International

Africans are victims of Ukraine war – AU head tells Putin

African countries are innocent victims of the war in Ukraine and Russia should help ease their suffering, the head of the African Union has told Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Russia.

Macky Sall said during discussions in Sochi that Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to make it easier to export wheat and fertilizer, but he didn’t elaborate.

Mr Putin denied that Moscow was impeding grain exports from Ukrainian ports.

Russia and Ukraine often supply more than 40% of the wheat consumed in Africa.

However, since the crisis began, Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have been mostly closed to exports. Ukraine has mined the ports to thwart a Russian amphibious attack, and Kyiv and its supporters blame Moscow for the blockade.

“Famine will occur if those ports are not opened,” UN crisis coordinator Amin Awad said in Geneva.

A food shortfall, he claimed, could affect 1.4 billion people and result in mass exodus.

The war has exacerbated already existing shortages in Africa caused by bad harvests and insecurity. Food prices have shot up across the continent since Russia invaded Ukraine 100 days ago, pushing huge numbers towards hunger.

The head of the World Food Programme, Mike Dunford, said more than 80 million people were acutely food insecure, acutely hungry in Africa – up from about 50 million people this time last year.

Chad has declared a national food emergency. A third of the population needs food aid, according to the UN and the government has appealed for international assistance. Mr Sall, who is Senegal’s president, told Mr Putin he should be “aware that our countries, even if they are far from the theatre [of action], are victims of this economic crisis”.

He said he was also arguing on behalf of various Asian, Middle Eastern, and Latin American governments.

Mr Putin stated that Russia was prepared to ensure the secure transport of Ukrainian grain through its ports on the Azov and Black seas. He believes that lifting sanctions on Belarus, a strong Russian ally, would be the greatest approach for getting the grain there.

According to some observers, the Kremlin is anticipating that an impending food crisis would put political pressure on the West by causing large new refugee flows to Europe from food-insecure Middle Eastern and African nations.

Mr Putin stated before Friday’s summit that he is always on Africa’s side, although he did not specifically raise the continent’s food issue.

Senegal, like many African nations, has avoided taking sides in the crisis, and its president has stated that food supplies should be “outside” of the West’s sanctions against Russia. He stated that he had made this point to the European Council earlier this week.

Last Friday, US Vice President Joe Biden refuted the notion that the West was to blame for worldwide price increases.

“This is a price increase imposed by Putin.” Because Ukraine and Russia are two of the world’s biggest bread baskets for wheat and maize, the base commodity for so many cuisines throughout the world, Putin’s conflict has boosted food prices, he added.

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