Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday told African leaders he would gift them tens of thousands of tons of grain despite Western sanctions, which he said made it harder for Moscow to export its grain and fertilizers.
Speaking at a Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg, Putin said Russia was ready to replace Ukrainian grain exports to Africa on both a commercial and aid basis to fulfill what he said was Moscow’s critical role in global food security.
“We will be ready to provide Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic and Eritrea with 25-50,000 tonnes of free grain each in the next three to four months,” Putin told the summit, whose participants applauded.
Last year, Russia exported 60 million tonnes of grain, of which 48 million was wheat, Putin said. U.N. chief Antonio Guterres called the promised grain “a handful of donations.”
Many of the African countries Putin listed already enjoy close ties with Moscow; he omitted others in need such as Sudan and Chad.
Zimbabwe’s president said he was grateful, even though his country already had enough to ensure its own food security.
Russia held its first Africa summit in 2019 and is pushing even harder, since sending troops into Ukraine, for influence and business on a continent where its Wagner mercenary group remains active despite an abortive mutiny at home last month.
Photographs purporting to show Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin meeting African officials on the sidelines of the summit surfaced on the Telegram app on Thursday. Reuters was unable to immediately verify when and where they had been taken.
Responding to Western criticism of Moscow’s decision to quit the Black Sea grain deal, in which it allowed Ukraine to ship grain from its seaports despite the war, Putin restated his argument that a parallel memorandum promising to facilitate Russian grain and fertilizer exports had been ignored.
Comoros President Azali Assoumani, chair of the African Union, said Russia’s complaints should be listened to, the Russian state news agency RIA reported:
“I shouldn’t say that Russia is right or wrong. It acted for its own reasons; now we need to hear them in order to try to move forward.”
However, the collapse of the deal, and Russia’s bombing of the Danube river ports that Ukraine has used as a roundabout export route, have driven up global wheat prices by about 10% in the past 10 days.
“When taking out of the market millions and millions of tonnes of grains, it is clear that … will lead to higher prices,” U.N. Secretary-General Guterres told reporters.
“So it’s not with a handful of donations to some countries that we correct this dramatic impact that affects everybody, everywhere.”
Putin told the summit that over 70% of Ukrainian grain exported under the deal had gone to countries with above-average income.
the poorest countries, like Sudan, had been “screwed over” and received less than 3% of the shipments, he said, ignoring the fact that Ukrainian supply has helped keep global prices down.
Putin said Western sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation,” had even prevented Russia supplying free fertilizer to poor nations.
Russia’s grain and fertilizer exports are not subject to Western sanctions, but Moscow says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance are a barrier to shipments.
“On the one hand, Western countries are obstructing supplies of our grain and fertilizers, while on the other they hypocritically blame us for the current crisis situation on the world food market,” said Putin.
Assoumani, who shared the stage with Putin, appealed in his speech for “peaceful co-existence” between Russia and Ukraine, saying this would save the lives of those who needed their food.
Russia says 49 of Africa’s 54 states have sent representatives to St. Petersburg, including 17 heads of state and four heads of government.
Yet that is fewer than half the number of leaders who attended the 2019 summit – something the Kremlin has blamed in part on Western countries’ efforts to dissuade them from going.