The Russian military said Tuesday that the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk, which Moscow’s forces recently captured, have been demined and are ready to ship grain.
“The demining of the Mariupol seaport has been completed. It is functioning normally and has received its first cargo ships,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in televised remarks, adding that the Berdyansk port has also resumed operations.
Ukraine and Russia are among the world’s critical exporters of wheat and other agricultural goods, but exports were suspended when Russia invaded and its Black Sea fleet blockaded Ukrainian ports. Ukrainian forces responded by mining ports to prevent amphibious landings.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russia for weeks of stealing grain from occupied territory and orchestrating a food crisis to put pressure on the West.
Russia has been dangling a guarantee to allow Ukrainian grain safe passage through the Russian Black Sea blockade, but Moscow has demanded that Kyiv demine the ports. Ukrainian officials fear that Moscow would then use open ports to launch new attacks on those areas.
Moscow also linked the resumption of Ukrainian and Russian agricultural exports with sanctions relief, which British officials described as “ransom.”
Multiple diplomatic efforts are underway to move shipments from Ukrainian ports. The United Nations has been working with Russia and Ukraine to broker a deal. Russia and Turkey are also in negotiations over a potential safe corridor through the Bosporus strait. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected in Ankara on Wednesday for talks with his Turkish counterparts.
The Kremlin said Tuesday that there are still no clear agreements regarding the export of grain from Odessa, a key port city that Russia failed to take and that remains under Kyiv’s control.
“So far, there are no drafts,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.
“There are statements from President [Vladimir] Putin, who said that Ukraine should clear the approaches to the ports, which will allow ships, after an appropriate check by our military to ensure that these ships are not bringing weapons there, to enter the port, load grain and then, if necessary, even with our help, proceed toward international waters,” Peskov said.