February 6, 2023

Zelensky says the first grain ship "nothing" and the economy is in a coma

Zelensky says the first grain ship “nothing” and the economy is in a coma

  • Inspection of a ship carrying grain from Ukraine in Turkey
  • The shipment is the first of its kind to leave Ukraine in wartime
  • But the Ukrainian leader says more is needed
  • Kyiv urgently needs to ship 10 million tons to cut the deficit

Kyiv/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied the significance of his country’s first grain export since the invasion of Russia, saying it was carrying a small part of the crop that Kyiv must sell to help save its shattered economy.

His pessimistic video comments to students in Australia came on Wednesday, as the ship’s inspection was completed in Turkey before it continued to its final destination in Lebanon under a deal aimed at easing the global food crisis. Read more

The ship, Razzoni, left from the Ukrainian port of Odessa on the Black Sea in the early hours of Monday morning, carrying 26,527 tons of corn to Tripoli, Lebanon. It came on the heels of a UN-brokered grain and fertilizer export deal between Moscow and Kiev last month – a rare diplomatic breakthrough in a protracted war of attrition.

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But Zelensky, speaking through an interpreter, said more time was needed to see if other grain shipments would follow.

He told the students, “Recently, thanks to the United Nations in partnership with Turkey, we have the first ship carrying grain, but it’s still nothing. But we hope this trend will continue.”

He said Ukraine should export at least 10 million tons of grain to urgently help reduce its $5 billion monthly budget deficit.

A senior Turkish official said three ships could leave Ukrainian ports per day after Razoni’s departure, while Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said another 17 ships were loaded with agricultural products and were waiting to set sail.

Ukraine, known as Europe’s breadbasket, hopes to export 20 million tons of grain kept in silos and 40 million tons of the harvest now underway, initially from Odessa, Pivdennyi and neighboring Chornomorsk.

“The war … is almost killing the economy. She is in a coma,” Zelensky added. “Russia’s closure of the ports is a huge loss for the economy.

Zelensky has repeatedly warned that Moscow may try to block exports despite signing an agreement last month.

“Donbass Hell”

Russia, which closed Ukraine’s ports after it began on February 24 what it called a “special military operation”, said it wanted to see more work to facilitate its grain and fertilizer exports. But it considered the departure of the first grain ship from Ukraine as positive.

It has denied responsibility for the food crisis, saying that sanctions imposed by the West, which views the war as an unjustified Russian imperial-style land grab, have slowed its exports.

Exports from Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain producers, are aimed at easing price hikes and shortages, as famine looms in some parts of the world.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the grain deal might provide a way out of the conflict.

“The good news is that the Kremlin wants a negotiated solution,” Schroeder told Stern Weekly and RTL/NTV stations on Wednesday, adding that he met Putin in Moscow last week.

“The first success is the grain deal, perhaps it can be slowly expanded to a cease-fire.” Read more

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian General Staff recorded the continuation of heavy Russian bombing of Kharkiv and other nearby towns and villages, in addition to air and missile strikes on civilian targets. Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians, which it accuses Kyiv of doing.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its missiles destroyed a warehouse containing weapons supplied by Poland in the Ukrainian region of Lviv.

Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield reports.

Zelensky, in a late-night speech on Tuesday, said his forces had not yet been able to overcome Russian advantages in heavy guns and manpower despite arms supplies from the West.

“This is very palpable in the fighting, especially in Donbass,” he said. “It’s just hell out there. Words can’t describe it.”

Russia is fighting for complete control of Donbass, the heavily industrialized part of eastern Ukraine.

On Tuesday, she said at the United Nations that the conflict did not justify Moscow’s use of nuclear weapons, but that it might decide to use its nuclear arsenal in response to “direct aggression” by NATO military allies. Read more

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Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Andrew Osborne; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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