Putin ready to help overcome food crisis if West lifts sanctions
Moscow is ready to make a "significant contribution" to averting a looming food crisis if the West lifts sanctions over Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Thursday.
Russia was slapped with unprecedented sanctions after Putin ordered troops into neighbouring Ukraine on February 24.
The sanctions and military action have disrupted supplies of fertiliser, wheat and other commodities from both Russia and Ukraine. The two countries produce 30 percent of the global wheat supply.
"Putin emphasises that the Russian Federation is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertiliser, subject to the lifting of politically motivated restrictions by the West," the Kremlin said in a statement following the call.
It added that Putin also spoke about the "steps taken to ensure safety of navigation, including the daily opening of humanitarian corridors for the exit of civilian ships from the ports of the Azov and Black Sea, which is impeded by the Ukrainian side".
Putin also described as "unfounded" accusations that Russia was to blame for the problems with food supplies on the global market.
The United States scoffed at Putin's offer.
"Now they're using economic tools, as weapons. They're weaponizing food. They're weaponizing economic assistance. I guess we shouldn't be surprised by that, since they've weaponized everything else, including lies and information," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
"The administration is in discussions with our international partners and allies about how best to address this," he said.
Draghi told a press conference that "the purpose of this telephone call was to ask if something could be done to unblock the wheat that is now in the depots in Ukraine".
He suggested "collaboration between Russia and Ukraine on the unblocking of the Black Sea ports" where the wheat, which is at risk of rotting, is located -- "on the one hand to clear these ports and on the other hand to ensure that there are no clashes during the clearing".
Draghi said there was "a readiness to continue in this direction" on the Russian side, and that he would call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky "to see if there is a similar readiness".
But "when asked if I have seen any glimmer of hope for peace, the answer is no," the Italian prime minister said.