Russia’s blockade of Ukraine is a “war crime,” a senior EU official said

LONDON – Russia’s blockade, which has stopped Ukraine from exporting its vast warehouses of grain and other goods threatening famine to remote parts of the globe, is a “war crime”, the EU’s foreign envoy said on Monday.

The remarks by official Josep Borrell Fonteles were among the strongest expressions of a Western leader in describing the Kremlin’s tactics of subjugating Ukraine nearly four months after its invasion and without seeing an end to the conflict.

Before Russian forces began hitting Ukraine in February, it was a major exporter of grain, oil and fertilizers. But the blockade of the Black Sea – along with Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian agricultural land and the destruction of agricultural infrastructure – almost stopped exports. The latest blow came on Monday, when, according to Ukrainian regional authorities, a Russian missile destroyed a food warehouse in Odessa, Ukraine’s largest Black Sea port.

Russia has denied responsibility for the collapse of Ukrainian exports. But Moscow’s naval dominance in the Black Sea, Ukraine’s only maritime route, gives the Russians considerable leverage. President Vladimir Putin has said he will lift the blockade if sanctions imposed by Western and other governments over the war are lifted.

The decline in grain exports from Ukraine, once the lifeblood of the former Soviet Union, has contributed to soaring world food prices. The United Nations has warned of famine or even famine in some countries, especially in Africa.

“You can’t use people’s hunger as a weapon of war,” he said. Borel said afterward arriving in Luxembourg for a meeting of EU foreign ministers. “Millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine, while the rest of the world is starving. This is a real war crime, so I can’t imagine it lasting much longer.

The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky did the same in the remote control appeal to the African Union on Monday. Moscow has deep ties with many African countries that have been are reluctant to criticize the invasion.

“If it weren’t for the Russian war against Ukraine, there simply wouldn’t be a shortage in the food market. said Zelensky. “If it weren’t for the Russian war, our farmers and agricultural companies would have provided record harvests this year.

The European Union, the United States and others are working to improve land routes for exports from Ukraine, but Mr. Zelenski said that “much less volume can be delivered on new routes and it takes much longer.”

The war erupted in other ways beyond Ukraine’s borders on Monday, including energy shortages, fuel inflation and climate change.

Western efforts to punish Russia by drastically cutting purchases of Russian oil and gas have shown new tensions.

At least three European powers have joined Germany in taking urgent steps to provide winter heating and electricity – including through increased use of coal, which has made a major contribution to global warming. Italy, Austria and the Netherlands have said they are moving to organize alternative energy supplies, possibly involving more coal, the world’s dirtiest fuel, after similar message on Sunday from Germany, The largest economy in Europe. Denmark has said it is also activating a plan to address the looming shortage of gas supplied by Russia.

The development came when Russia, far from the pain of lost fuel sales, found a savior in China, who said Monday that it is now Russia’s largest buyer of oil.

Additional tensions are looming as European Union ministers decide later this week whether to officially consider Ukraine’s possible membership in the bloc.

In the United States, where the Biden administration attributes sharp inflation in gasoline prices to a lack of Russian oil due to Western sanctions, President Biden said it was considers suspending fuel taxes to ease the pressure on consumers.

In a new signal that relations between the United States and Russia over the war could worsen further, the Kremlin said Monday that two American fighters missing in Ukraine have been detained in Russia and will be treated as criminals, denying them protection. of the Geneva Convention. of prisoners of war.

Speaking of NBC NewsKremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov said the two Americans, Alex Drucke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huin, 27, were “lucky soldiers” who were involved in shelling and shooting at Russian forces and those responsible for the crimes they have committed must be held accountable. “

Sanctions imposed on Russia also played a role Monday in the escalating confrontation with Lithuania, a member of both the European Union and NATO.

Russian authorities have threatened Lithuania with retaliation if the Baltic state does not quickly lift its ban on the transport of certain goods to Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland. Citing instructions from the European Union, the Lithuanian Railways said on Friday that it was stopping the movement of goods from Russia, which are sanctioned by the European bloc.

Mr. Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, told reporters the situation was “more than serious”. He called the new restrictions an “element of the blockade” of the region and a “violation of everything”.

Accustomed to Russian threats, officials in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, have hailed Moscow’s warnings as loud, the latest in a series of increasingly unrestrained statements by a country that has been militarily tense since invading Ukraine.

“We are not particularly concerned about Russian threats,” said Lauinas Kashtunas, chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s National Security and Defense Committee. “The Kremlin has very few options on how to respond.

However, Russia’s anger at Lithuania followed a warning Monday. Zelensky that Moscow will launch “greater hostility” against Ukraine and European countries in the coming days in response to his nation’s efforts to join the European Union.

Up to 50 per cent of all rail freight between mainland Russia and Kaliningrad – which Russian authorities say includes building materials, concrete and metals, among other items – will be affected by a ban announced last week. The restrictions revealed the acute vulnerability of the region, which is part of Russia but not connected to the rest of the country.

Overwhelmed by increasingly aggressive nationalism, Russia has abandoned policies that promoted Russia as part of Europe and moved advanced Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad. Lithuania’s defense minister said in April that Russia had deployed nuclear weapons in the region, a claim Moscow denies.

Russia’s relations with Lithuania, which, like Ukraine, was once part of the Soviet Union, have never been close, but have become even more strained in recent months as Lithuania takes the lead, pushing for tough EU sanctions against Russia over its invasion.

Just two weeks ago, a member of the Russian parliament from the United Russia party introduced a bill declaring Lithuania’s 1990 declaration of independence illegal. The bill aims to reverse the collapse of the Soviet Union, something that Mr. Putin lamented it as “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.”

Most of the fighting in Ukraine in recent days has focused on small town of Toshkivka in the province of Lugansk, part of the eastern region known as Donbass. It was there that Russian forces concentrated much of their military power as part of a plan to seize the region after failing to occupy other parts of the country, including Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the second largest city in northern Ukraine. .

Reports over the weekend suggest that Russian forces have breached the Ukrainian front line in Toshkivka, about 12 miles southeast of the capital’s Severodonetsk and Lisichansk districts. These are the last big cities in Luhansk that have not fallen into Russian hands. As of Monday, it remains unclear whether Russia has made more progress there.

However, Ukrainian authorities said Russian forces had stepped up shelling in and around Kharkiv, weeks after Ukrainians repulsed them, suggesting Moscow still has territorial ambitions beyond Donbass.

“We deoccupied this region,” he said. This is what Zelenski said in an address to Fr. conference of experts in international politics in Italy. “And they want to do it again.”

Matthew Mpoke Big reported by London, Andrew Higgins from Warsaw, Thomas Gibbons-Nef from Druzhkovka, Ukraine, and Rick Gladstone from New York. The reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins and Alexander Chubko from Kyiv; Dan Bilefski from Montreal; Monica Pronchuk from Brussels; Austin Ramsey from Hong Kong; Stanley Reed from London; and Zach Montague from Rehoboth Beach, Del.

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