LONDON (Reuters) -The Kremlin said on Thursday that no agreement had been reached to sell grain from Ukraine to Turkey – which Ukraine says Russia has stolen from it – but that work on a deal was continuing.
Moscow denies stealing the grain but the United States says there are credible reports that Russia is “pilfering” it.
Yevgeny Balitsky, a Russian-installed official in charge of Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, said this week that grain had been transported from there to Crimea, en route to the Middle East.
Asked if any deal had been reached to sell this grain to Turkey or a Middle Eastern country, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “So far no agreements have been reached, work is continuing.”
He said he could not confirm Balitsky’s statement that the grain had been sent by rail to Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday rounded on a Ukrainian reporter who asked him about Russian “theft” at a news conference in Turkey, saying: “You (Ukrainians) are always so preoccupied with what you can steal and from where, and you think that everyone acts that way.”
Ukraine is a major grain exporter to Africa and the Middle East and disruption to these shipments as a result of Russia’s invasion is pushing prices higher, fuelling an international food crisis.
Turkey has been pushing for an agreement between Russia and Ukraine on a plan to resume grain exports from Ukrainian ports. Lavrov said after his talks there that Russia had done its part and it was up to Ukraine to de-mine its ports so ships could exit to the Black Sea.
Ukraine used to export most of its goods by sea but since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion has been forced to transport grain by train via its western border or via small Danube river ports.
Russia, which calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation”, said on Tuesday that two major Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov seized by Russian forces were ready to resume grain shipments.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and David Evans)