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EU seeks to release Ukrainian grain blocked due to Russia’s maritime blockade

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Ears of wheat are seen in a field near the village of Zhovtneve, Ukraine.

Valentin Ogirenko | Reuters

European Union foreign ministers will discuss ways to release millions of tons of grain stuck in Ukraine due to Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea port at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.

Ukraine is one of the world’s top wheat suppliers, but its grain shipments have stagnated and more than 20 million tonnes have been trapped in silos since Russia invaded the country and blocked its ports.

Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis and blames Western sanctions for the shortage that has led to soaring global food prices and United Nations warnings of hunger in poorer countries that rely heavily on imported grain.

The EU supports UN efforts to negotiate a deal to resume maritime exports from Ukraine in return for facilitating Russian food and fertilizer exports, but this would require a green light from Moscow.

Turkey has good relations with Kyiv and Moscow and has said it is ready to play a role in an Istanbul-based “monitoring mechanism” if there is an agreement.

It is not clear whether the EU would get involved in the military securing of such an agreement.

“Whether there will be a need to escort these commercial vessels in the future is a question mark and I don’t think we’re there yet,” an EU official said.

Meanwhile, talks between EU member states on a new sanctions package against Russia are continuing, according to the EU official who signaled that new measures are not imminent.

Existing sanctions are already extensive and there is not much room for an agreement to impose sanctions on Russian gas exports to the EU, the official said.