheat, corn, and sunflower oil. Russia has mined many of Ukraine’s ports, blocking the export of critical food supplies.

Analysts fear the blockade has put the world on the brink of a food security crisis.

According to the Elysee Palace readout of Saturday’s call, Mr. Putin told the European leaders that the Kremlin would not impede grain exports from the port, and that “the port would not be used by Russia for military purposes.”

Earlier this week, the Kremlin pressed Western leaders to lift sanctions put in place in response to its invasion of Ukraine claiming the West’s penalties are blocking the export of millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products.

The Kremlin also has argued that U.S. sanctions have hampered its own ability to export agricultural products.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has dismissed the Kremlin’s talking points, noting that food, fertilizer, and seeds are not subject to U.S. sanctions.

On Thursday, the White House dismissed Russia’s calls to lift sanctions and blasted the Kremlin for its attempts to shift blame for the looming food crisis.

“This is Russia’s doing,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “Sanctions from the United States and its allies and partners are not preventing the export of Ukrainian or Russian agriculture including food and fertilizer, nor are they preventing the ordinary transactions that are necessary for these transactions.”

“This is on them,” she said. “Russia should immediately cease its war on Ukraine which is devastating food security and allow the free flow of Ukrainian food.”

On Saturday’s call, Messrs. Macron and Scholz also called on Mr. Putin to reopen lines of communication with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to find a diplomatic solution to put an end to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

They said any solution be “negotiated between Moscow and Kyiv” and must account for “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

— This story includes wire reports.