Russia says Mariupol, Berdyansk ports ready to ship grain

STORY: Russia has seized large parts of Ukraine's coast in nearly 15 weeks of war and its warships control the Black and Azov seas, blocking Ukraine's farm exports and driving up the price of grain. Ukraine and the West accuse Moscow of weaponising food supplies.

Russia blames the situation on what it says are Ukrainian mines, and on international sanctions against its own economy. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol, the latter city destroyed after a three-month Russian siege, had resumed their operations.

"The demining of Mariupol's port has been completed. It is functioning normally, and has received its first cargo ships," Shoigu said in televised comments.

The Sea of Azov is shallower than the Black Sea and its ports are only accessible to smaller vessels.

Ukraine's main port of Odesa remains blocked.

More than 22 million tons of grain are stuck in Ukraine awaiting shipment, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said this could rise to 82 million tons by the autumn.

Ukraine has accused Russia of stealing vital grain supplies - claims U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called "credible" - while Moscow says Western sanctions are to blame for the situation, which has threatened to trigger a global food crisis.

The United Nations is working on plans with Kyiv and Moscow for how to restart grain exports from Ukrainian ports, with Turkey possibly set to provide naval escorts to ensure safe passage out of the Black Sea.