Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s food exports is a ‘war crime,’ says the E.U.’s foreign policy chief.

The Black Sea blockade that is preventing Ukraine from exporting food and other goods is a “war crime” and Russia will be held accountable if it continues, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, said on Monday.

Ukraine was a major exporter of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer before the Russian invasion in February, but the blockade — along with Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian farmland and its destruction of agricultural infrastructure — have caused Ukraine’s exports to collapse. The latest blow came Monday, when Ukrainian regional authorities said that a Russian missile strike in Odesa had burned down a food logistics warehouse.

The drop in exports has contributed to a spike in global food prices, exacerbated by rising demand as the world economy emerges from the pandemic. The United Nations has warned of hunger or even famine in some countries as a result, particularly in Africa.

“You cannot use the hunger of people as a weapon of war,” Mr. Borrell said after arriving in Luxembourg for a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers. “Millions of tons of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world people are suffering hunger. This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made the same point in a remote address to the African Union on Monday. Moscow has deep ties to many African countries, which have been reluctant to criticize the invasion.

“If it was not for the Russian war against Ukraine, there simply would be no shortage in the food market,” Mr. Zelensky said. “If it was not for the Russian war, our farmers and agricultural companies could have ensured record harvests this year.”

Moscow’s naval dominance of the Black Sea, however, gives it significant diplomatic leverage. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has said he will lift the blockade if sanctions, imposed by Western and other governments because of the war, are removed.

The European Union, the United States and others are working on improving land routes for Ukraine exports, but Mr. Zelensky said that a “much smaller volume can be supplied via new routes, and it takes much more time.”

“We are holding complex multilevel negotiations to unblock our Ukrainian ports,” he told the African Union. “But you see that there is no progress yet because no real tool has yet been found to ensure that Russia does not attack them again.”

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