Trucks with grain wait for crossing the Ukraine-Moldova border in Odesa region, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, Ukraine June 11, 2022.
Trucks with grain wait for crossing the Ukraine-Moldova border in Odesa region, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, Ukraine June 11, 2022. Reuters / STRINGER

Temporary silos on Ukraine's border would be intended to prevent Russia from stealing Ukrainian grain and make sure the country's winter harvest is not lost due to a lack of storage, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Thursday.

But, during a visit to the United Nations, Vilsack stressed that reviving shipments from Ukraine's Black Sea ports was the most effective and efficient way to export grain and urged Russia to take U.N.-led talks on the issue "seriously."

"We know of circumstances and situations where that has occurred - Russians having taken grain from Ukrainian farmers. So to the extent that we can get it out of the country, that is a plus that reduces the risk of loss," Vilsack told reporters.

Russia, which invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, denies stealing Ukrainian grain. U.S. satellite imagery company Maxar Technologies said on Thursday that Russian-flagged ships have been transporting Ukrainian grain to Russian ally Syria over the last couple of months.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that temporary silos would be built along the border with Ukraine in an effort to help export more grain and address a growing global food crisis. Vilsack did not give any further details on U.S. involvement.

"We would like to see the ports open because that's the most efficient, most effective way to transport that grain, but it's still going to take time even if the port is open. So you still have to have a place to put the grain," said Vilsack.

He said extra storage was also needed because Ukraine would shortly be harvesting its crop sown during the winter.

Since Russia's invasion and ports blockade, Ukrainian grain shipments have stalled, and more than 20 million tonnes are stuck in silos. The war is stoking a global food crisis with soaring prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia on Thursday said Russia was not responsible and instead blamed Western government policies for triggering a food and energy crisis.

The United Nations is trying to broker a deal to resume Ukraine exports and Russian food and fertilizer exports, which Moscow says are harmed by sanctions.

The United States and the European Union have said Russian food and fertilizer are not sanctioned. But they have pledged to clarify and reassure companies involved in such Russian exports.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that the "easiest way" to reopen Ukraine's ports was for Russia to stop the war.

He also noted: "Military risks to commercial navigation in the area inevitably drive up the cost of insurance and transport further fuelling the current crisis."

Russia on Wednesday said it has offered "safe passage" for Ukraine grain shipments from Black Sea ports but is not responsible for establishing the corridors, and Turkey suggested that ships could be guided around sea mines.

Ukraine fears that de-mining its ports would leave it far more vulnerable to Russian attack from the Black Sea.