US missiles could end Putin's food blockade

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Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, spoke to the UN about food security in Ukraine on Thursday - David Dee Delgado
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, spoke to the UN about food security in Ukraine on Thursday - David Dee Delgado

The United States is considering sending Ukraine advanced anti-ship missiles to sink Russian war vessels in the Black Sea and end the Kremlin’s naval food blockade.

US officials said sea-skimming Harpoon and Naval Strike Missiles [NSMs] could be dispatched, either directly, or by European allies equipped with them.

A handful of nations were said to be open to sending Harpoons, which have a range of up to almost 300km, but there was hesitation over being the first to do so amid concerns over escalation.

Vladimir Putin has been blocking Ukrainian ports to stop grain and other produce leaving the so-called “breadbasket of Europe”, triggering a global food crisis.

The UN urged Russia to end the blockade and warned rising global food prices could lead to “mass hunger and famine”.

Officials in the key Ukrainian port of Odesa told The Telegraph Putin was trying to starve the world’s poorest people.

'Craven and reckless'

Ala Stoyanova, the deputy governor of the city, said: “It is his aim, I think, to make these poor countries starve from hunger without this grain.

“When he blocks our ports, by this means he is blackmailing the world.”

Boris Johnson branded the blockade “craven and reckless” and said he had “significant concerns”.

In a call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday, they discussed how to reopen “critical sea and land supply” chains.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said: “The food supply for millions of Ukrainians, and millions more around the world, has quite literally been held hostage by the Russian military.”

Moscow said it would only lift the blockade if sanctions imposed on Russia were dropped.

About 20 Russian Navy vessels, including submarines, are in the Black Sea, and Ukraine has pleaded for advanced anti-ship weaponry.

It has already sunk Russia’s Black Sea flagship, the Moskva.

One “well stocked” ally was said to be considering sending the missiles first and, once it did, others may follow, US officials said.

A Downing Street source said the UK was committed to sending more “shore to ship” missiles to Ukraine, and believed they would be required to resolve the blockade. However, a government source confirmed Britain is not considering sending the Harpoon missiles.

Previously, there have been US concerns about retaliation, and that anti-ship missile equipment could be captured by the Russian military.

The weapons can also require lengthy training to use, and be difficult to maintain.

But Bryan Clark, a naval expert at the Hudson Institute in Washington, said sending less than two dozen missiles could cause Russia to lift the blockade.

He said: “Ukraine could take out the largest Russian ships since they have nowhere to hide in the Black Sea.”

Naval Strike Missiles could be launched from Ukraine’s coast with a range of 250km, with ground launchers supplied by Nato allies, US officials said.

The development came as Joe Biden publicly dismissed objections by Turkey to the attempts of Finland and Sweden to join Nato.

Mark Milley,  America’s top general and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov, for the first time since the Russian invasion began on February 24.

And the World Health Organization urged Russia to ensure safe access to areas of Ukraine it controls, or is besieging.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, spoke with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, and told him: “Civilians must be protected.”

It came as the US Senate overwhelmingly approved nearly $40 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

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