HAMBURG, GERMANY — A German government official is saying Russian attacks on Ukraine’s grain infrastructure appear to be attempts to diminish competition in Russian export markets, Reuters reported.

German Agriculture Minister Cem Oezdemir said reports are surfacing of targeted attacks on grain silos, fertilizer stores, farming areas and infrastructure, according to Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland, a cooperation network of German regional newspapers. Russia has denied targeting civilian areas. 

However, suspicion is growing that Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking “in the long term to remove Ukraine as a competitor,” Oezdemir was quoted as saying.

Russia, the world’s top wheat exporter, invaded Ukraine, the No. 5 exporter, on Feb. 24. The two nations combined for about 29% of global wheat exports, and the war has devastated Ukraine’s ability to harvest and export its share this year. 

Ukraine could lose tens of millions of tonnes of grain due to Russia’s blockade of its Black Sea ports, triggering a food crisis that will hit Europe, Asia and Africa, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said May 1. The Ukraine Agriculture Ministry has also accused Russian invading forces of stealing “several hundred thousand tonnes” of grain in territory they hold.

Global wheat prices have risen about 40% since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine cut supplies available on world markets from the Black Sea. According to International Grains Council data , Ukraine, also a major producer of corn, sold 44.7 million tonnes of grain abroad in 2020-21. The volume of exports has fallen sharply since the Russian invasion.

Oezdemir said he would raise the question of how Ukraine could be helped to boost its grain exports at a meeting of G7 agriculture ministers in mid-May.