Russia says ready to set up humanitarian corridor for ships leaving Ukraine
Russia has said it is ready to open a humanitarian corridor for ships carrying food to Ukraine to leave the country in return for the lifting of some sanctions.
More than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos in Ukraine where Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia sent thousands of troops into the former Soviet republic on Feb. 24.
The two countries account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, while Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.
Western countries have been discussing the idea of setting up "safe corridors" for grain exports from Ukraine's ports, but that would need Russian consent.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said Wednesday his country is open to the idea.
"We have repeatedly stated on this point that a solution to the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the lifting of sanctions that have been imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions," he said.
"And it also requires the demining by the Ukrainian side of all ports where ships are anchored. Russia is ready to provide the necessary humanitarian passage, which it does every day," he added.
On Tuesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused Russia of using food supplies as a weapon with global repercussions.
Rudenko said Russia is always ready for dialogue with all those who seek peaceful resolution of all problems.
"I leave Ursula von der Leyen's statement to her conscience," Rudenko added in remarks published by the Interfax news agency.
Russia will also discuss the possibility of holding a prisoner exchange with Ukraine once prisoners who surrendered have been convicted, he said.
Russian and separatist officials have said some of those who surrendered should be put on trial for war crimes.
Rudenko said Moscow wants to establish a Russian military base in the Russian-controlled area of Ukraine's Kherson region.
Meanwhile, Russia's defense ministry said the port of Mariupol, the Ukrainian city which was taken by Russia after a three-month siege, is operating normally.
The ministry said that Russia is in touch with the United Nations, and that Moscow "does not rule out the possibility of global talks to unblock Ukraine's ports".
Russian troops move to encircle key city in eastern Ukraine
Russian forces launched a new stage of military operation in Ukraine, carrying out airstrikes on towns in the eastern Donbas region on Wednesday.
In the easternmost part of the separatist region, the city of Sievierodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk, on the west bank, have become a pivotal battlefield.
Reports on Wednesday said Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle them.