Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has accused Vladimir Putin of seeking to “hold the world to ransom” through Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain exports.
The Cabinet minister rejected a demand by the Russian president for the lifting of international sanctions on his country in return for opening a humanitarian corridor to allow shipments to resume through the Black Sea port of Odesa.
Around 22 million tonnes of grain are reportedly stuck in Ukraine – one of the world’s biggest wheat producers – as a result of the Russian naval blockade.
Speaking during a visit to Bosnia Herzegovina, Ms Truss said the UK will work with allies to get as much as possible out of the country, amid fears of food shortages in some of the world’s poorest countries.
“It is completely appalling that Putin is trying to hold the world to ransom. He is essentially weaponising hunger and lack of food among the poorest people around the world. We simply cannot allow this to happen,” she said.
“Putin needs to remove the blockade on Ukrainian grain. We will do all with our allies and partners to get the grain out of Ukraine and supply the rest of world.
“What we cannot have is any lifting of sanctions, any appeasement, which will simply make Putin stronger in the longer term.”
At a joint news conference in Sarajevo with her Bosnian counterpart, Bisera Turkovic, Ms Truss announced a new support package for the western Balkans, aimed at mobilising 100 million US dollars (£80 million) of UK-backed investment in a bid to counter Russian influence in the region.
She said Moscow’s interference in Bosnia Herzegovina threatens a return of the civil war which tore the country apart in the 1990s.
“What we are seeing today in this country are signs of Russian interference which risks plunging us back into those dark days. This must be stopped,” she said.