The images show two Russian-flagged bulk carriers docking and loading with suspected stolen Ukrainian grain. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of “gradually stealing” Ukrainian food products and trying to sell them.
The new images from Maxar Technologies, dated May 19 and 21, show the ships – the Matros Pozynich and the Matros Koshka – docked next to what appear to be grain silos with grain flowing from a belt into an open hold. Both ships have now left port, according to ship tracking site MarineTraffic.com, with the Matros Pozynich sailing through the Aegean and claiming to be on its way to Beirut and the Matros Koshka still in the Black Sea.
It is difficult to know for sure whether the ship is loaded with stolen Ukrainian grain, but Russia-annexed Crimea produces little grain itself, unlike the agriculturally rich Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhya directly to the north. Ukrainian officials and industry sources have told DailyExpertNews that Russian forces in occupied territories have emptied several silos and transported the grain south.
Earlier this month, the Matros Pozynich carried out a similar mission: loading grain and sailing out of the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. It was initially on its way to Egypt with its cargo, but was turned away from the country of Alexandria after a warning from Ukrainian officials, according to the government of the country. It was also denied access to Beirut, eventually docking in Latakia, in Syria, where Russia has supported Bashar al-Assad’s regime for years.
“The world community must help Ukraine unblock seaports, otherwise the energy crisis will be followed by a food crisis and many more countries will be affected,” Zelensky said on Saturday. “Russia has blocked almost all ports and all, so to speak, maritime possibilities to export food — our grain, barley, sunflower and more. A lot of things.”
Last week, DailyExpertNews reported that the US and allies are in talks to develop safe routes to transport grain from Ukraine amid concerns over global food supplies. Evidence that Russia is stealing grain only complicates those efforts.
Before the war, wheat supplies from Russia and Ukraine accounted for nearly 30% of world trade, and Ukraine is the fourth largest exporter of corn and the fifth largest exporter of wheat, according to the US State Department. The United Nations World Food Programme, which helps fight global food insecurity, buys about half of its wheat from Ukraine each year and has warned of dire consequences if Ukrainian ports are not opened.
The ships have a capacity of 30,000 tons and earlier this month the Ukrainian Defense Ministry estimated that some 400,000 tons had been stolen and taken from Ukraine since the Russian invasion.
Mykola Solsky, Ukraine’s Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food, said it is being “steered in an organized way towards Crimea. This is a large company controlled by people of the highest level.”
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, taking with it the main Black Sea port, Sevastopol. Since launching a renewed invasion in February, Russia has denied Ukraine access to two key ports: capturing Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, and attacking and blocking Odessa, also on the Black Sea. Ukraine’s inability to export from those ports is not only impacting food levels around the world, but is also having a devastating impact on the country’s economy.
There is an estimated 22 million tons of grain in Ukrainian silos, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week.
“The Russian Federation falsely claims that the sanctions imposed by the international community are the cause of the worsening of the global food crisis. Sanctions do not block the ports of the Black Sea, do not hold ships full of food and do not destroy Ukraine’s roads and railways Blink said. “Russia does.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the allegations that Russia had stolen grain from its neighbor “fake news,” according to the Russian state news agency TASS and other news agencies.
DailyExpertNews’s Paul Murphy and Nathan Hodge contributed coverage.