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Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is guaranteed to cause a two-year global food crisis even if the war ends tomorrow, Western officials have warned, as Ukraine struggles to export its crucial grains.
Officials are bracing for food supplies to suffer a long hangover from the conflict after Russia placed mines in Ukraine’s seaports and caused severe disruption to production in what is known as the “breadbasket of Europe”.
The Kremlin has been accused of weaponising global food supply, as prices soar to record levels and fears grow of shortages in the developing world.
“Even at the best of times, if tomorrow the war was over, we are still looking at a two-year crisis globally,” said one Western official.
“There is still going to be an impact on the world’s food supply from Ukraine for an extended period as a result of the war, as long as the war continues.”
A source said efforts to move Ukrainian grain over land by rail and road are deemed by officials as “far below” what is needed, warning it will take months to remove mines from Black Sea ports if they are recaptured.
It came as Boris Johnson vowed to help get supplies out of Ukraine by assisting with demining efforts and offering insurance to ships exporting millions of tonnes of grain.
Speaking on a visit to Rwanda for a Commonwealth summit, Mr Johnson said yesterday: “What the UK possibly has to offer, most of all, is expertise when it comes to maritime insurance, and a lot of expertise in moving goods through, should we say, contested areas of the sea.”
Mr Johnson confirmed the UK is helping Ukraine “at a technical level to help demine Odessa”.
The Prime Minister said the Russian president was trying to hold the world to “ransom” by blocking food supplies from leaving Ukraine through its Black Sea ports.
He added: “That supply could help people around the world, it could help some of the poorest countries in the world.”
Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest grain producers, producing huge quantities of wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds.
Russia and Ukraine export a quarter of the world’s wheat but the conflict has severely disrupted production, causing global food prices to soar to record levels. Officials say the Ukrainian harvest in 2022 will be around 60pc of last year’s levels.
Moscow has also been accused of deliberately sabotaging Ukrainian infrastructure and destroying equipment used in food production. Amid the struggle to export grains from ports, there are fears that Ukrainian storage facilities will quickly fill up, limiting future production.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned on Thursday there will be “devastating consequences” unless the problem of exporting grain trapped in Ukraine is tackled in the next month.
She said: “We are very clear that this grain crisis is urgent, that it needs to be solved within the next month otherwise we could see devastating consequences”.
It comes as newly declassified US intelligence shows that the Russian navy has been given orders to lay mines at the ports of Odesa and Ochakiv, and has already mined the Dnieper River, as part of its blockade of Ukrainian grain exports.
Russia has denied laying mines around the ports, and has instead thrown the allegations back at Kyiv, claiming the Ukrainians mined their own ports, according to a report in the Guardian.