(LANKAPUVATH | COLOMBO) –US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that Russia’s restriction on Ukrainian grain exports may have contributed to Sri Lanka’s turmoil and voiced fear it could spur other crises.
“We’re seeing the impact of this Russian aggression playing out everywhere. It may have contributed to the situation in Sri Lanka; we’re concerned about the implications around the world,” Blinken told reporters in Bangkok.
Renewing a demand that he has made repeatedly, Blinken called on Russia to let an estimated 20 million tonnes of grain leave Ukraine, which Moscow invaded in February.
“What we are seeing around the world is growing food insecurity that has been significantly exacerbated by the Russian aggression against Ukraine,” Blinken said.
He said there was also an impact in Thailand where fertiliser prices have “gone sky high” due to the blockade.
“That’s significant especially in a vibrant farming country like Thailand, because in the absence of fertiliser, we know that means that next year yields will go down, prices potentially will go up,” Blinken said.
Sri Lanka has been wracked by weeks of turmoil triggered by severe shortages of food and fuel.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed to step down after protesters broke into his official residence on Saturday.
Blinken on Sunday urged Sri Lanka’s leaders to quickly find long-term solutions to the nation’s economic and political crisis.
“We would urge the Sri Lankan parliament to approach this with a commitment to the betterment of the country, not any one political party,” Blinken said of the upcoming exit of Rajapaksa, who had a rocky relationship with the United States.
“It’s incumbent on the government — whether it’s a new constitutionally selected government or existing government — to work quickly to try to identify and implement solutions that will bring back the prospect of long-term economic stability,” Blinken told reporters during a visit to Bangkok.
Such solutions must address “people’s discontent, which is so powerful and palpable over the worsening economic conditions,” he said.
He warned against attacks on protesters or journalists, saying Sri Lankans have “a right to protest, to peacefully raise their voices”.
“At the same time, we call for a full investigation, arrest and prosecution of anyone involved in any protest-related violence,” he added.