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Lavrov caught off guard by Ukrainian journalist over grain theft claim

June 9, 2022, 11:38 AM UTC

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was caught off guard on Wednesday when he was confronted by a Ukrainian TV journalist over allegations of Russia’s forces looting vital supplies from Ukraine.

Lavrov was holding a joint press conference in Turkey with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

The journalist, Muslim Umerov, stood up to address the Russian foreign minister after numerous failed attempts to pitch a question to him, the Guardian reported.

“What has Russia already managed to sell, aside from grain, from everything that has been stolen from Ukraine?” he asked, according to a Guardian translation.

“You [Ukrainians] are always so preoccupied with what you can steal and from where,” Lavrov said. “You think that everyone thinks that way.”

However, he added: “I will answer you. We are implementing the goals that have been announced publicly to rid eastern Ukraine of the suppression of the neo-Nazi regime. That’s what we’re doing.”

Russian officials have repeatedly made unsubstantiated claims that their country’s invasion of its western neighbor is a “special operation” to free Ukraine of a Nazi regime.

Moscow has given no evidence to back up these claims, which have been dismissed as untrue by Western officials and dubbed “obscene” by U.S. President Joe Biden.

Ukraine’s military is home to the Azov Battalion—a force populated by neo-Nazi sympathizers, according to NBC News.

However, there is no evidence that there is widespread support for extreme right-wing ideology within any Ukrainian institutions.  

Lavrov also claimed in his response to Umerov on Wednesday that “grain can be transported freely to its destination,” adding that “Russia isn’t putting any obstacles in the way.”

“This requires [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky to give the command, if he is still in command of anything there, to allow foreign and Ukrainian ships to go into the Black Sea.”

Russian forces have imposed a blockade on Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea since the invasion of Ukraine in late February.

The blockade has caused major disruption to exports of wheat and other agricultural exports from the two countries, with the pair exporting around a quarter of the world’s wheat.

The disruption has prompted warnings of a global food crisis, sparked export controls in other major markets like India, and sent prices of wheat skyrocketing by around 40% since the start of the year.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a food security conference on Monday that Russia’s actions were “deliberate.”

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin is stopping food from being shipped and aggressively using his propaganda machine to deflect or distort responsibility because he hopes it’ll get the world to give in to him and end the sanctions,” he said. “In other words, simply put, it’s blackmail.”

The UN has proposed setting up a sea corridor for Ukrainian grain exports, but Lavrov said in Turkey this week that Ukraine needed to de-mine its ports as a precondition for safe shipment, Reuters reported.

An official from the UN’s International Maritime Organization told Bloomberg on Wednesday that de-mining Ukraine’s ports could take months.

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