July 19, 2024


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Special Online Briefing with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba

Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba

Moderator:  Good day to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants from across the continent and thank all of you for taking part in this discussion.  Today, we have a very special event.  Our guest speaker is Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba. 

The United States is committed to providing accurate and timely information to journalists around the world, and given the importance of the issue of food security on the African continent, as well as to both the United States Government and the Government of Ukraine, the Africa Regional Media Hub is pleased to offer journalists the opportunity to speak directly with the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, who can provide his firsthand perspective and knowledge of how Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine has contributed to challenges in global food security in Africa.  Foreign Minister Kuleba is joining us today from Ukraine.  This briefing is on the record and a transcript will be available on the Africa Regional Media Hub’s website.   

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Foreign Minister Kuleba, then we will turn to your questions.   

As a reminder, today’s briefing is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Foreign Minister Kuleba for his opening remarks.  Over to you, sir.  

Foreign Minister Kuleba:  Thank you.  Dear African friends, dear media, I’m grateful for this opportunity to have an open and sincere discussion on the ways to overcome food security challenges posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.   

First of all, let me affirm our longstanding commitment to developing ties with the African Union and African states.  A few days ago, Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy addressed leaders of the African Union and emphasized how important it is for Africa’s voice to be heard on the global arena.  Two years ago, we in the foreign ministry adopted our first African strategy in Ukraine’s foreign policy – first in 30 years of Ukraine’s independence.  The president also confirmed that we will soon have a special representative for relations with African states.  These moves signal our sincere willingness to deepen political and cultural ties, people-to-people contacts, and boost trade with your countries. 

For many years, Ukraine has been a reliable and trustworthy partner of African states, especially in agricultural trade.  There have never – I emphasize never – been any major problems in delivering our high-quality food products to your nations.  As a mighty agricultural nation, Ukraine has grown millions of tons of wheat, corn, sunflower, and other products, and happily delivered them to African markets.  We have always been proud of our role as a food security guarantor.   

And then came our darkest day in Ukraine’s modern history: February 24th, 2022.  The Russian army launched a massive and devastating attack on our country from all directions – from air, land, and sea.  Russian warships approached our Black Sea ports in an attempt to capture them.  Four months later, they still remain there as Russia continues its invasion and wants to destroy our country, whatever it takes.  

When Russia started its invasion, it perfectly knew what consequences this will have, not only for Ukraine but for the entire world.  Its relentless naval blockade of our seaports destroys the lives of people far from the battlefield, affecting the global food system previously already weakened by climate change and COVID-19 pandemic.  It is truly horrible that Russia plays hunger games with the world by blocking Ukrainian food exports with one hand and trying to shift the blame on Ukraine with the other.   

Furthermore, by gambling with resources like food, Russia runs a new wave of colonization aiming to reconfigure the global food system and make it more Russia-dependent than ever.  Russia has always had friendly relations with many African states; it is true.  Today, Moscow is afraid that African nations will turn their backs on Russia because of the food crisis it has caused.  This is the main reason why Russian officials keep lying that it is Ukraine, United States, European Union or anyone else – anyone but Russia to blame for food shortages, rising prices, and the risk of hunger.   

I sincerely call on all of our African friends to reject these lies.  Ukraine has never – sorry, Ukraine has always been happy to export its agricultural products, and we will be happy to resume it as soon as possible.  We do not put forward any special conditions.  We just want Russia to end its blockade and allow unhindered, protected export.   

In a few days, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and President of Senegal Macky Sall will both take part in the G7 Summit.  I am confident that as chairperson of the African Union, President Sall plays a leading role in resolving the food crisis.  It is important for all of us to unite efforts and speak in one voice with Russia to make it end its naval blockade and allow Ukrainian food exports to be resumed.   

Let me brief you on the scale of global food problems caused by the Russian invasion and ways to solve them, which we are actively working on with the United Nations and partners.   

On the first slide, you can see Ukraine’s share of the global food market.  It’s enormous.  Ukraine provides 10 percent of the world’s wheat, 14 percent of the world’s corn, and 47 percent of all sunflower oil on the planet.  You can see some of the shares of Ukrainian products for various countries of the world.  For instance, 44 percent of wheat imported to Libya comes from Ukraine.  Here came the picture, finally.  This figure is 42 percent for Tunisia, 26 percent for Egypt, 26 percent for Ethiopia, and 15 percent for Morocco.  Egypt also relies on 26 percent of Ukrainian goods in its corn imports.   

Now I will kindly ask to switch to the second slide.  You can see the share of Ukrainian exports by region.  A little less than one-fifth goes to Europe, a quarter goes to Africa, a quarter to Asia, about one-sixth to the Middle East, and about one-seventh to the Southeast Asia.  This illustrates just how much Ukraine itself relies and depends on its agricultural exports.  And trust me, we have no intention to shoot ourselves in the foot by withholding by any means the export of our agricultural products to the global market.  We want to export our agricultural products to you as badly as you want to receive them, and there is only one reason why both ends of this supply chain – which is us and you – cannot benefit from these exports.  It’s the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports as a result of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine.   

The truth is that we are sparing no effort to deliver these exports to you as soon as possible, also because this makes part of our budget, and now suffering from economic hurdles, economic difficulties, we need to make money on the global market by selling our agricultural products and supplying them to their consumers.   

The sheer magnitude of the unfolding food crisis provoked by Russia’s war on Ukraine is unprecedented.  And it is not only about the naval blockade.  In the course of the war, Russia deliberately targets our agricultural infrastructure to inflict maximum damage on our food-producing capacity.  By doing this, Moscow also deliberately inflicts damage on African states that rely on Ukrainian agricultural exports.  Russian missile strikes have already damaged and destroyed many farms, stocks of food and seeds, silos, warehouses, oil deposits, agriculture machinery and equipment.  The Russians also steal grain from the temporarily occupied territories in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine.  Facts prove that up to 400,000 tons of grain crops have already been stolen as of May.  Russians also steal agricultural equipment from Ukrainian farmers – tractors, combine harvesters, and other tools in Donetsk, Kherson, Kharkiv, and Sumy regions of Ukraine. 

Russian forces have riddled Ukrainian fields with mines to prevent farmers from cultivating their crops for years.  According to the recent preliminary estimate, about 13 percent of Ukrainian territory has been contaminated by Russian mines and other explosive remnants.  This creates threats of a multiyear global food crisis.   

All of this put together – these are the consequences of Russia’s relentless decision to launch a total war on one of the world’s largest food producers, which is Ukraine.   

We actively work with partners to solve existing problems.  Let’s look at what other ways of our coming – of overcoming them.  On the third slide – and I will kindly ask to switch to it – you can see the routes of our food exports.  In the old good days, before the war, Ukraine exported from five to six million tons of agricultural products on a monthly basis.  Ninety percent of this volume was exported from seaports in the Black Sea and the Azov Sea.  You can see this route on the map, currently blocked by Russian warships.  Russia is blocking 57 commercial vessels loaded with agricultural commodities in the Black Sea and much more food exports stored in the ports.   

With traditional supply chains being broken, we can only use roads, railways, and Danube riverport logistics.  We actively work with Group of Seven countries, the U.S., the European Union, and neighboring European states to transport what we can by road, by railway, and by the river.   

Ukraine has three export Danube riverport terminals, but their capacity is very limited compared with Odessa and Mykolaiv seaports.  The focus now is to enable a large increase in rail and road shipments.  Ukraine has been working closely with the European Commission and neighboring EU countries to rearrange supply chains for wheat, corn, soybean, rapeseed, barley, sunflower, sunflower oil, meal, pomace, and other goods.  We have already established two solidarity lanes via Romania to the Black Sea and via Poland and Lithuania to the Baltic Sea.  In April, approximately 1.1 million tons of grain – 1.1 million tons of grain, oil, and meal were exported from Ukraine using all of these routes.  This is better than nothing, but it’s still just a small part of what needs to be exported. 

All of the alternative routes are not designed to transport such huge volumes of goods.  They cannot replace the traditional Black Sea ports logistics, and they also make the products more expensive.  Ukraine has even made a large discount on its exports to reduce the price, but the complicated logistics still make them more expensive than before.  The bottom line is that there is still no real alternative to finding a solution to unblock Odessa and Mykolaiv ports, lift the Russian blockade, and ensure a safe trade route there.    

An option to consider is international operation under UN auspices, which would not only be agreed with Russia but also involve a coalition of the willing states sending their navies to secure the passage of trade vessels.  This is an extremely difficult undertaking which involves a lot of security risks, but we are looking into ways of achieving it.  Ukraine is currently in an advanced stage of negotiations with the UN and other states in realizing this important operation.   

Time is running out for us, but also for you.  And we want to resolve the problem within the next few weeks.  Blocking Ukraine’s food exports longer would undermine the ability of our farmers to proceed with the new harvest and elevate the risk of interrupting Ukraine’s agricultural cycle for another year.  This can put the world at risk of a multiyear food crisis.   

I urge the world and all African states to work together and pressure Russia to allow a safe sea route for our food exports.  African states have a crucial role in this, and many already work together with us to achieve it.  African capitals matter, and they do influence Russia’s position.  Ukraine will continue working closely with all African nations in the coming days and weeks to ensure that all of our contracted goods reach your markets, and to overcome the global food crisis provoked by Russia’s irresponsible actions.   

Thank you for your attention.  I tried to be factual and to give you a comprehensive picture of where we stand, what is happening, and what kind of measures we are taking.  Now I stand ready to answer your questions.   

Moderator:  Thank you, Foreign Minister Kuleba.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.  We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: Russia’s war on Ukraine and how it affects food security in Africa.   

Okay, our first question will go to Lesotho, from Mr. Herbert Moyo of Lesotho Times.  He sent a question in to us.  His question is:  “Can African countries afford to be neutral in this conflict?  And what does this invasion really mean for African countries?  Why should Africa care about the events in Ukraine?”   

Foreign Minister Kuleba:  For nearly – for 300 years, since middle-17th century, Ukraine was like a colony for Russia.  They were suppressing our identity, our language.  They insisted on the supremacy of Russian language, Russian culture, Russian ability to – Russian civilizational supremacy, so I will just say.  Russian – official Russian narrative was even that Ukrainians are not able to govern themselves without Russian bosses from the then-capital St. Petersburg and later Moscow.   

Second point:  Imagine that you have a neighbor, and that neighbor has either attacked you or is weighing a plan to attack you because it doesn’t like you.  If Russia succeeds here in Ukraine, this will be a clear message to the entire international community and to all countries who want to attack their neighbors that there is no world order that can protect them.  There is no international law that can protect them.  That the mighty can do whatever it wants to impose its will on the other’s part.   

So for – and the third argument is the food security that we are discussing.  The longer that this war lasts, the more difficult for Ukraine – it will be for Ukraine to resume its exporting potential in agriculture to your – agriculture to your countries, and the more difficult it will be for many students from your countries, from African countries, to come and receive education in Ukraine.   

So answering your question – can African countries afford to be neutral?  My answer is I think there are at least three reasons that I mentioned for African countries to stand by Ukraine.  Because you should understand very well how it feels to be attacked by a power that cannot abandon the idea of its supremacy over our nation and its colonial, imperialistic ambitions, because you are as much interested in the strength of international law and playing by the rules as we are, and because the sooner this war ends, the sooner problems that never existed in our bilateral relations will cease to exist.   

For these reasons, I believe it makes sense for African countries to stand by Ukraine.  And I think it also answers the rest of your questions.   

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we will go live to Meredith Lee of Politico.  Meredith, you may ask your question.   

Question:  Hi there, can you hear me?   

Moderator:  Yes, we can.   

Question:  Great.  You touched on this, Foreign Minister, but I wanted to – I was wondering if you could clarify Ukraine’s view of the UN talks with Russia along with the Turkish efforts to allow grain exports to navigate Russia’s blockade in the Black Sea.  And then separately, I’m wondering if you’ve heard from any officials from foreign countries who are currently willing to send naval ships into the Black Sea for the purpose of escorting grain ships.   

Foreign Minister Kuleba:  Turkey plays a constructive role in facilitating the solution.  We haven’t reached the point where the decision is there, but the good news is that in principle, the United Nations have a plan.  What is needed now is for all sides to agree on each and every detail of that plan and to resort to implementation, and Turkey, as I said, plays an important role in facilitating these talks.   

It is true that the importance to ensure safety of vessels and of the passage of commercial vessels carrying Ukrainian agricultural products and the safety of the passage to Odessa harbor is very high on our agenda.  We do not have a confirmation from countries that they are ready to send their navy vessels to participate in this operation.  But talks with them continue, and we are exploring any solution that will help to kind of answer this question of security. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next, we’ll go to a question in the Q&A from Wael Badran from Al Ittihad in United Arab Emirates.  His question is:  “Dr. Cary Fowler and Ambassador Jim O’Brien said here last week on a press briefing with the Africa Regional Media Hub that there are no U.S. sanctions on Russian food and fertilizer, while Moscow said the sanctions are the reason for the world food crisis.  However, Russia says that waters of the Black and Azov Seas were mined by Ukraine, and that is what is preventing the exports and that is another reason for the food crisis.  What do you have to say about that?” 

Foreign Minister Kuleba:  The game Russia – the hunger game Russia plays is very simple.  Moscow is trying to use African countries to enrage you against the alleged influence, negative impact of Western sanctions on food exports to – from Russia.  But the trick is – you see the trick.  They are fighting for their exports, to export their grain and other agricultural products to you.  They are not talking about allowing us to trade, to export these agricultural products.  And the reason for that is very simple.  Because one of the goals that Russia tries to achieve is to squeeze Ukraine out of its traditional markets in African countries. 

So they are playing their hunger games in an attempt to make more money in exporting – by exporting their agricultural products, putting the pressure of hiking prices and hunger on you, putting you at risk, putting us at risk, and blaming the West for that.  I’m not aware of any sanctions that would prohibit Ukraine’s exports or limit Ukraine’s exports of agricultural products or Russia’s exports of agricultural products.   

What I am aware of is that a week ago, Russia deliberately hit with a missile the largest in Ukraine – the largest grain terminal in Ukraine, with grain inside of it, and everything burned down up to the last grain that could be turned into flour, and flour into bread.  Everything.  It was a deliberate attack on the grain terminal in Mykolaiv region.  Why would they do it if they seriously cared about providing you and other countries of the world with this grain.  Why did they decide to burn it down?  Why do they continue blocking Odessa harbor and playing their negotiation games, pretending they act in good faith, if they were serious about allowing us to export our grains to you.   

So, yes, there are – there are many – we all live in a certain kind of information ocean.  There is a lot of information coming from different sides.  But what I’m trying to do is to provide you with facts and with an in-depth explanation of the motives behind Russia’s actions. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we will go live to Peter Fabricius of The Daily Maverick out of South Africa.  Mr. Fabricius, you may ask your question. 

Question:  Hi.  Thanks, Minister.  Can you hear me? 

Moderator:   Yes.  We can hear you. 

Question:  Minister Kuleba, thank you very much for your briefing.  I’m with The Daily Maverick in South Africa.  Last week, our President Ramaphosa spoke to President Putin, and at the end of it they issued a statement about the possibility of South Africa buying or having delivered Russian grain and fertilizer.  I just wanted to ask you, is that of any kind of concern to Ukraine that, given what you’ve said about the theft, etc., of your grain, that South Africa might be buying stolen goods, in effect?  Thank you. 

Foreign Minister Kuleba:  Well, as I mentioned a second ago, we clearly see a strategy of the Russian Federation to replace Ukraine on our traditional markets.  We clearly see ships, vessels, taking stolen Ukrainian grain to countries like Syria or to Russia and then being exported further without a clear indication of where this grain comes from.  So we are deeply concerned with everything that is happening around this issue for two reasons.  First, because as I said, we have a crystal-clear reputation as a supplier of agricultural products to the global market.  And we do not want to – that reputation to be ruined because of Russian propaganda and lies. 

And second, I really wanted to get this point straight.  We are as badly interested in selling our crops as you are in buying them, because what is food for you is revenue to our budget for us.  And for Ukraine, this means a lot.  This is really a big amount of money.  And in times of war when our economy is shrinking, when we lost a good amount of GDP because of the Russian bombardments and occupation, this money makes a difference for us.  So trust me, we really want to get things done. 

And so what we expect from other countries are two things.  Do not buy stolen Ukrainian grain, and respect the fact that we were always reliable suppliers for you.  Help us to solve the existing problem and we will continue trading with you on good terms. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go to a question sent in to us from Côte d’Ivoire.  That question – one moment.  I have a question sent to us – okay – from Rwanda, from Mr. Rene Rwanyange.  “What are the causes of this war, and will you end up giving Russia what it is asking for?” 

Foreign Minister Kuleba:  The cause — the cause of this war is very simple.  President Putin doesn’t like Ukraine.  He doesn’t like it to the extent that he decided to destroy it, and you can take his, I think, around one-hour-long speech delivered publicly on Russian television right on the eve of the war when he – where he explains why he is now declaring this war on Ukraine.  And it’s full of hate, and basically what he’s trying to say is that he doesn’t recognize our identity, he doesn’t recognize our statehood, and he deprives us of our right to exist.  This is the cause of this war. 

In the last three years, President Zelenskyy played very constructively in negotiations with Russia trying to find a solution, a diplomatic solution, but the response was missiles hitting the capital of Ukraine – Russian cruise missiles hitting the capital of Ukraine and other Ukrainian cities.   

I represent the country that is defending itself against a foreign unprovoked aggression.  So, of course, my job is to make sure that we restore our territorial integrity and we defend our sovereignty.  And all claims and ultimatums put forward by Russia, they are illegitimate.  We cannot accept them.   

But this doesn’t mean that we exclude the way of diplomacy, and we are ready to engage with Russia in a diplomatic exercise based on the very simple idea that these talks should not be about us satisfying Russian ultimatums.  They’re not the empire, and we are not their colony anymore.  We are two sovereign nations, and these talks should be based on the principle of respect of our sovereignty and seeking – on the idea of seeking mutually acceptable solutions and not the solutions imposed on Russia by us – by Russia on us.  

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go to a question sent to us from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  This question comes from Cyrille Milandou of Top Kongo FM.  The question is:  “The shortage of Ukrainian wheat is so dire that Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular, are paralyzed in terms of their food requirements.  How many tons of wheat does Ukraine produce annually?  Isn’t this shortage another means for Ukraine to covertly seek other countries’ support?” 

Foreign Minister Kuleba:  Last year, we exported 15.8 million tons of wheat to the global market.  In my presentation, I shared with you some numbers of Ukraine’s role on the global agricultural market, and these numbers give you a very clear answer to the argument sometimes made by Russia that Ukraine is a non-player in global food market and its supplies can be replaced with supplies from other countries, of course, first and foremost from Russia.  This is simply not true.  This is a lie.  The absence of Ukraine’s agricultural products on the global market cannot be compensated from other places, especially when it comes to sunflower oil.   

I think I was very honest with you in explaining that – how deeply we are interested in exporting our agricultural products to you and across the world.  For us, it’s an issue of our economic survival.  For you, the lack of our agricultural products is an issue of physical survival.  God forbids if hunger takes place, but this is what – this is the risk is there.  For us, it’s an issue of economic survival because we have to bring money into the country, and I – again, there are many ideas, many arguments, many discussions on what are the real intentions – what real intentions are, why this is happening, and why that is not happening.  

But the truth – the truth, again, is that since 1991 when Ukraine gained independence, we were a very reliable supplier for you, and my second point is that we understand that this war and the support that Ukraine receives from various countries to win this war cannot be bought, cannot be squeezed out by blackmail, by pressure.  This is not how we do things.  We are fighting a war against an aggressor who attacked us.  We are not blackmailing anyone, unlike Russia, who is already blackmailing the world and you that if you do not help us to lift sanctions from us, you will not get the grain.  Isn’t it a clear blackmailing?  So who’s trying to take advantage of this situation?  Definitely not us. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next question goes to a question in our Q&A from Carien Du Plessis of Business Day in South Africa.  Her first question was regarding how you likened Russia’s approach to Ukraine to colonialism, but I believe you already answered that in your remarks.  Her second question is:  “COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine conflict have shown us how important it is for Africa to become more self-sufficient.  Do you have any thoughts about how Ukraine, perhaps in the future and in peaceful times, can support countries on the continent with agricultural expertise or partnerships?” 

Foreign Minister Kuleba:  Well, we – recently, we have invested a lot of resources and both financial and intellectual resources in upgrading our agricultural sector to make it more technological, to make it more efficient, and we are more than happy to share our experience.  We have our own technologies.  We’re very advanced in digitalizing our economy.  We are happy to build bonds and partnerships with African countries to bring our technologies to your countries, and so that you can benefit from them.  

We live in the 21st century, and technologies can have – can solve many problems.  

Moderator:  Thank you.  Another question regarding the mines laid by Ukraine in the Black Sea ports.  We had a couple of journalists who had questions about that.  This one is from Ahmed coming out of Mauritius, and his question is:  “What about the mines laid by Ukraine at Black Sea ports – at the Black Sea ports?  Is Kyiv taking steps to get rid of mines that have dissuaded shipping lines from sending its vessels there?”  

Foreign Minister Kuleba:  No, let’s go back to the end of February.  So Russia attacks Ukraine from the air, from the sea, and from the land.  I  don’t know if you know how it feels when a cruise missile blows up in your city, but that we – very little pleasure.  So we were protecting ourselves from all directions.  Russian navy was attacking – was planned to attack the Port of Odessa, capture Odessa in the south; it’s a city and a port on the Black Sea.  And protective measures were taken.  So we shouldn’t be buying the argument that it’s Ukraine who blocked the sea with its mines in order not to allow the shipment or the vessels to come in and out. 

Russia was mining the sea.  We were mining the sea to defend ourselves.  The Russians were mining it to – not to allow – to destroy our ships.  The mines is not the stumble.  It’s not the stumbling block to exporting Ukrainian agricultural products to the world.  The real issue is what happens when the harbor is demined.  Who will ensure and how it can be ensured that Russia will not abuse open harbor and attack Odessa from the sea?  This is the question that everyone is rattling their minds on: how to make sure that Russia doesn’t attack Odessa from the sea. 

Now, the Russian officials say we guarantee that once the harbor is open, we will not attack, and we will allow vessels to come in and out carrying grain, sunflower oil, and other agricultural products.  The problem is that we cannot trust Russia.  I don’t think anyone can trust Russia.  I will give you a very simple fact.  Weeks and days before Russia attacked Ukraine, President Putin personally reassured world leaders like president of France, prime chancellor of – prime minister of Germany, and other world leaders that he had no intention to attack Ukraine, and it was a gaslighting.  He was buying time to attack.   

So how can we trust him anymore?  How can we trust his words?  This is why we’re saying that there should be an international, verified, and trusted mechanism of guaranteeing security of the passage.  And by the way, this mechanism is also in the interests of the shipping companies and of you because you do not want a ship that you paid for carrying the grain that you paid for to be sunk by Russian navy because it will serve their military interests in the Black Sea.  So mines is not a problem.  The problem is how to make sure that Russia does not attack Odessa from the sea when mines are removed.  

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next, we will go to Caroline Hellyer, a freelance journalist from Al Jazeera based in East Africa.  Caroline, you may ask your question.  

Question:  Hi.  Thank you.  I hope you can hear me.  Thank you for addressing us at this rather difficult time.  It is appreciated.  I want you to go back to the cereals issue.  Professor Philippe Chalman , who’s a commodities trade expert, has said there’s a lot of confusion around this subject, and that Africa is mainly concerned with wheat.  And he says that most of this year’s crop for Africa has already finished; it’s gone.  And the bulk of what’s remaining is for animal food.  So his argument is that maybe it would be better to be concentrating on land routes for the following crops, for the future crops to get out of Ukraine.  What do you think of this?  

Foreign Minister Kuleba:  The professor that you referred to is a man of wisdom.  Yes, we understand that even if we succeed in opening, in unblocking the Port of Odessa, now, this season, for this harvest, the sustainability of this channel will be put in question – will be in question because of Russia’s unpredictable military activity.  So while we are focused and we are desperately willing to open Odessa, we simultaneously invest heavily together with our partners in land routes for the years to come.  This alternative – alternative land routes – they have to evolve.  They have to be enlarged.  The capacity of these land routes should be stepped up because we need both of them.  We need land corridors, we need sea corridors to export as much as we can.  

Put yourself in the shoes of a Ukrainian farmer, for example.  Just one quick reference.  So you harvested a crop.  Usually, you just give it to someone who ships it away, and you don’t care.  You get the money, and you don’t care what is happening next.  You invest your money in the new crop.  You pay taxes.  You pay salaries to people who work for you, all this kind of stuff.  Now, imagine that this cycle is interrupted.  A farmer who doesn’t make money cannot invest in the next crop, doesn’t pay taxes, doesn’t pay salaries – social instability – interruption of agricultural cycle.  

And in a blink of an eye, we are entering the multiyear food and financial crisis – financial and social crisis.  We cannot afford that.  Neither you nor us can afford that to happen.  Russia will make its money on selling gas and oil.  Russia has enough of wheat to feed itself, but for us, for you, this crisis is unbearable.  We are in the same boat in this crisis, and this is why we, in particular, will develop routes and fight for the opening of the sea route to ensure that these supplies work, that you get what you – what is owed to you, and we get what we need from you in return.  We are in the same boat.  

Moderator:  Thank you, sir.  One final question, and this one is coming from Mr. Iqbal Ahmed Khan of L’Express newspaper out of Mauritius, and his question is:  “Has there been any disinformation from Russia about food security?  What are they and how can journalists counteract this information?”  

Foreign Minister Kuleba:  I think we debunked a number of Russian disinformation and a number of pieces of Russian disinformation and fake news spread around to defend their positions and to explain that it’s everyone else but them to blame.  So it’s a ridiculous situation.  They attack a country.  They wage a war for four months – for four consecutive months.  They create tons of problems for the entire world, and then they say – they keep saying, “It’s not us.  We’re not to blame.  We are doing the right thing by killing people, by capturing foreign territories, by not allowing Ukraine to export its foods.”   

This is the grand disinformation narrative that Russia is spreading across the world.  All you can do is stick to facts, dedicate more time to research, and please, always keep in mind what I said to you a number of times today: that we need to export, to sell as much as you need to buy.  This is it.  We are not interested in this crisis.  We are not interested in this blockade.  There is nothing that we want from you.  We have an honest relationship for you – with you.  We never had any imperialistic or post-imperialistic – or whatever you call it – demands to you.  Ukraine and Africa always enjoyed very friendly relations.  

Our soldiers served in peacekeeping operations in Africa.  They helped to protect peace in your territories.  Your students studied in Africa.  And by the way in the first months of the war, I personally was involved in day-to-day efforts to evacuate African students from Ukraine, and I even had a situation when I had to call the chief of Ukrainian border guards and insist that he gives priority to a group of African students on the border to leave the country, and he put Ukrainians aside and let African students out.  

So I really regret that in some places Russia plays a role in people believing their lies.  We have a very honest attitude, we are speaking truth with you, and we never wanted to mislead you or to impose any disinformation on you.  So I find this particular experience very useful, and my team will stay connected with . 

Moderator:  It looks like the minister was dropped.  Let’s give it a second to see if he comes back on.  Okay.  It looks like we’re at the – okay.  

Foreign Minister Kuleba:  My camera got overheated, not because of the heated discussion that we are having but because we need a new camera.  Anyway, thank you all.  Thank all of you for this engagement.  We stand – my team is ready to engage with those of you who are interested in receiving information from us.  We want to have – I will end where I started.  I want to continue a very open and friendly dialogue with you, with African countries, as I’m also preparing for my visits to a number of African countries.  Thank you very much.  Have a good day and stay safe. 

Moderator:  Well, that concludes today’s briefing.  I would like to thank Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba for speaking to us today and all of our journalists for participating.  If you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at AFMediaHub@state.gov.  Thank you. 

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