Boris Johnson and Volodymyr Zelensky hold talks on stopping Vladimir Putin food supply blockade

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Boris Johnson with President Volodymyr Zelensky, during his visit to Kyiv in April (Ukraine Government/PA) (PA Media)
Boris Johnson with President Volodymyr Zelensky, during his visit to Kyiv in April (Ukraine Government/PA) (PA Media)

Boris Johnson and Volodymyr Zelensky held talks on Thursday on opening up sea and land routes to stop Vladimir Putin’s “craven and reckless” blockade of Black Sea ports from inflicting starvation on millions of people around the world.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister and Ukrainian President had discussed food security and military support for Kyiv.

Mr Johnson also stressed his “undimmed admiration for the brave defenders” of Mariupol and urged Russia to treat any prisoners of war with dignity and respect.

The two leaders discussed how to step up work with allies, including America, France and Germany, to define the longer-term security architecture for Ukraine.

A No10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister raised his significant concerns about the growing global fallout from Russia’s illegal invasion and President Putin’s craven and reckless blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, including rising food prices in developing countries.

“They looked at options to open up critical sea and land supply routes for Ukrainian grain stocks, and committed to direct their teams to work urgently on the next steps.”

Western officials on Wednesday warned Vladimir Putin’s deliberate policy of targeting food supplies in Ukraineis exacerbating a crisis which has left 43 million people a step away from famine.

Ukraine has accused Russian troops of weaponising global food supplies, stealing grain and destroying farming equipment and storage infrastructure. At the same time they have blockaded major ports including Odesa and Mariupol, adding to existing shortages caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic and supply chain issues.

On Thursday United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a warning on the global food crisis, and said he is in "intense contacts" with Russia and other key countries and is "hopeful" of an agreement to ease the problem.

The UN chief said he hoped it would allow the export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports and ensure Russian food and fertiliser have unrestricted access to global markets.

But he told a ministerial meeting on the escalating food security crisis, which has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, that "there is still a long way to go".

"The complex security, economic and financial implications require goodwill on all sides for a package deal to be reached," he said of his discussions with Moscow, Ukraine, Turkey, the US, the EU and others. "I will not go into details because public statements could undermine the chances of success."

Mr Guterres said global hunger levels "are at a new high", with the number of people facing severe food insecurity doubling in just two years from 135 million before the pandemic to 276 million today. He said more than 500,000 people are living in famine conditions - an increase of more than 500% since 2016.

He said Ukraine and Russia together produce almost a third of the world's wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil, while Russia and its ally Belarus are the world's number two and three producers of potash, a key ingredient of fertiliser.

"There is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine's food production, as well as the food and fertiliser produced by Russia and Belarus, into world markets, despite the war," he said.

Mr Johnson also stressed Britain’s “steadfast solidarity” for the people of Ukraine in his talks with Mr Zelensky.

The No10 spokesman added: “Noting the recent announcement of an additional £1.3billion in UK military aid for Ukraine, the Prime Minister set out the support flowing to Ukraine’s defence, including long-range artillery, shore-to-ship missiles and unmanned drones.”

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