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Moscow has pressed the West to lift sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, seeking to shift the blame for a growing food crisis that has been worsened by Kyiv’s inability to ship millions of tonnes of grain and other agricultural products due to the conflict.

Britain immediately accused Russia of “trying to hold the world to ransom,” insisting there would be no sanctions relief, and a top US diplomat blasted the “sheer barbarity, sadistic cruelty and lawlessness” of the invasion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Moscow “is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertiliser on the condition that politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted,” according to a Kremlin transcript of the call.

A Ukrainian farm worker walks by corn seeds for future planting in a grain warehouse damaged by Russian tanks in Cherkska Lozova, Ukraine. The world is face a major food shortage due to the ongoing war. (Getty)

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but the war and a Russian blockade of its ports has halted much of that flow, endangering world food supplies.

Many of those ports are now also heavily mined.

Russia also is a significant grain exporter, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the West “must cancel the unlawful decisions that hamper chartering ships and exporting grain.”

His comments appeared to be an effort to lump the blockade of Ukrainian exports with what Russia says are its difficulties in moving its own goods.

Putin makes first visit to wounded Russian veterans

Western officials have dismissed those claims.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted last week that food, fertiliser and seeds are exempt from sanctions imposed by the US and many others — and that Washington is working to ensure countries know the flow of those goods should not be affected.

With the war grinding into its fourth month, world leaders have ramped up calls for solutions.

World Trade Organisation Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said about 23 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain is in storage and another 23 million tonnes could be harvested next month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was rumoured to formally declare war on Ukraine on May 9.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has flagged lifting a blockade on Ukrainian grain exports if the West lifts its sanctions on Russia. (AP)

European countries have tried to ease the crisis by moving grain out of the country by rail — but trains can carry only a small fraction of what Ukraine produces, and ships are needed for the bulk of the exports.

At the same time, the Russian Defence Ministry proposed corridors to allow foreign ships to leave ports along the Black Sea, as well as Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Putin was “trying to hold the world to ransom” by demanding some sanctions be lifted before allowing Ukrainian grain shipments to resume.

“He’s essentially weaponised hunger and lack of food among the poorest people around the world,” Truss said on a visit to Sarajevo.

“What we cannot have is any lifting of sanctions, any appeasement, which will simply make Putin stronger in the longer term.”

On the battlefield, Russian forces continued to press their offensive in several parts of the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s military said.

That industrial heartland of coal mines and factories is now the focus of fighting after Russia suffered a series of setbacks and shifted to more limited goals.

An injured man is carried on a stretcher after Russian shelling in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine. (AP)

“The enemy is storming the position of our troops simultaneously in several directions,” Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said.

“We have an extremely difficult and long stage of fighting ahead of us.”

Ukrainian authorities said at least eight people were killed — including a five-month-old child — and 17 were injured in shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, while three were killed in and around the eastern city of Lysychansk, which is a key focus of fighting.

Military officials said Russian forces continued to try to gain a foothold in the area of Sievierodonetsk, the only part of the Luhansk region in the Donbas under Ukrainian government control.

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