Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday warned of a looming global food crisis as he accused the West of sending most of the grain from Ukraine’s reopened ports to Europe instead of poorer and hungrier parts of the world, suggesting potential talks with Türkiye about revising the landmark grain deal to limit the countries that can receive cargo shipments.
Speaking at an economic forum in the Russian far eastern city of Vladivostok, Putin suggested Russia and the developing world had been “cheated” by the grain deal designed to alleviate a food crisis, saying Ukrainian grain exports were not going to the world’s poorest countries as originally intended.
“They cheated the public and partners in Africa and other regions who acutely need food,” he said. “They were claiming that they were acting in the interests of developing countries, but acted entirely in their own interests.”
In his strongest comments on the topic since the United Nations and Türkiye-brokered deal was reached in July, Putin warned of a global food crisis if the situation was not addressed.
He said he would contact Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss amending the deal to limit the countries that can receive the shipments.
“It’s obvious that with an approach like that, the magnitude of the food problem in the world will keep growing, and that could lead to an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe,” he added. “Maybe it’s worth thinking about restricting the exports of grain and other products on that route? I will certainly discuss the issue with the president of Türkiye.”
Russia and Ukraine are both key suppliers of food and fertilizer, but Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbor stalled Kyiv’s Black Sea exports and stoked a global food crisis. Russia complained that a chilling effect from Western sanctions – imposed over the war – had slowed its shipments.
Exports of grain across Black Sea ports resumed after Kyiv and Moscow inked a deal in July with the United Nations and Türkiye.
Putin said Moscow had done everything it could to ensure Ukraine could export its grain but that problems in the global food market were likely to intensify.
He said Russia had signed the deal on the understanding it would help alleviate surging food prices in the developing world, but instead, it was rich Western countries that were taking advantage of the deal.
“We did everything to ensure that Ukrainian grain was exported ... we did it together with Türkiye,” Putin said.
“If we exclude Türkiye as an intermediary country, then almost all the grain exported from Ukraine is sent not to the poorest developing countries but to European Union countries,” he stressed.
The Russian president said of 87 ships loaded with grain from Ukraine, just two carried grain for the U.N. World Food Programme – 60,000 tons out of the total of about 2 million tons – as he stressed that European countries “acted as colonialists in recent decades and centuries” and “they continue to act so today.”
“Once again, developing countries have simply been deceived and continue to be deceived,” he noted.
Putin said that Russia would carry on with the deal in the hope that its aims would still be achieved.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday night said tons of grain from his country will arrive in the coming weeks in Somalia, where famine approaches and the global crises of food security and climate change put millions at risk.
Zelenskyy said 28,600 tons of wheat would be shipped to Somalia and blamed the coming famine in the African country on Russia’s actions this year.
“Ukraine continues to save the world with its grain,” he asserted.
The Joint Coordination Centre (JCC), run by the U.N., Türkiye, Russia and Ukraine, in its latest update Tuesday night said 96 outbound ships have been enabled so far carrying more than 2.2 million metric tons.
Commercial ships have gone well beyond Europe to Egypt, Iran, Israel, Libya, India, South Korea and China, carrying a range of food products including wheat, corn for animal feed, sunflower meal, soya beans, sunflower oil and sunflower seed.
One of the five commercial vessels authorized to depart Ukraine on Wednesday is bound for Kenya with 51,400 metric tons of wheat, the JCC said, adding that destinations “may change based on commercial activity.” The destinations for the four other ships are Spain and Türkiye.
Ukraine’s agriculture minister said on Wednesday it was not aware of any formal steps taken by Russia to amend the terms of the grain deal, which remains the only significant diplomatic breakthrough in the six-month conflict.
Asked about the Russian remarks, Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky said: “I also saw (the comments), but we are not seeing anything at our level.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, separately said on Wednesday that Moscow had no grounds to review the deal and that the terms of the wartime agreement were being strictly observed.
“Of course there are no objective reasons for revising the grain deal, not even close,” Podolyak told Reuters. “The deal, in our view and in the view of intermediaries, is being strictly observed.”
“I believe that such unexpected and groundless statements rather indicate an attempt to find new aggressive talking points to influence global public opinion and, above all, put pressure on the United Nations,” he said.
Several top Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have said over the last 24 hours that Moscow is not happy with the terms of the deal and that the West is not fulfilling its obligations.
Moscow maintains it was promised the removal of some logistical sanctions, which it says disrupt its own exports of agricultural products and fertilizers, in exchange for easing the military blockade on Ukraine’s southern ports to allow food cargo to leave its ports.
Lavrov cast doubt on the deal on Tuesday, accusing Western states of failing to honor reciprocal pledges to help facilitate Moscow's shipments.
Putin also said some restrictions on Russia’s fertilizer exports had been eased, but “clever sanctions” were still complicating Russian trade.
“There are no direct sanctions against products, but there are restrictions related to logistics, freight, payments and insurance. Many of these elements of restrictions remain,” Putin said.
The grain deal aimed to avert a global food crisis by guaranteeing the safe passage of ships in and out of Ukrainian ports, allowing them to export tens of millions of tons of grain.