Russia has demonstrated it is prepared to leverage global food security for its own political aim, according to the UK’s Ministry of Defence.
In its daily intelligence update, the MoD said on Sunday that Russia would then blame the West for “any failure”.
The ministry added that Russia’s attempt to achieve a reduction in the severity of international sanctions also “highlights the stresses sanctions are placing on the regime”.
Kyiv has accused Russia of blockading agricultural exports from Ukraine, which is known as the “breadbasket of Europe”.
Earlier this week, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Andrei Rudenko, said the country is ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food through the Black Sea in return for the lifting of sanctions.
He also requested that Ukraine de-mine the area around the port of Odesa to allow the passage of ships.
It comes after French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Vladimir Putin in a call to lift a Russian blockade of Odesa’s port to allow Ukrainian grain exports as the conflict brings ramifications beyond Ukraine’s borders.
The Kremlin said that Mr Putin told them he was willing to discuss ways to make it possible for Ukraine to resume grain shipments from the Black Sea.
Ukraine is a major grain exporter – so the blockage of its exports threatens to result in global food shortages.
• Peace talks between Ukraine and Russia remain stalled
• Russia’s Gazprom continues shipping gas to Europe via Ukraine
• Boy, 6, who lost his family in Ukraine, pens open letter to Boris Johnson
• Russia claims to have taken the town of Lyman and is closing in on Severodonetsk
• Ukraine has started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from US
Scholz and Macron phone call with Putin
Elsewhere in the phone conversation, Mr Macron and Mr Scholz urged the Russian leader to release the 2,500 Ukrainian defenders of the Azovstal steel plant currently detained by Kremlin forces, the Elysee palace said.
Last week, the Russian military declared Azovstal and all of Mariupol “completely liberated” and reported that more than 2,400 fighters had come out of the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the besieged city.
The fighters in need of medical treatment were taken to a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk, about 30 miles east of Mariupol, while others were taken to Olenivka.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a television interview that he believed Russia would agree to talks if Ukraine could recapture all the territory it has lost since the 24 February invasion.
Though he dismissed the idea of using force to win back all the land his country has lost to Russia since 2014 – which includes the southern peninsula of Crimea.
“I do not believe that we can restore all of our territories by military means. If we decide to go that way, we will lose hundreds of thousands of people,” he said.
Russia intensifies assault in the east
Russian forces have intensified their assault on the largest city held by Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region in the east on Sunday.
It comes as Kyiv said it remains hopeful that longer-range weapons it desperately needs will arrive from Western allies soon.
Mr Putin’s forces have been making slow, solid gains in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas in recent days – marking a subtle momentum shift in the war, now in its fourth month.
They are now close to seizing all of the Luhansk region after it became one of the Kremlin’s more modest war goals abandoning its assault on the capital in the face of Ukrainian resistance.
Russia’s defence ministry said its troops and allied separatist forces were in full control of Lyman, the site of a railway junction west of the Siverskyi Donets River in the Donetsk.
However, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Malyar, said the battle for Lyman continued, according to the ZN.ua website.
Sievierodonetsk, some 60 km (40 miles) northeast of Lyman on the eastern side of the river and the largest Donbas city still held by Ukraine, was under heavy assault.
“The situation has extremely escalated,” said Luhansk’s governor Serhiy Gaidai.
He added that the shelling was so severe it was not possible to assess casualties and damage, though two people were killed on Saturday and some 13 more buildings in the city were destroyed.
Mr Gaidai said that Ukrainian troops may have to retreat from the city to avoid capture but it was not clear whether they had begun to pull out.
Ukraine in need of weapons from the West
In a late-night video address, Mr Zelenskyy voiced hopes that Ukraine’s allies would provide more weapons, adding that he expected “good news” in the coming days.
His adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said: “The weapons we so desperately need will most likely be delivered soon.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian MP Kira Rudik is meeting with UK ministers next week – including one meeting with the defence committee on Monday.
She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that she will ask for a wide range of missiles, which is “something that we critically need to make sure that we fight the Russians back”.
“The second point is the visa waiver for Ukrainians” as “not so many people are getting in”.
Ms Rudik said she will also discuss trying to unblock Ukraine’s ports as many countries battle high food prices.