Russia’s Ministry of Defense claimed on Tuesday that it had opened a land corridor to Russian-occupied Crimea, allowing civilians and goods to pass through the eastern Ukrainian territory now under its control.
Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu said in a conference call on Tuesday that the military, working with Russian Railways, had restored 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) of train tracks and opened roads to allow “full-fledged traffic” between Russia, eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region and Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russian forces from Ukraine in 2014. The supply of water through the North Crimean Canal — a lifeline for Crimea — had also resumed, Shoigu said.
According to an official readout of the call, Shoigu said the land corridor allowed Russia to begin delivering goods to Mariupol, Berdiansk and Kherson, southeastern Ukrainian port cities that have been seized by Russia since it launched its invasion in late February.
He claimed the Mariupol and Berdiansk ports were operating normally and were ready to ship grain, amid international condemnation over Russia’s months-long blockade of key ports that has left millions of tons of grain languishing in Ukraine.
As instructed by Supreme Commander (Russian President Vladimir Putin), we are ready to load grain in the ports,” Shoigu said.
Earlier Tuesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov restated that Ukraine must de-mine the coastal waters for grain ships to pass and ensured Russia will facilitate their passage and won’t use the de-mined sea corridors to attack Ukraine.
“President Putin… said that Ukraine should de-mine the approaches to the ports, which will allow the ships, after being checked by our military to ensure that the ships do not import weapons, to enter the port, load with grain and then, if necessary, even with our help, proceed to the international waters,” Peskov told reporters on a regular conference call.
Some background: The minister’s comments come as global leaders have condemned a months-long blockade by Russian forces at key ports in Ukraine — including Mariupol on the Sea of Azov and Odesa on the Black Sea — which has left more than 20 million tons of grain stuck inside the country. In a UN Security Council speech Monday, European Council President Charles Michel accused the Kremlin of “using food supplies as a stealth missile against developing countries” by holding hostage millions of tons of Ukrainian grain and blockading Ukraine’s ports.
CNN’s Sana Noor Haq, Eliza Mackintosh, Maegan Vazquez and Sam Fossum contributed reporting to this post.