Russia has signalled it is willing to allow bulkers to resume grain shipments from Ukraine.
The government will provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food in return for the lifting of some sanctions, the Interfax news agency cited Russian deputy foreign minister Andrei Rudenko as saying.
Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have been blocked since the invasion began in February.
More than 20m tonnes of grain are stuck in silos in the country, raising concerns about famine in countries dependent on the supplies, The Guardian reported.
“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,” Rudenko was quoted as saying.
“And it also requires the de-mining 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.
Russia and Ukraine account for almost a third of global wheat supplies.
The Russian government is in touch with the United Nations (UN) on the issue, Rudenko said.
But he warned against any possible escort by Western ships of vessels carrying grain, saying that it would “seriously exacerbate the situation in the Black Sea”.
Rudenko also denied reports in the Western media that Russian forces are stealing grain from Ukrainian ports.
“We completely reject this. We don’t steal anything from anyone,” he told reporters.
CNN previously published satellite photos allegedly confirming that Russia is exporting grain from Ukraine through Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow illegally annexed in 2014.
Earlier in May, it was reported that the UN was trying to negotiate a reopening of Ukraine’s ports to avert a potential global food crisis.
Secretary general Antonio Guterres was attempting to broker a deal with Russia to restart grain exports.
The possibility was raised of easing sanctions restricting Russian and Belarusian exports of potash fertiliser.
Who is willing to take the risk?
Huge premiums would presumably be on offer for bulker owners willing to make the run into Ukraine.
But companies will be wary of the risks and aware of how quickly the situation could change.
A number of vessels and crews were stranded in Ukrainian ports when war broke out in February.
Ukraine exported 41.5m tonnes of corn and wheat in the 2020/2021 season, more than 95% of it shipped through the Black Sea.
The UN is concerned that rising prices and potential food shortages could have a devastating effect on poorer countries.
Wheat prices have been at record levels since the war began.