Minsk will allow Ukrainian grain to transit Belarus in exchange for access to Baltic ports

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(Reuters) -Minsk is ready to allow the transit of Ukraine's grain to Baltic Sea ports via Belarus if it is allowed to ship Belarusian goods from these ports, the Belta news agency quoted Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko as saying on Friday.

Ukraine, a major global grain exporter, is unable to use its Black Sea ports for supplies since Russia sent thousands of troops to the country on Feb. 24.

Exports from Ukraine via Belarus have been one of the options in discussions led by the United Nations which aim to boost global grain supply as a major food crisis looms. The unblocking of Ukraine's Black Sea ports is another option.

In a telephone call with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday, Lukashenko said Belarus was ready to free up needed capacity on its railway for Ukraine's grain and proposed organising talks between Belarus, Ukraine and countries which are ready to provide access to their ports, Belta said.

"At the same time, the most important thing, as was mentioned during the conversation, is that these ports - in Germany, Poland, the Baltic States or Russia - should be open for Belarusian goods as well," Belta reported.

"If conditions were created for the transit of Ukrainian grain, the ports that will be handling it should also be able to load goods from Belarus," it added.

Belarus, a major global potash producer, has been hit by harsh Western sanctions in 2021-2022 which disrupted its exports of the fertiliser via the Baltic Sea ports.

Financial sanctions imposed on Moscow since Feb. 24 also hit Russian fertiliser exporters, and the damaged global supply chain added to the risk of a food crisis.

Guterres cautioned earlier this week that any agreement to unblock shipments of commodities from the region was still some way off because "the fact that everything is interlinked makes the negotiation particularly complex".

Moscow and Minsk have blamed Western sanctions for disrupting exports of both grains and fertilisers and causing the risk of the global food crisis.

(Reporting by Reuters;Editing by Alison Williams and David Evans)

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