Johnson discusses efforts to lift blockade of Ukrainian grain exports

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A woman sits among debris outside her house damaged after a missile strike in Druzhkivka, eastern Ukraine (Bernat Armangue/AP/PA) (AP)
A woman sits among debris outside her house damaged after a missile strike in Druzhkivka, eastern Ukraine (Bernat Armangue/AP/PA) (AP)

Boris Johnson and President Volodymyr Zelensky have discussed efforts to end Russia’s blockade on grain exports from Ukraine, Downing Street said.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the two leaders had an “in depth” discussion about the latest military situation as Moscow continued its offensive in the eastern Donbas region.

The call came as the UK confirmed it is joining the US in supplying Ukraine with long-range multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) capable of hitting targets up to 50 miles away.

The spokesman said Mr Zelensky had briefed the Prime Minister on his recent visit to Ukraine, noting “the strength of the Ukrainian armed forces’ will to fight” as well as highlighting the areas where they needed more support.

“The leaders also discussed diplomatic negotiations and the efforts to end the damaging Russian blockade of Ukraine’s grain exports,” the spokesman said.

“They agreed to intensify work with other allies, including G7 leaders, to drive progress on ending Russia’s illegal invasion and supporting Ukraine’s economy.”

The Russian naval blockade has imposed an economic stranglehold on Ukraine – one of the world’s biggest grain exporters – as well as threatening food supplies to some of the world’s poorest countries.

The spokesman said that while the Prime Minister was “open to all ideas” to resolve the problem, the use of western military force was not considered to be “feasible” at the current time.

The supply of MLRSs – which can strike the Russian artillery positions bombarding Ukrainian towns and cities – is seen as a potentially decisive intervention in the war in the east.

President Vladimir Putin has threatened to expand the range of Ukrainian targets his forces are hitting in retaliation for the move.

Mr Johnson said the systems would help Ukraine “effectively repel the continuing Russian onslaught”.

“We cannot stand by while Russian long-range artillery flattens cities and kills innocent civilians,” he said.

However deploying the systems will take time, with Ukrainian troops to undergo training in the UK on their use.

Meanwhile, the UK announced that a specialist legal and police team will be offered to assist the chief prosecutor investigating alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has set out a second package of support for the independent investigation, on top of the £1 million funding provided by the UK Government earlier this year.

The offer will include a dedicated Metropolitan Police officer stationed in The Hague, providing the International Criminal Court and its prosecutor, Karim Khan, with swift access to further British police and military expertise.

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