Russia is sending grain stolen from farmers in occupied areas of Ukraine to the Middle East via Crimea, according to a 27 June BBC report.
Having talked to farmers and analysed satellite images and shipping data to track, the BBC said there was plenty of evidence to show that stolen grain was first going to Crimea – which Russia annexed in 2014 – via two key entry points at Chonhar and Armiansk.
“They take grain to the annexed Crimea first, where they transport it to Kerch or Sevastopol [ports], then they load Ukrainian grain on Russian ships and go to the Kerch Strait,” the BBC quoted Andrii Klymenko, an expert at the Institute for Black Sea Strategic Studies in Kyiv, as saying.
“There, in the Kerch Strait [between Crimea and Russia], they transfer Ukrainian grain from small ships on to bulk carriers, where it is mixed with grain from Russia – or in some cases, they sail to this area just to give the appearance they are loading up with Russian grain.”
He added that the grain was then exported with Russian certificates to show that it was Russian grain. Ships then often headed on to Syria or Turkey.
Lloyd's List Intelligence said in the BBC report that the vessels had used “deceptive” sailing practices - switching off their on-board trackers when entering the Black Sea or moving around the Kerch Strait near Crimea. When their trackers come back online, the ships were sailing south and many reported a lower depth in the water, suggesting they had taken on cargo during the blackout.
The BBC said that while early reports were of theft of grain by Russian forces, it had conducted separate investigations which showed that in some cases, the Russians were forcing farmers to sell their grain at prices well below markets rates.
“The farmers say they have to accept the low prices as they have no alternative and need to buy fuel and pay workers,” the BBC wrote.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said the claims that stolen Ukrainian grain was being shipped to Turkey had been investigated and, to date, no evidence had been found, according to the report.
“We saw that the ships’ port of departure and the origin of the goods is Russia on the records,” the BBC quoted Cavusoglu as saying.