Ukraine called on the European Union to stop a ban on exports of its crops to several Eastern European neighbors, arguing that the restrictions are a boon for Russia.
Extending the restrictions, which are due to expire on Monday, could cost Ukrainian farmers “billions of dollars” in losses, and help Moscow to intensify the pressure on the country’s economy, Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi said in a phone interview Thursday. It would also fuel tensions between Kyiv and its allies.
“Russia is going to use this situation to increase the degree of arguing between us,” said Solskyi. “This argument alone is I think more than enough.”
In late April, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria agreed with the EU restrictions on Uraine’s exports of wheat, corn, sunflower and rapeseed, except for transit to other states. The agreement replaced several unilateral bans — which the countries that imposed them said were needed because imports were driving down prices for domestic producers — that had provoked a rebuke from the EU. Hungary and Romania have called for the restrictions to be extended to year-end.
After Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, Kyiv had to redirect exports from blocked Black Sea ports through neighboring countries. In July, Ukraine regained access to maritime routes due to a United Nations-Turkey brokered deal with Russia. But the so-called grain corridor is fragile and has to be extended at regular intervals, a move that depends on the Kremlin’s agreement.
“And this is what we are trying to get across to everyone: if the sea grain corridor is blocked, we will make this problem bigger from all points of view,” Solskyi said.
Ukraine is ready to discuss “various options” to get the restrictions removed, the minister added, signaling a flexible stance on wheat exports in particular.
“Wheat is the only up-to-date thing, as all countries expect new harvest. And here I believe we can find various options and there are definitely lots of solutions, which if everyone seeks to find them, will be found.”
Miriam Garcia Ferrer, spokeswoman for the European Commission, said that no decision has been taken yet and discussions continue internally.
Moldovan Agriculture Minister Vladimir Bolea said earlier this week that the country is in talks with Ukraine to redirect transit exports through Moldova and move the grain by rail. The country’s border checkpoints had sometimes been blocked for days due to Ukrainian grain being transported by road, he said.