The West is working to break the Russian blockade on Ukrainian ports in order to “avert a global food crisis” by releasing millions of tons of grain, Boris Johnson has said.
The Prime Minister spoke on Saturday morning with President Volodymyr Zelensky about international efforts to put a stop to the “despicable blockade” of Odesa, Ukraine’s major southern port on the Black Sea.
The conversation between the leaders comes after Mr Johnson revealed this week that the West was supporting the Ukrainians to demine the Black Sea and reopen international shipping lanes.
Ukraine was known as the “bread basket of Europe” and was one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil.
But the Russian invasion and Moscow’s mining of the access to the southern ports has halted much of that flow, endangering world food supplies.
Giving details of the phone call, a No 10 spokeswoman said: “The leaders spoke about Putin’s despicable blockade of Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest shipping port.
“The Prime Minister outlined to President Zelensky the intensive work taking place with international partners to find ways to resume the export of grain from Ukraine to avert a global food crisis.
“He said that the UK would work with G7 partners to push for urgent progress.
“The leaders agreed next steps and the imperative for Russia to relax its blockade and allow safe shipping lanes.”
In an interview with Bloomberg on Friday, the Prime Minister said the Royal Navy would not be able to play any part in minesweeping the Black Sea, as the Montreux Convention restricts the movement of warships through the Turkish Straits.
But he said efforts were being made to aid Kyiv in finding solutions to the problem.
He said: “I think there is an absolutely appalling situation, which is when so much of the world is facing food price inflation, if not actual shortages of food, caused by what’s going on in Ukraine, caused by Putin’s war of choice.
“He decided to invade Ukraine, he had no reason to do it and it is he who is making it difficult to get 25 million tons of grain from those Black Sea ports, particularly from Odesa.
“Twenty-five million tons is equivalent to the entire grain consumption of the poorest countries in the world, and we’ve got to get it out.”
Russia has suggested the blockade could be relaxed in return for international sanctions being eased but Mr Johnson said president Vladimir Putin was “completely not to be trusted”.
The Prime Minister said the UK was looking to work with international partners to “help the Ukrainians to demine the approaches to the harbour” in Odesa.
But he added: “That will be something they have to do themselves.”
Downing Street confirmed that Mr Johnson and Mr Zelensky also spoke about the “equipment” Kyiv’s defenders need to battle against the “barbaric” Russian onslaught in the Donbas.
In a tweet, Mr Zelensky confirmed they discussed “strengthening defence support”.
The Kremlin’s forces are making slow but steady gains in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartlands amid fears Russia will subject the same devastation to towns and cities in the region as was delivered on the battered southern port of Mariupol.
The fighting in Donbas is focused on two key cities: Sievierodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk.
They are the last areas under Ukrainian control in Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the Donbas and where Russia-backed separatists have already controlled some territory for eight years.
The governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, has warned that Ukrainian soldiers may have to retreat from Sievierodonetsk to avoid being surrounded.
Kyiv has warned the West that unless its troops are supplied with more advanced weapons, it will not be able to halt the Russian advance.
A Downing Street spokesman, detailing the rest of the conversation, said: “The Prime Minister spoke about the importance of the international community continuing to work and act together, so that Ukraine succeeds and Putin fails.
“He also emphasised that countries have a duty to support Ukraine, both now and in the long-term, so that it is never in the position to be attacked again.”