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Exclusive: Boris Johnson signals Britain’s willingness to mine, help export grain from Ukraine

Written by Javed Iqbal

KIGALI, June 23 (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that Britain was willing to help with demining operations off the south coast of Ukraine and was considering offering insurance to ships to move millions of tonnes of grain stuck in the country.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 and the blockade of its Black Sea ports have prevented the country, which is traditionally one of the world’s leading 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, leaving tens of thousands of people struggling to eat, a crisis that Western officials say could last two years.

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Turkey is trying to mediate negotiations between the UN, 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 exports of grain and fertilizer.

“There is 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.

London’s insurance market has placed the whole region on its high-risk list, which means sky-high shipping costs.

Johnson said the UK was considering all options when asked if the government could provide sovereign guarantees for freight insurance.

“What Britain may have to offer, most of all, is expertise when it comes to maritime insurance, and a lot of expertise in moving goods through, if we say disputed areas of the sea,” he said.

Asked if Britain was ready to help Ukraine clear the area, Johnson said: “Yes, I do not want to go into the technical or military details, but you can take it from what we have already done to supply equipment to the Ukrainians to help themselves protect that we are certainly talking to them on a technical level to help clear Odesa. “

Any demining effort would be the biggest attempt since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and any project to clear mines off Ukraine would take several months.

The British Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, said separately on Thursday that urgent action should be taken within the next month, ahead of the next harvest, to maintain supply.

MADE CRISIS

Britain, the United States and the EU, which supply arms to Ukraine, have accused Russia of triggering a food crisis by preventing grain exports from Ukraine – which account for about a tenth of global wheat exports.

In a statement late Thursday, the UK pledged £ 372 million ($ 456 million) in aid to countries hardest hit by rising global food costs and shortages of fertilizer, including £ 130 million for the World Food Program.

Britain said their funding would provide humanitarian aid to increase access to food in the worst-hit African countries.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief said earlier this week that Russia was committing a war crime by blocking the export of millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said this month that millions of people could starve because of the blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, which he said had left the world “on the brink of a terrible food crisis”.

Russia denies responsibility for the food crisis and blames Western sanctions on Moscow, which have led to a jump in global food prices. It also says the West has spread lies about the causes of the crisis. Read more

While acknowledging that there were several factors why food inflation was so high, Johnson accused Putin of trying to keep the world from “solving money” with the blockade.

“It’s completely unscrupulous,” he said. “This supply could help people around the world, it could help some of the poorest countries in the world.”

($ 1 = £ 0.8158)

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Further reporting by Elizabeth Piper in London and Nishit Jogi in Bengaluru; Edited by Alison Williams

Our standards: Thomson Reuters trust principles.

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Javed Iqbal

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