US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday of attempting to use Ukrainian agricultural exports as "blackmail" against the West.
The top diplomat said there are roughly 20 million tons of wheat stored in silos near Odessa, and in ships that are already filled and docked at the port city. But Russia's blockade has prevented them from departing and bringing critical foodstuffs to market amid a global crisis.
"This is all deliberate. We know that President Putin is stopping food from being shipped, and aggressively using his propaganda machine to deflect or distort responsibility, because he hopes it will get the world to give in to him and end the sanctions," said Blinken. "It's blackmail."
The tactic is tantamount to "exporting starvation and suffering well beyond Ukraine," he charged, pointing in particular to the food crisis' damaging effects on Africa.
"We can't wait for President Putin to do the right thing," said Blinken.
Ukraine is colloquially referred to as a global "breadbasket," and is the fifth largest wheat exporter worldwide, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
UN officials warned Friday of endangered world food security 100 days into the Russia-Ukraine war, saying it poses the threat of famine, destabilization, and mass migration worldwide as Russia blockades the Black Sea ports that normally send grain to the world.
"The impasse on the Black Sea imperils global food and commodity security. Food insecurity is set to become even more worrying, with 1.7 billion people at risk of increased poverty due to the crisis," Amin Awad, UN crisis coordinator for Ukraine, said at a Geneva UN news conference from Kyiv.
Matthew Hollingworth, the UN World FoodProgram's emergency coordinator in Ukraine, referred to the Black Sea ports Russia is blockading as "the silver bullet" when it comes to avoiding global famines and global hunger.