British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a joint news briefing with Ukraines President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, as Russias attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine June 17, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
KIGALI, June 23 (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday Britain was willing to assist with demining operations off Ukraines southern coast and was considering offering insurance to ships to move millions of tonnes of grain stuck in the country.
Russias Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine and blockade of its Black Sea ports has prevented the country, traditionally one of the worlds top food producers, from exporting much of the more than 20 million tonnes of grain stored in its silos.
This has helped push food prices to record highs and left tens of millions of people struggling to eat, a crisis which Western officials say could last two years.
Turkey is trying to broker talks between the United Nations, Ukraine and Russia to create a possible safe sea corridor in the Black Sea, but Moscow wants some Western sanctions lifted first to facilitate its grain and fertiliser exports.
“There is a job of work to be done. We are working with the Turks and other European friends and allies to see what we can do,” Johnson told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Rwanda for a Commonwealth summit.
“What the UK possibly has to offer, most of all, is expertise when it comes to maritime insurance, and a lot of expertise in moving goods through should we say contested areas of the sea,” he said.
Asked if Britain was ready to help Ukraine demine the area, Johnson said: “Yes, I dont want to get into the technical or military details, but you can take it from what we have already done in supplying equipment to the Ukrainians to help themselves protect that we are certainly talking to them at a technical level to help demine Odesa.”
Any mine clearing effort would be the biggest attempted since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and any project to clear mines off Ukraine would take several months.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said separately on Thursday that urgent action needed to be taken within the next month, ahead of the next harvest, to maintain supply.
Britain, the United States and the European Union, which are supplying arms to Ukraine, have accused Russia of stoking a food crisis by preventing grain exports from Ukraine – which accounts for about one tenth of global wheat exports.
In a statement late on Thursday, Britain pledged 372 million pounds ($456 million) in aid to countries hit hardest by rising global food costs and shortages of fertiliser, including 130 million pounds for the World Food Programme.
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