Ukraine criticized statements by ex-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that Russia desired a “negotiated solution” to the crisis on Wednesday, saying any talks would be conditioned on a Russian ceasefire and army departure.

Schroeder, a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin who is widely reviled in Germany for his pro-Russia position, suggested last month’s agreement on grain supplies from Ukraine, aimed at alleviating a worldwide food crisis, may pave the road forward. 

On Wednesday, the first grain tanker since the war began crossed through the Bosphorus Strait en way to Lebanon. 

“The good news is that the Kremlin wants a negotiated solution,” Schroeder told Stern weekly and RTL/ntv, adding that he saw Putin last week in Moscow. “A first success is the grain deal, perhaps that can be slowly expanded to a ceasefire.”

In response, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak referred to Schroeder as a “voice of the Russian royal court” and stated unequivocally that the grain deal would not lead to dialogue.

“The ball is in Moscow’s court if it wants dialogue.” “First, a cease-fire and troop withdrawal, then constructive (dialogue),” Podolyak tweeted.

Nothing is more cynical, according to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, than “Putin’s henchmen” declaring Russia is ready for peace talks.

“Every day, we hear and see this’readiness’: artillery strikes, missile terror against civilians, and mass atrocity crimes.” “Russia is still focused on war; everything else is just a smokescreen,” he tweeted.

The grain arrangement, mediated by the UN and Turkey, has been hailed as a rare diplomatic triumph in the more than five months of war since Putin dispatched soldiers across the border in what he calls a “special military operation” In the early stages of the conflict, tentative efforts at peace talks failed.

However, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy downplayed its significance on Wednesday, saying the cargo was a fraction of the harvest Kyiv needs to sell to help rebuild its battered economy.

The ship, Razoni, set sail early Monday from Odesa on the Black Sea, carrying 26,527 tonnes of corn to the Lebanese port of Tripoli.

Zelenskiy, speaking through an interpreter via video to students in Australia, said more time was required to assess if further grain shipments would follow.

“We had a first ship with grain delivery thanks to the United Nations in partnership with Turkey, but it’s still nothing.” “However, we hope this is a trend that will continue,” he told the pupils.

He said Ukraine, which was one of the world’s top grain producers before the war, needed to sell at least 10 million tonnes of grain to help reduce its $5 billion monthly budget deficit.

Following the departure of the Razoni, a senior Turkish official stated that three ships may leave Ukrainian ports daily, while Ukraine’s infrastructure minister stated that 17 more ships had been filled with agricultural produce and were ready to sail.

Ukraine’s wartime grain harvest projection has been raised from 60 million tonnes to 65 million-67 million tonnes, according to Prime Minister Denys Shmygal on Wednesday.

In a Telegram message, he thanked farmers for continuing to harvest even in places where shelling is still taking place.

Ukraine, regarded as Europe’s breadbasket, wants to export 20 million tonnes of grain stored in silos and 40 million tonnes from the current harvest, primarily from Odesa and the surrounding towns of Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk.

“The war…is nearly destroying the economy.” “It’s in a coma,” stated Zelenskiy. “Russia’s blocking of the ports is a great loss for the economy.”

Despite signing on to the agreement, Zelenskiy has frequently cautioned that Moscow may try to stymie shipments.

Russia, which blocked the ports following the February 24 assault, has stated that it wants more done to allow the shipping of its own grain and fertilizers.

It has denied blame for the food crisis, claiming that sanctions imposed by the West, which sees the war as an unjustified imperial territory grab by Russia, have hindered its shipments.

Russia further claimed that the US was directly participating in the Ukrainian conflict by approving and coordinating Ukrainian missile strikes on Russian forces.

US President Joe Biden has stated that he wants Ukraine to defeat Russia and has provided billions of dollars in armaments to the Ukrainian government. However, the US does not desire a direct clash between US and Russian military.

Ukraine and Russia have traded allegations over a missile attack or explosion that appeared to have killed scores of Ukrainian POWs in the frontline town of Olenivka, which is held by Moscow-backed rebels in eastern Donetsk.

On Wednesday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the formation of a fact-finding team into the killings, which he claimed had been requested by both sides.

Ukraine announced on Wednesday that Russia has begun assembling a military attack force aimed towards Zelenskiy’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih, and warned that Moscow may be planning new offensive operations in southern Ukraine.

Russia retains control of swaths of Ukraine’s south that it took in the early stages of its invasion, but Kiev has stated that it will launch a counter-offensive. It announced on Tuesday that it had already retaken 53 villages in the seized Kherson region.

Source: Reuters

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