Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of creating “conditions of artificial famine” and suggested it be banned from the G-20 group of countries on Saturday after Moscow withdrew from a crucial grain export agreement.
“How can Russia be part of the G-20 if it is deliberately working on famine on different continents?” Zelenskyy said during a speech on Ukrainian television.
“This is nonsense,” he said before suggesting that Russia should have “no place” in the Group of 20 countries, which includes the world’s largest economies and deals with issues such as sustainable development, the global economy and climate change.
He also said that Russia “was doing everything possible to ensure that millions of Africans, millions of inhabitants of the Middle East and South Asia are in conditions of artificial famine or at least a serious price crisis.”
His comments came after the Kremlin said Saturday it would withdraw from the UN-brokered grain export agreement to allow safe passage for ships carrying grain in and out of Odessa city and two other Ukrainian ports.
The Russian foreign ministry said the Ukrainian army targeted its naval vessels near the port city of Sevastopol on the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula on Saturday.
Accusing the British naval “specialists” of helping to coordinate what they called a “terrorist” attack, it said the attack was carried out with 16 drones.
The Ukrainian government has denied being behind the attack and the British Ministry of Defense has not responded to NBC News’ requests for comment.
Russia faces international condemnation over the decision. President Joe Biden warned that global hunger could increase as a result of Russia’s decision to suspend the deal.
“It’s really outrageous,” Biden said Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware, as reported by The Associated Press. “There is no merit in what they do. The UN negotiated that deal and that should be the end of it.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also accused Russia of arming food. “Any action by Russia to disrupt these critical grain exports is essentially a statement that people and families around the world should pay more for food or go hungry,” he said in a statement on Saturday.
Elsewhere, Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, wrote on Twitter that Moscow’s move could affect supplies of much-needed grain, while British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Twitter that Russia should cut exports. allow “reach the world”. hungry.”
Russian Ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov on Sunday berated the US for making false claims about Moscow’s decision to suspend its participation.
“Washington’s response to the terrorist attack on the port of Sevastopol is truly scandalous,” Antonov told Telegram. “We have seen no signs of condemnation for the reckless actions of the Kiev regime.”
Russia’s announcement came a day after United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Moscow and Ukraine to renew the export agreement, which expired on Nov. 19.
Guterres said on Friday that the deal — brokered by the UN and Turkey — had helped to “ease the suffering this global cost of living crisis is inflicting on billions of people.”
Following Russia’s announcement, Guterres spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it is “vital that all parties refrain from any action that would jeopardize the initiative”.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest agricultural producers and exporters and plays a vital role in supplying grains to the global market.
In May, the UN’s World Food Program said some 47 million people were at risk of “acute hunger” when the Russian invasion of Ukraine halted grain shipments in February, with the strongest increases predicted in sub-Saharan Africa.
The grain agreement had restarted shipments from Ukraine, enabling sales on the world market, targeting the pre-war level of 5 million metric tons exported from Ukraine every month.
Since the deal, more than 9 million tons of corn, wheat, sunflower products, barley, rapeseed and soy have been exported.
Moscow’s exit from the grain deal marks a new development in a war recently dominated by Russian withdrawals in the face of a Ukrainian counter-offensive that has recaptured large swathes of territory from Moscow’s forces in the east of the country.