KYIV, Ukraine, May 9, 2023 (AFP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday slammed restrictions on grain exports from his war-torn country that were imposed by neighbouring EU nations, saying the measures are a boon to Russia.
“All restrictions on our exports are completely unacceptable right now. They only reinforce the abilities of the aggressor,” Zelensky said during a press conference in Kyiv with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
“We are waiting for the EU to stop all restrictions as fast as possible,” he added, calling the measures “severe, even cruel” and “disappointing” in times of war.
The EU members involved — Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia — have sparred with Ukraine in recent weeks over the issue of grain.
Russia’s invasion last year severely limited the traditional export channel of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea, necessitating export overland via Ukraine’s neighbours.
Member states agreed to allow the import of certain products from Ukraine without quantitative restrictions, and without customs and official inspections.
But farmers in some of the EU countries protested after a slump in prices, prompting a raft of restrictions and bans on Ukraine’s food exports in response.
Brussels called the bans on imports of grain and other food from Ukraine “unacceptable” while Kyiv is at war with Russia.
Last month the European Commission reached an agreement with all the parties concerned to ensure the transit of Ukrainian grain exports through EU countries, however with restrictions.
Speaking alongside Zelensky, von der Leyen on Tuesday described the grain situation as “difficult”.
“The immediate priority now is that the grain transit goes seamlessly and at the lowest possible cost outside from Ukraine towards the European Union,” she said.
“This requires a very close cooperation of the different stakeholders. Therefore, we will jointly set up a coordination platform.”