Tens of thousands of lives depend on the conclusion of a deal between Russia and Ukraine to revive grain exports through the Black Sea, the European Union said on Monday, which expressed hope for a deal. in the next few days.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s top foreign policy official, said the UN-brokered talks with Turkey were “not a diplomatic game…it’s a matter of life and death for many many human beings”.
Diplomats meeting in Brussels were told that efforts to redirect Ukrainian grain to the Danube had led to the export of 2.7 million tonnes of grain via Romania – about 10% of the pre-war stock – while the Black Sea was blocked.
Railcars have also carried some of the grain into Poland as Ukraine’s allies try to prevent the waste of its produce, worsening the economic fallout from the war.
But these palliative measures are “not enough”, Mr Borrell said, “so I hope, and I think I am hopeful, that this week it will be possible to reach an agreement to unblock Odessa and to other Ukrainian ports. The lives of thousands – more than thousands, tens of thousands of people – depend on this agreement.”
Britain’s Foreign Office said on Monday that Russia was deliberately bombing Ukrainian farm equipment and grain fields were burning due to Russian bombing, worsening food shortages in world markets.
“These attacks and the blockade of ports jeopardize future harvests and threaten world hunger,” he said.
Ukraine wants to ensure that opening a sea corridor will not leave its southern coast vulnerable to a Russian attack, and has said it is not satisfied with mere assurances from a hostile Moscow.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said supplying more weapons to Ukraine was part of the solution, as it would deter the Russians from attacking or capturing Odessa.
Senior officials insisted at the Brussels talks that the sanctions on Russia were working, as the EU prepared to ratchet up the pressure on Moscow by banning the import of Russian gold.
Russia’s nearly five-month-old attack on Ukraine has raised questions about whether EU sanctions have missed their mark, and Europe’s resolve could be tested this week if the Russia closes the gas tap to Germany.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the main dissenting voice among the EU’s 27 leaders, said last week that sanctions had failed and the bloc had ‘shot itself in the lungs’ by weakening its own economy .
But diplomats meeting in Brussels said the Russian economy had been hit harder and that easing pressure on the Kremlin would encourage President Vladimir Putin to pursue his goals with violence.
“Some European leaders said the sanctions were a mistake, were a mistake. Well, I don’t think it’s a mistake,” Borrell said.
“Look at the price charts – oil prices, since we passed the oil ban, have gone down. So how can anyone say that it was the ban that made the price of oil go up? oil? Don’t they have eyes?
Brent crude was trading at around $103 a barrel on Monday, down from $116 when the EU oil ban was agreed on June 2, although prices are still considerably higher than before the Russian invasion in February.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said Russia’s automotive and aircraft industries had also been hit hard by the sanctions, after its planes were banned from EU airspace and planes manufactured Westerners were refused the interview.
“We can’t fall into the trap of picking up the Russian narrative,” said Schallenberg, who cited forecasts that Russia’s economy would shrink 10% this year while the EU’s is expected to grow.
He also cited signs of a brain drain from Russia, with many people leaving for Turkey or former Soviet republics such as Georgia, as evidence that the heat was on.
“The sanctions are not a measure with immediate effect. These are measures that have a long-term effect,” he said. “If we watch and do nothing, then what? Second, we recognize that the Charter of the United Nations and international law can be flouted and that the law of the jungle would reign.
Anna Luehrmann, Germany’s deputy foreign minister, said the sanctions were working and should remain in place despite fears that her country would run out of gas if Russia did not resume exports.
Russia’s main gas pipeline to Germany, Nord Stream 1, was closed for maintenance last week by state-owned exporter Gazprom and there are doubts whether it will return to service.
“We are preparing for all kinds of scenarios. We are ready,” Ms. Luehrmann said.
A total shutdown would impact Austria and other countries that receive second-hand Nord Stream gas from Germany, but Mr Schallenberg said: ‘We will cross that bridge when we get there.’
EU ministers were discussing new measures on Monday that Brussels sees as an upgrade to existing sanctions rather than a full-fledged seventh round, but which would include a ban on imports of gold from Russia.
A gold ban would put the EU in line with Britain, the US and Canada and honor an agreement at last month’s G7 summit that Russia’s gold revenues should be cut .
The latest package would also clarify the scope of some existing sanctions, in particular emphasizing that Russia is not banned from exporting agricultural products – contradicting Moscow’s narrative that food shortages are Russia’s fault. West.
But there is no proposal on the table to ban imports of Russian gas, after tense negotiations with Mr Orban over oil shipments stifled the EU’s desire for energy sanctions.
Updated: July 18, 2022, 11:34 a.m.