Ukraine FM: Moscow playing ‘hunger games’ with world

Cindy Liu/Pool Photo via AP
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on the sidelines of ASEAN summit held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pressed Southeast Asian countries for political and material support in his county’s fight against Russia, while accusing Moscow on Saturday of playing “hunger games” with the world by holding up shipments of Ukrainian grain and other agricultural products.

Kuleba told reporters on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit that with a deal allowing Ukraine to export grain and fertilizer due to expire Nov. 19, the world needed to pressure Russia not to object to its extension, saying Ukrainian products were critical in Africa and Asia.

More than just continuing the deal, however, Kuleba accused Russian inspectors of “quiet sabotage,” saying they were intentionally dragging their feet in allowing shipments through.

Not only does Russia have “to remain part of the initiative, it also has to instruct its inspectors to act in good faith and to avoid any measures, any steps, that create obstacles and hinder the export of Ukrainian agricultural goods to the global market,” he said.

“Russia should — must — stop playing hunger games with the world.”

Kuleba’s country was invited to the ASEAN summit for the first time this year and signed a peace accord with the group of nations with a combined population of nearly 700 million people.

Many of the member nations have thus far been reserved in their stance toward the invasion, condemning the war but generally trying to avoid assigning blame. Eight of 10 ASEAN countries did vote in favor of the U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Russian aggression, with Vietnam and Laos abstaining.

Kuleba said signing the accord with ASEAN was a strong message of support from the group, though added that “the litmus test is the … voting in the U.N. General Assembly for resolutions related to Ukraine.”

ASEAN is made up of Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei and Myanmar, though Myanmar’s leaders are not being allowed to participate in the current meetings due to ongoing violence in the country and its lack of effort in implementing the group’s peace plan following the 2021 military takeover.

Kuleba said he is using the opportunity of the Phnom Penh summit as “an Asian tour,” meeting with ASEAN members and non-members like Australia to plead for more political support, material aid — like transformers and generators to repair those destroyed in the fighting — and improvements of food security and trade.

He spoke on the day U.S. President Joe Biden arrived at the talks, and met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines.

Blinken applauded Kuleba’s efforts to keep drumming up assistance, assuring him that “support is strong around the world” for Ukraine.

Kuleba said it seemed “symbolic” that he had signed a strategic partnership with the U.S. exactly a year before the accord with ASEAN.

“This just demonstrates how far we have gone after consolidating our position as a country belonging to the West,” Kuleba said, according to a copy of his remarks provided by the U.S. State Department.

In his earlier press conference, Kuleba said he had hoped to meet with China’s foreign minister but was told he would not be present. Kuleba added that Ukraine was maintaining a dialogue with China to push Beijing to “use its leverage on Russia to make them stop the war. “

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was also on hand at the ASEAN meetings, and Kuelba said if Lavrov asked to meet him, he would be willing to consider the request but accused Russia thus far of using talks as a “smokescreen for its continued aggression on the ground.”

“Ukraine will prevail, it’s only a matter of time and the price,” he said. “And yes, some gains are being achieved militarily, but some gains of Ukraine will be achieved diplomatically.”

But, he said, in any talks the “territorial integrity of Ukraine is not something that can be discussed.”

In brief opening remarks as he sat down to meet with ASEAN leaders, Biden said he was ready to discuss with them “Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine and our efforts to address the war’s global impacts, including in Southeast Asia.”

Earlier, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he had made clear to summit participants that it was important to establish the conditions for re-establishing dialogue between Ukraine and Russia, and “progressively to start looking into a future where peace will prevail.”

“Not any kind of peace,” Guterres said. “Peace based on the values of the U.N. Charter and peace based on international law.

In other comments, Guterres said the world had failed Myanmar, and expressed hope ASEAN would be able to pressure the member state to comply with its plan for peace over the next year.

ASEAN leaders agreed on a plan Friday that largely puts the onus on Indonesia, when it takes over the group’s rotating chair in 2023, to develop measurable indicators and a timeline for Myanmar to implement the so-called five-point consensus for peace.

Indonesia has been one of the ASEAN countries most outspoken about the need to do more to address the situation in Myanmar, and Guterres told reporters he felt “the Indonesian government will be able to push forward the agenda in a positive way.”

The ASEAN decision announced Friday includes asking the U.N. and other “external partners” for assistance in supporting the group’s efforts. Guterres said he hoped the U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, would cooperate closely with her ASEAN counterpart to bring about an end to the “dramatic violations of human rights” in the country.

“Everybody has failed in relation to Myanmar,” Guterres said. “The international community as a whole has failed, and the U.N. is part of the international community.”

ASEAN’s peace plan calls for the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue among all parties, mediation by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid and a visit to Myanmar by the special envoy to meet all sides.

Myanmar’s military-led government initially agreed to the plan but has made little effort to implement it.