Russia says Ukraine must demine its coast for grain to be exported

Russian authorities in Moscow  said on Tuesday June 7th that Ukraine would have to demine the approaches to its ports in order for ships to be cleared by the Russian military, before they could export grain.

Russia has gained control of the Ukrainian coast to the east of the Crimea, while it is blockading the ports to the west. However, it still claims that the lack of grain shipments are because of Western sanctions and actions by Ukraine.

A Kremlin spokesman said that President Putin had said that “Ukraine must demine the approaches to its ports. This will allow ships, once checked by our military, to enter the ports, load grain and with our help, proceed to international waters.”

Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu said on June 7th that the Ukrainian ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol, which have been seized by Russian forces, have been de-mined and were ready to resume grain shipments.

“The de-mining of Mariupol’s port has been completed. It is functioning normally, and has received its first cargo ships,” Sergei Shoigu said on Russian TV.

The UN has claimed to be working on plans with Kyiv and Moscow on restarting grain exports from Ukrainian ports. It has hypothesized that Turkey might provide naval escorts to ensure safe passage out of the Black Sea.

Shoigu also said that Russian armed forces had created the “necessary preconditions for the full resumption of railway traffic between Russia, the Donbas, Ukraine and Crimea” and had started delivery of cargo to the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol, Berdyansk and Kherson” on 1,200 km of reopened railway tracks.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has said that it would be able to export a maximum 2m tonnes of grain a month if Russia refuses to lift its blockade of the country’s Black Sea ports.

Taras Vysotskyi, Ukraine’s first deputy minister of Agrarian Policy and Food, said on Tuesday June 7th that road, river and rail routes faced severe capacity constraints.

Pre-war, Ukraine was able to export up to 6m tonnes of grains a month. More than 20m tonnes of grain are currently stored in the country’s silos, with more space soon to be needed for the next harvest.

“I think we reached the limit. The biggest amount we can export is about 2m tonnes a month, Vysotskyi told participants at an International Grains Council (IGC) conference in London, speaking via video link.

Significantly, he warned that, even if Russia’s port blockade was lifted immediately, Ukraine would need about six months to demine the waters around its Black Sea ports.