Russian troops in Ukraine are shipping grains and produce critical to the Ukrainian economy to Crimea, the country’s officials alleged, adding to their list of grievances against Russian occupying forces, as local collaborators called for incorporation into Russia.
The military administration of the Zaporizhzhia region said that a column of Russian trucks loaded with Ukrainian grain had left the occupied town of Enerhodar on Tuesday with a Russian military escort. They said it was bound for the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The administration also said that vegetables and sunflower seeds are being taken.
The Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Defense didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, authorities in the Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, of strategic importance for its access to the Black Sea, plan to submit a request to Moscow to be formally accepted as part of Russia, a Kremlin-aligned official said Wednesday.
“There will be a request to introduce the Kherson region as a full-fledged entity of the Russian Federation,” said Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the military-civilian administration of the region, said during a news conference, in comments carried by Russian state news service TASS. The region will prepare the legal framework to join Russia by year’s end, TASS cited authorities as saying.
The development comes months after Moscow recognized the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk republics within their constitutional borders. Mr. Putin had ordered Russian troops into the two breakaway regions of Ukraine after recognizing their independence in February.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday residents of the Kherson region would have to decide their own fate.
“Such momentous decisions must carry an absolutely clear legal basis, a legal justification and be absolutely legitimate, as was the case with Crimea,” Mr. Peskov said.
Ukraine and most of the international community regard Crimea as occupied Ukrainian territory.
Ukraine provides about 10% of global wheat exports, 14% of corn exports and roughly half of the world’s sunflower oil, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, the department has cut its outlook for the world’s wheat trade in the current season by more than 6 million tons, or 3%, as expectations for lower Russian and Ukrainian exports outpace anticipated increases elsewhere.
“Without our agrarian exports, dozens of countries in different parts of the world already found themselves on the verge of a deficit,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday. “And with time the situation can become really terrible.”
Ukraine has alleged other Russian theft in the food sector.
In late April, officials in Zaporizhzhia region said Russian forces had taken over an agricultural business in the town of Kamianka-Dniprovska and seized 61 tons of wheat.
Ukrainian farmers have accused Russian forces of stealing their equipment, including tractors and trucks. They also say that Russia has destroyed equipment and mined their land in what they believe is a deliberate attempt to hobble Ukraine’s lucrative agriculture sector.
“The looting of grain from the Kherson region, as well as the blockade of shipments from Ukrainian ports and the mining of shipping routes, endangers global food security,” the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said referring to another part of the country’s south.
On Tuesday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said shiploads of stolen Ukrainian grain had reached the Mediterranean Sea on Russian-flagged vessels bound for the Middle East. In the past week, Egypt has turned away two Russian ships that were carrying stolen Ukrainian wheat, Ruslan Nechai, Ukraine’s chargé d’affaires in Egypt, told The Wall Street Journal on Monday.
Large parts of Kherson have been occupied by Russian forces since the start of the war. The agriculturally rich regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are among the most productive for Ukraine’s agricultural sector, often referred to as the breadbasket of Europe for the area’s vast wheat and grain production.
Wheat stockpiles were already running low and prices were the highest in years, owing to two years of poor growing weather, when Russia’s invasion jammed up Black Sea trading. The war has pushed up prices and prompted fears of food shortages in countries fed with imported grain.
The World Bank recently warned of a global food catastrophe stemming from Russia’s invasion.
Poland and Lithuania are in talks with Ukraine to have the country export its summer grain harvest through their ports, circumventing Russia’s naval blockade in the Black Sea. To move Ukraine’s wheat out to global markets, Poland would make space available at its seaports in Gdansk, Gdynia and Szczecin, and put those ports at the disposal of Ukraine, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said in an interview.
Ukraine says it isn’t only vital produce that is being forcibly relocated to Russia, but also thousands of people living in the Russian-controlled breakaway states of eastern Ukraine and other towns and cities occupied by Russian forces. The head of Ukraine’s Donetsk region, which Russia seeks full control over, has said that 30,000 people have been taken to Russia from the city of Mariupol alone.
Russia denies forcing Ukrainians to leave their homes, and said late Tuesday that 8,800 people were evacuated from Ukraine onto its territory in the past 24 hours, including more than 1,000 children. It said more than 1.2 million people have been evacuated to Russia since the start of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
In other developments, the U.K.’s National Institute of Economic and Social Research said global economic output would be around $1.5 trillion lower at the end of 2022 than had Russia not invaded Ukraine, a loss of about 1% of world gross domestic product.
In its first report on the global economic outlook since the start of the war, the institute said global activity would be diminished by higher energy and food prices as a result of the conflict, as well as by blows to household and business confidence.
The U.K.’s leading independent economic research body said it now expects the global economy to grow by 3.3% this year, having forecast a 4.2% expansion in January. For next year it sees growth of 3.2%, down from 3.5% in January.
Ukraine began reducing flows of Russian natural gas through its territory to Europe on Wednesday, introducing a new threat to the energy security of a continent already racing to sever its dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
The company that runs Ukraine’s pipeline network halted the flow of gas through a major entry point in the east of the country, blaming interference by Russian troops with critical gas infrastructure.
The Gas TSO of Ukraine shut off Russian exports through the Sokhranivka entry point on the border between the Luhansk region of Donbas and Russia. The border crossing accounts for a third of Russian gas exports through Ukraine to Europe and feeds 3% of the European Union’s overall gas consumption.
—Alistair MacDonald and Mauro Orru contributed to this article.
Write to Matthew Luxmoore at Matthew.Luxmoore@wsj.com
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Ukraine Accuses Russia of Stealing Its Grain – The Wall Street Journal