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Russia making ‘maximum efforts’ to avert food crisis, Putin tells African summit

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Russia is working to avert a global food crisis, its president Vladimir Putin has told leaders and officials from most African countries.

It comes despite concerns Moscow’s withdrawal from a deal allowing grain shipments from Ukraine will cause shortages and price spikes.

Mr Putin spoke at the opening session of a two-day Russia-Africa summit attended by a sharply lower number of African heads of state and government compared with a previous summit in 2019.

He said on Thursday: “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.

“I have already said that our country can replace Ukrainian grain, both on a commercial basis and as grant aid to the neediest African countries, more so since we expect another record harvest this year.”

Russia intends to ship up to 50,000 tons of grain aid to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea and the Central African Republic in the next three to four months, Mr Putin said.

The Russian mercenary group Wagner has been active in Mali and Central African Republic, and Eritrea has voted against more UN General Assembly resolutions criticising Russia’s invasion than any other African nation.

Burkina Faso is seen by some observers as a likely next target for Wagner, and Zimbabwe has long been bitter about US sanctions against it. Somalia, while a US ally, is often held up as an African country most affected by any restrictions on grain supplies related to the conflict in Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine agreed a year ago on a UN and Turkey-brokered deal that reopened three Ukrainian Black Sea ports that had been blocked by Russia-Ukraine fighting and provided assurances that ships entering the ports would not be attacked.

Russia declined to renew the agreement this month, complaining its own exports were being held up.

Both Russia and Ukraine are major grain suppliers.

Promising Russian food exports to Africa is key to Mr Putin’s stated goal of using the summit to bolster ties with a continent of 1.3 billion people that is increasingly assertive on the global stage.

Mr Putin also announced other moves to deepen relations with Africa, including increased enrolment of African students in Russian universities, the opening of Russian state news media bureaus in many African countries and a proposed “common information space in Russia and Africa, within which objective, unbiased information about events taking place in the world will be broadcast to Russian and African audiences”.

Vladimir Putin, right, and Mozambique president Filipe Nyusi arrive for a meeting on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Summit

Africa’s 54 nations make up the largest voting bloc at the United Nations and have been more divided than any other region on General Assembly resolutions criticising Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

This is the second Russia-Africa summit since 2019.

The number of heads of state attending has dropped from 43 three years ago to 17 now because of what the Kremlin described as crude western pressure to discourage African nations from taking part.

Mr Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said that while only 17 heads of state are attending the summit, 32 other African countries are represented by senior officials or ambassadors.

Along with grain, another issue likely to be on the agenda is the fate of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group led by Yevgeny Prigozhin following its brief rebellion against the top military leadership last month.

Wagner’s future will be an urgent issue for countries such as Sudan, Mali and others who have deals with the mercenary group.

Russian officials and Mr Prigozhin have said the company will continue working in Africa.

A peace proposal for Ukraine that African leaders have tried to pursue is set to be discussed as well.

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