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U.S. and Europe search for new Ukraine export routes after Russia leaves grain deal

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Grain prices are rising again as Russia ramps up attacks on Ukrainian silos and ports. Russia withdrew from a deal that allowed Ukraine to export its goods to world markets despite the war. The U.S. and Europe have been working on alternative routes, though the options are limited, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development was in the Ukrainian port of Odesa last week when Russia withdrew from the grain deal and resumed attacks on the city. Samantha Power says the Russians have since hit areas where the U.S. had been investing in alternate routes.

SAMANTHA POWER: Now to see Russian forces targeting, as well, Danube river ports and grain silos - it's just chilling in the extreme.

KELEMEN: Power says Ukraine managed to boost exports along that river route from 55,000 metric tons of agricultural goods a month early last year to 2.2 million this past May. It's also made progress in rail and road exports, though shipping through the Black Sea is far cheaper and better for the Ukrainian farmers, bottom line. The USAID administrator warns that Russian attacks and the withdrawal from the grain deal are throwing all that in doubt.

POWER: This is a very intentional not only use of food as a weapon of war, weaponizing food, including food that is reaching the poorest communities internationally, but it is also - appears to be part of an ongoing effort to decimate Ukraine's economy.

KELEMEN: The United Nations and Turkey are still trying to revive the Black Sea grain initiative. The British ambassador to the United Nations called another Security Council meeting, accusing Russia of using missiles that were designed to destroy aircraft carriers to target grain supplies in Ukraine. Ambassador Barbara Woodward also says Russia may start targeting civilian ships in the Black Sea.

BARBARA WOODWARD: It demonstrates that for all its rhetoric, Russia doesn't care one bit about people across Africa, Asia and Latin America facing famine and drought.

KELEMEN: She's hoping that African leaders will deliver a strong message to President Vladimir Putin when they attend the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg Thursday and Friday.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.