Russian Minister Sidesteps Inquiry: 'What Stolen Goods' Have Been Sold?

A Ukrainian journalist needled Russia's top diplomat with a pointed question accusing his government of plundering grains and other goods from Ukraine.

Muslim Umerov, a journalist with Ukrainian public television, on Wednesday confronted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over reports that Russia has stolen agricultural products and other valuables from Ukraine during its invasion of the country. The unscripted moment came during a press conference in Turkey on talks to resume grain shipments from Ukraine that humanitarian groups say are needed to prevent food shortages.

Lavrov was in Ankara, Turkey, for talks on how to discuss plans for allowing shipments of grain out of Ukraine. A major exporter of wheat and corn, United Nations officials have complained that Russia has blocked ports in occupied parts of the Ukraine, preventing millions of tons of grain from reaching markets in Africa and the Middle East.

Toward the end of the press conference with Lavrov and Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, Umerov was recognized to ask a question.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
At a press conference in Turkey, Ukrainian public television journalist Muslim Umerov confronted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov regarding reports that Russia has stolen agricultural products and other valuables from Ukraine during the invasion. Above, Lavrov speaks in Ankara, Turkey, after meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on June 8, 2022. ADEM ALTAN/Getty Images

"So aside from the grains products, what did Russia steal from the Ukraine?" Umerov asked. "What did they sell in the markets?"

Lavrov dismissed the question, and instead repeated the Kremlin's justification for the invasion of Ukraine that it's seeking to "liberate" the country from a "neo-Nazi regime," a rationale rejected by Western powers.

"So with regards to grains, there is no obstacle or challenge posed by the Russian Federation," added Lavrov, referring to Russia's official name.

Russia has called on Ukraine to remove mines from the Black Sea to safely allow grain exports. Lavrov said during the press conference that allowing grain shipments was up to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Earlier in the war, Russian troops have been accused of looting during its invasion of Ukraine.

More recently, U.S. officials have warned African countries facing rising food prices against buying potentially stolen grain from Russian ships.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month said there are from 20 million to 25 million tons of grain in silos that can't be moved to ships because of Russia's occupation. The blockade means an additional 40 million people are food insecure, he said.

Vasyl Bodnar, Ukraine's ambassador to Ankara, accused Turkey of buying stolen grain ahead of Lavrov's visit.

Turkey has signaled support of Russia's plan to resume grain exports. That's created a difficult situation for the U.S., which must balance relations with the NATO member and its goal of keeping economic pressure on Russia.

Newsweek has reached out to the Ukrainian government for comment.