Russia making 'maximum effort' to avert food crisis, Vladimir Putin says

Russia-Africa co-operation meeting to be held on Thursday and Friday

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed before the summit in St Petersburg. EPA
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Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is making "maximum effort" to avert a global food crisis after Russia's withdrawal from a deal that enabled grain export from Ukraine.

“Our country will continue supporting needy states and regions, in particular, with its humanitarian deliveries. We seek to actively participate in building a fairer system of distribution of resources. We are taking maximum efforts to avert a global food crisis,” Mr Putin said.

He was speaking during the opening of a two-day Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg, with 17 heads of African states in attendance.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative is expected to top the agenda, after Russia terminated the deal last week in protest at western sanctions.

The deal, which began in July last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, allowed about 33 million tonnes of grain to be safely exported from Ukraine through the Black Sea during the conflict, from three ports still under Ukrainian control.

A grain port in Izmail, Ukraine. AP

Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s largest exporters of wheat and together accounted for about 20 per cent of global exports.

The war caused grain prices to soar, placing fragile countries – particularly in Africa – at risk of hunger. There are fears a new surge in food prices will occur after the end of the Black Sea deal.

Russia, meanwhile, has made assurances that its grain will reach African markets and offered grain exports as aid during global food price inflation.

But there are question marks over the security of all grain exports from the Black Sea region after Ukraine threatened to attack commercial shipping heading to Russia, in response to a Russian threat to attack commercial ships bound for Ukraine.

Russia is also expected to highlight other issues including energy co-operation with several states, including Egypt and Ethiopia, already discussed at a Wednesday meeting between Mr Putin, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, praising their joint energy projects.

Russia is a major exporter of arms to African countries, building on a historic relationship dating back to the Cold War, when the West and its rival Warsaw Pact, led by Russia, sought to influence African leaders, often fuelling bloody civil wars in the process.

Those exports have been curtailed since the Ukraine war however, amid harsh western sanctions that threaten countries buying the weapons.

"It is important that in recent years our co-operation with Africa has reached a new level. We intend to further develop it," Mr Putin said in a welcome letter to participants of the summit.

26 Aug 2011, Russia --- Saint Petersburg --- Image by © Jose Fuste Raga/Corbis

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will be among the notable attendees.

The Kremlin has accused western countries of trying to prevent African states from participating in the summit.

Mr Putin is expected to conduct bilateral talks with his counterparts on the sidelines and will deliver an address at the plenary session.

Blinken cautions allies

In the speech he will discuss his vision of Russia-Africa ties and the "formation of a new world order", according to Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed African leaders attending the summit to demand answers about the grain disruptions that have pushed poorer nations towards crisis.

"They know exactly who's to blame for this current situation," Mr Blinken said of the leaders.

"My expectation would be that Russia will hear this clearly from our African partners," he said on Thursday during a visit to New Zealand.

Moscow has sought to reassure African partners, saying it understands their concerns about the issue and is ready to export grain free to African countries that need it.

Mr Putin will also discuss Ukraine during a working lunch with a group of African heads of state on Friday, the Kremlin said.

Representatives of African states continued to arrive in the former imperial capital ahead of the summit, including delegations from Mozambique and Libya, Russian state news agency Tass said on Thursday.

Since the start of the Ukraine offensive, Russia has sought to strengthen diplomatic and security ties with Africa.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been on two tours of the continent so far this year, trying to win over leaders to Moscow's side by emphasising Russia's stand against western "imperialism".

The summit in Saint Petersburg comes a month ahead of a summit of leaders of the Brics countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) due to take place in Johannesburg.

South Africa has said that Mr Putin, who is the subject of an international arrest warrant for his actions in Ukraine, will not be attending in person.

Updated: July 27, 2023, 2:43 PM