THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The European Union will look at helping fund the costly transportation of grain out of Ukraine after Russia halted a deal that allowed Black Sea exports vital to global food security, a top agriculture official said Tuesday.
The thorny issue of how to get food products out of Ukraine — and help farmers in neighboring EU countries compete with a glut of cheap grain — is threatening to shake the 27-nation bloc's unity in supporting Kyiv as it battles Russia's invasion.
Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, would look at the possibility of financial support for transport companies, but Europe's economic powerhouse, Germany, opposes such a move.
Poland, along with Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, want to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports until the end of the year but will still allow food to move through their countries to the world.
“What is not possible is to take the money from Brussels as compensation for the burden, but at the same time close the border to Ukraine, in part even for products that were allowed to be transported legally before the war," German Agriculture Minister Cem Ozdemir said at a meeting of agriculture officials in Brussels.
"In the end, this leads to the fact that solidarity with Ukraine is undermined. The only one who is happy is Vladimir Putin,” Ozdemir added.
The grain import ban is scheduled to expire in mid-September. No decision was taken on extending the ban at Tuesday's meeting.
Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus welcomed Wojciechowski's comments.
“I think this gives us a lot of hope that we will not have to put into use our own, unilateral solutions,” Telus said, referring to extending the grain ban.
The United Nations Security Council plans to meet Wednesday at Ukraine's request to discuss Russia’s attacks on the Ukrainian port city of Odesa and its attempts to “weaponize” food supplies.
Barbara Woodward, Britain’s U.N. ambassador and the council's current president, announced the meeting Tuesday, saying Russia has ramped up attacks on grain stores in Odesa and across Ukraine while its “sabotage” of the Black Sea Grain Deal had increased wheat prices by 8%.
She said the strikes with heavy missiles "to destroy food shows that weaponizing global food supplies is a calculated part of Russia’s strategy.”
In Washington, U.S. international development chief Samantha Power told reporters that the United States would look at putting more money toward silos and other storage so Ukraine’s grain harvests "don’t rot while they wait to reach global markets.”
Power said the U.S. would focus in part on helping farmers get access to finance. “Their profit margins are just getting smaller and smaller,” she said.
The EU ministers gathered in Brussels for the first time since Russia pulled the plug last week on the wartime deal that allowed grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, where hunger is a growing threat and food prices are high.
That leaves routes by river, road and rail through Europe as the only ways for Ukraine, a major global supplier of wheat, barley, corn and vegetable oil, to export its products. But recent attacks are raising questions about a crucial route through the Danube River, which has carried millions of tons of Ukrainian food to Romania's Black Sea ports every month.
The road and rail routes through neighboring countries have stirred anger from local farmers faced with a glut of Ukrainian grain that has driven down prices and hurt their livelihoods. It's not ideal for agriculture-dependent Ukraine either, whose growers face higher transportation costs and lower capacity.
“We need to consider the support for the transport. This is necessary,” Wojciechowski said. “I will present this position in the commission that we should find the solution. How to support the transport costs using also the EU money.”
He acknowledged that there were “some different positions” among ministers but said there was a good understanding of the gravity of the situation.
Lithuania's agriculture minister, Kęstutis Navickas, suggested that export procedures for grain could be shifted from the Ukraine-Polish border to Lithuanian and other Baltic ports as a way of preventing grain from getting stuck in countries near Ukraine.
Germany's Ozdemir appeared to support that plan, saying Ukrainian grain could be transported in sealed containers to ports in the Baltics.
“I’m sure the friends from the Baltics would be happy to help and then transport to where it’s needed in the Global South,” Ozdemir said.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it’s up to the Baltic countries to decide on the issue.
“It is a sovereign right of these states, and there is hardly anything for us to assess here," he said. "But it is very important to us that various delivery channels must not be used by the Kiev regime for military purposes and for the purposes by of staging terrorist attacks on our territory. We will continue to counter that.”
Over the past several days, Russia has targeted Ukrainian critical grain export infrastructure since it vowed retribution for an attack that damaged a crucial bridge between Russia and the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula. Russian officials blamed that strike on Ukrainian drone boats.
Ukraine also is seeking to continue exporting grain by sea. It sent a letter to the United Nations International Maritime Organization establishing its own temporary shipping corridor, saying it would “provide guarantees of compensation for damage.”
But Russia warned it would assume ships traversing parts of the Black Sea to be carrying weapons to Ukraine. In a seeming tit-for-tat move, Ukraine said vessels heading to Russian Black Sea ports would be considered “carrying military cargo with all the associated risks.”
Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed.