Grain supply tops agenda of Putin-African Union talks

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted African Union Chairman Senegalese President Macky Sall on Friday for talks that are expected to focus on how to block grain supplies amid fighting in Ukraine.

African countries imported 44% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine between 2018 and 2020, according to UN figures, and wheat prices have soared around 45% due to the supply disruption, according to the African Development Bank.

“Africa has no control over production or logistics chains and is totally at the mercy of the situation,” Sall said recently.

Russia, the world’s largest wheat exporter, has urged the West to lift sanctions imposed for its military action in Ukraine so that the grain begins to flow freely to world markets. While food and fertilizers are exempt, the sanctions have targeted Russian shipping and made international shipping companies reluctant to transport Russian cargo.

According to the Kremlin, Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in a call last week that Moscow “is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizers provided that politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted.”

Britain last week accused Russia of “trying to hold the world to ransom” by demanding relief from Western sanctions to allow grain exports.

Putin hailed Russia’s warm ties with African nations in brief televised remarks at the start of his talks with Sall in Sochi, but did not mention grain exports.

For his part, Sall, in his opening speech, sided with the Kremlin that Western sanctions have exacerbated grain and fertilizer shortages, threatening global food security.

Ukraine is also one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil. Ukrainian authorities and the West have accused Russia of blockading Ukrainian ports to stop exports, endangering the world’s food supply. Russia denied blocking Ukrainian ports and called on Ukraine to remove the mines to allow safe shipping.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin would give Sall a “detailed explanation of his view of the situation with Ukrainian grain” and “explain again what is happening there, which undermined the ports , what needs to be done to allow the flow of grain to resume”. .” Peskov again insisted that Russia was not blockading ports.

The Russian military has offered corridors to allow foreign ships to safely leave ports along the Black Sea. Ukraine said it was ready to agree on safe corridors in principle, but expressed concern that Russia could use them to attack Odessa and other Ukrainian ports.

“The mines laid by the Ukrainian armed forces are hampering the export of grain, nothing else,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during Friday’s briefing. “After clearing the maritime area, we will be ready to ensure the safe export of grain, including the escort of transport vessels to the international waters of the Black Sea.”

The supply chain problems caused by the fighting in Ukraine come when large parts of Africa were already struggling with drought and other problems.

Senegal was one of 17 African countries that abstained from voting on the UN resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine. Sall said at Friday’s meeting he told Putin that many African countries did not condemn Russia’s action in Ukraine despite what he described as strong pressure to do so.

The United Nations has warned that 18 million people face severe famine in the Sahel, the part of Africa just below the Sahara Desert where farmers face their worst agricultural output in more than a decade. Another 13 million people are facing severe famine in the Horn of Africa region due to persistent drought.

As the conflict in Ukraine now enters its fourth month, world leaders have stepped up calls for solutions. World Trade Organization Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said about 25 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain is in storage and another 25 million tonnes could be harvested next month.

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