French President Emmanuel Macron told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to remove weapons and troops stationed next to a Ukrainian nuclear plant amid growing international concerns about a potential catastrophe.

During the September 11 call, Macron also urged the Russian leader to fulfill a UN-brokered deal on Ukrainian grain exports to ensure they reached nations most in need.

Russian forces seized the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant, the largest in Europe, following Putin’s decision to launch an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

They have used the plant to shell Ukrainian positions, leading some in the West to accuse Moscow of nuclear blackmail.

During the call, Putin tried to put the blame on Ukraine, claiming it was firing on the plant, according to a Kremlin readout of their interaction.

Macron, however, told Putin that the main risk of a nuclear catastrophe emanates from the presence of Russian troops and weapons at the plant.

He called on the Russian leader to remove the troops along with heavy and light weapons stationed nearby, the French statement said.

The two leaders expressed readiness for a “nonpoliticized interaction” on the matter with the participation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Kremlin statement said.

Operations at the plant were fully stopped on September 11 as a safety measure.

Macron also called on Putin to fulfill the agreement between Moscow and Kyiv on Ukrainian grain exports brokered by the UN and Turkey in July.

Russian warships had been blocking exports from Ukraine, one of the world’s top suppliers of grain to foreign markets, causing a sharp spike in food prices that threatened millions of people in poor nations with starvation.

Putin hinted last week at backtracking on the deal, claiming the grain is failing to reach poorer countries as intended despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Grain prices have tumbled since the deal was reached, easing economic pressures on poor countries.

During the call with Macron, Putin also complained Western sanctions were hindering supplies of Russian food and fertilizers to Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, according to the Kremlin readout.

However, Europe and the United States did not target either Russian grain or fertilizers for sanctions.

James O’Brien, head of the State Department’s Office of Sanctions Coordination, said last week that Washington sees “no disruption” in Russia’s ability to send food to world markets.

“The fertilizer is still reaching markets at the same rate that it always has,” he told reporters on September 9.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

By pr.web