Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has accused Russia of “weaponising hunger” and using food security as a “callous tool of war” with its blockade of Ukrainian grain.
Speaking at a press conference alongside Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara, Ms Truss warned the crisis is “urgent” and must be solved in the next month to avoid “devastating consequences”.
Western officials later said they believe the month deadline is set against a harvest that’s arriving, rather than fixing global food security issues as a whole.
Asked if this target was realistic, they said there is a “delicate and difficult negotiation to be had”, but that an agreement to get the grain moving could feasibly be reached within that time.
They explained there would then be a “lag”, saying: “Will maritime ships start delivering in that timeframe? Yet to be seen.”
They warned that, even if the war were to end tomorrow, the world would be looking at a food security crisis spanning two years.
Ukraine has been described 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, including Odesa, has halted much of that flow and endangered world food supplies.
Ms Truss said the UK’s long-standing alliance with Turkey is “more important than ever” at a time when “security, sovereignty and self-determination are under threat”.
She said the countries are working “closely together”, in particular to get the “grain out of Ukraine”.
The Foreign Secretary accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “weaponising hunger” with the blockade.
“He is using food security as a callous tool of war. He has blocked Ukrainian ports, and is stopping 20 million tonnes of grain being exported across the globe, holding the world to ransom,” she said.
“I’m here in Turkey to discuss the plan to get the grain out, supported by the United Nations.
“We’re clear that commercial vessels need to have safe passage to be able to leave Ukrainian ports, and that Ukrainian ports should be protected from Russian attacks.
“We support the UN talks, but Russia cannot be allowed to delay and prevaricate. It’s urgent that action is taken within the next month ahead of the new harvest. And we’re determined to work with our allies to deliver this.”
She warned that the world could otherwise see “devastating consequences”.
“This grain crisis is urgent and needs to be solved within the next month,” she said.
Ms Truss added that the UK is offering its own “expertise” on ways to bypass the Russian blockade.
“It is going to require an international effort,” she warned.
Ms Truss said it has been a “priority” for her to visit Turkey in her role as Foreign Secretary, as she hopes to “deepen” the relationship between the two countries.
She said the pair are going to start negotiating an “upgraded trade deal that goes further in areas like services, but also in areas like agriculture, which are not part of the current arrangements”.
“We do need to increase our industrial capacity and that is an area we’re also focusing on,” she said.