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Putin threatens to restrict Ukrainian grain exports for European countries, accusing them of acting ‘like colonial powers’

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a plenary session at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (Sergei Bobylev/TASS News Agency Host Pool Photo via AP)

 (CNN) — Russian President Vladimir Putin Putin threatened Wednesday to restrict Ukrainian grain exports to European countries and accused them of acting “like colonial powers,” as he used misleading figures to claim that developing countries are receiving a fraction of the exports they were expecting under the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative.

In remarks during his opening speech at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Putin cited figures that do not accurately reflect current UN data on grain shipments, and said he would discuss amending the deal to limit the export of grain and other foodstuffs to European countries.

“Only 3% of the grain being exported from Ukraine is going to developing countries, the majority is going to Europe… over the past decades European countries have acted like colonial powers, they are continuing to act like that today,” Putin claimed erroneously.

“Once again, they have deceived developing countries,” he said, adding that “it may be worth considering how to limit the export of grain and other food along this route.”

“I will certainly consult on this subject with the President of Turkey, Mr. Erdogan, because it was him and me who worked out a mechanism for the export of Ukrainian grain,” he said.

In a statement to CNN, the United Nations said that under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, roughly 30% of “grains and other foodstuffs” have made it to low- and lower-middle-income countries, or approximately 700,000 metric tons.

Among countries classified by the World Bank as low- or lower-middle-income, the UN says that 10% of the initiative’s exports have been sent to Egypt, 5% to Iran, 4% to India, 3% to Sudan, 2% to Yemen, 2% to Kenya, 1% to Somalia, 1% to Djibouti, and less than 1% to Lebanon.

Among countries classified by the World Bank as upper-middle- or high-income, the UN says that 20% of the initiative’s exports have been sent to Turkey, 15% to Spain, 7% to China, 7% to Italy, 6% to South Korea, 5% to The Netherlands, 4% to Romania, 3% to Germany, 2% to Israel, 1% to Ireland, 1% to France, and less than 1% to Greece and Bulgaria. The statement said that foodstuffs sent to Turkey may have been shipped onward to other countries in Asia and Africa.

Putin’s remarks were consistent with Kremlin talking points around the looming global food shortages that have been caused in large part by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports. Russian diplomats in recent months have worked energetically to deflect criticism of Moscow by suggesting that Western sanctions, rather than Russia’s actions, are to blame for the crisis.

According to data from The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), some of the world’s most vulnerable countries are among the ones most reliant on imports from Ukraine. Lebanon, Tunisia, Somalia and Libya all relied on Ukraine for at least half of their wheat imports. Eritrea sourced 47% of its wheat imports from Ukraine and the remaining 53% from Russia.

But the Russian invasion has affected Ukraine’s entire food production and supply chain, from sowing to harvesting to exports, with the United Nations warning that up to 49 million people could be pushed into famine or famine-like conditions due to the war’s devastating impact on global food supply and prices.

“It is clear that with this approach, the scale of the world’s food problems will only grow — which is capable of leading to an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe,” Putin claimed, adding that he would discuss the issue with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who aided the deal.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative — which was brokered by the UN and Turkey — was signed by representatives from Russia and Ukraine in July.

Its purpose is to facilitate the resumption of vital exports out of Ukraine to alleviate global food shortages and rising grain commodity prices.

Prior to the deal some 20 million metric tons of Ukrainian wheat and corn had remained trapped in the port of Odesa due to a Russian blockade.

Putin downplays Russian losses

In his speech to open the Plenary Session, Putin claimed Russia has “lost nothing” in its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

“We have lost nothing and are not going to lose anything. Our main gain is the strengthening of our sovereignty. We didn’t start anything, in terms of military action, but are only trying to finish it,” Putin told the audience.

The US believes that Russia is facing “severe” shortages of military personnel in Ukraine and is seeking new ways to reinforce its troop levels, two US officials told CNN last week.

Meanwhile British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement Monday that it is now estimated that “over 25,000 Russian soldiers have lost their lives” since the start of the war.

In late August, Putin ordered Russia’s military to increase the number of troops in Ukraine by 137,000, though it remains unclear how the Defense Ministry intends to reach that target.