Putin, African Union head meet Friday to discuss food crisis

Talks are expected to focus on grain supplies and political cooperation amid Russia’s standoff with the West over Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will host the head of the African Union for talks focused on grain supplies and political cooperation amid Kremlin’s standoff with the West over Ukraine.

Washington and Brussels have imposed unprecedented sanctions against Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine, pushing Putin to seek new markets and strengthen ties with countries in Africa and Asia.

Cereal prices in Africa, the world’s poorest continent, have surged because of the slump in exports from Ukraine, sharpening the impact of conflict and climate change and sparking fears of social unrest.

On Friday, Putin will receive Senegalese President Macky Sall, who chairs the African Union, at his Black Sea residence in Sochi.

The visit is aimed at “freeing up stocks of cereals and fertilisers, the blockage of which particularly affects African countries”, along with easing the Ukraine conflict, Sall’s office said on Thursday.

Sall will be accompanied by the president of the African Union Commission.

The Kremlin said talks would address “issues of Russia’s interaction with the African Union, including the expansion of political dialogue, economic and humanitarian cooperation”.

“The current international agenda” will also be discussed, it added.

Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine and a barrage of international sanctions on Russia have disrupted supplies of fertiliser, wheat and other commodities from both countries, pushing up prices for food and fuel, especially in developing nations.

‘Unprecedented crisis’

Ships loaded with grain remain blocked in Ukraine, which before February was a leading exporter of corn and wheat and alone accounted for 50 percent of world trade in sunflower seeds and oil.

Putin has said Moscow is ready to look for ways to ship grain stuck in Ukrainian ports but has demanded the West lift sanctions.

Food prices in Africa have already exceeded those in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings and 2008 food riots.

The UN has said Africa faces an “unprecedented” crisis caused by the conflict.

Sall earlier urged European Union leaders to help ease the crisis on key commodities and said their decision to expel Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system could hurt food supplies to the continent.

Sall, however, acknowledged Russia’s blockade of the Ukrainian city of Odesa had harmed food exports, and backed UN-led efforts to free the port.

In 2019, Putin hosted dozens of African leaders in Sochi in a bid to reassert Russia’s influence on the continent.

Though never a colonial power in Africa, Moscow was a crucial player on the continent in the Soviet era, backing independence movements and training a generation of African leaders.

Russia’s ties with Africa declined with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and in recent years, China has emerged as a key foreign power on the continent.

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