Russian President Vladimir Putin assured leaders and officials from various African countries that his nation is taking significant measures to prevent a global food crisis, despite concerns over the impact of its withdrawal from a grain shipment deal with Ukraine, which may lead to price spikes.
During the opening session of the Russia-Africa summit, attended by fewer African heads of state and government compared to the previous summit in 2019, Putin addressed the issue of the halted Black Sea grain deal and made a commitment to provide generous no-cost grain shipments to six African nations.
“We will continue supporting needy states and regions, particularly through humanitarian deliveries. Our aim is to actively contribute to building a more equitable resource distribution system, and we are exerting maximum efforts to avert a global food crisis,” Putin stated.
Over the next three to four months, Russia plans to send up to 50,000 tons of grain aid to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea, and the Central African Republic.
Notably, the Russian mercenary group Wagner has been involved in activities in Mali and the Central African Republic. Eritrea has consistently voted against more U.N. General Assembly resolutions criticizing Russia’s actions in Ukraine compared to other African nations.
Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe have their own unique issues, with Burkina Faso being seen by some observers as a potential target for Wagner and Zimbabwe holding grievances against U.S. sanctions. Somalia, while an ally of the United States, is highly vulnerable to any disruptions in grain supplies due to the conflict in Ukraine.
Both Russia and Ukraine play significant roles as grain suppliers. They previously reached a U.N.- and Turkey-brokered deal to reopen three Ukrainian Black Sea ports blocked by conflict and ensure the safety of ships entering the ports. However, Russia chose not to renew the agreement, citing delays in its own exports.
Enhancing Russian food exports to Africa aligns with Putin’s goal of strengthening ties with a continent comprising 1.3 billion people that is asserting itself increasingly on the global stage.
The Russia-Africa summit witnessed fewer heads of state in attendance this time, with South African authorities reporting that Putin declined to attend an economic summit in Johannesburg to avoid potential arrest under an International Criminal Court warrant for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
Putin announced other measures to deepen relations with Africa, including increased enrollment of African students in Russian universities, the establishment of Russian state news media bureaus in several African countries, and the proposal for a “common information space” to broadcast unbiased news to Russian and African audiences about global events.
While only 17 heads of state attended the summit, 32 other African countries were represented by senior officials or ambassadors, a decrease from the 43 heads of state who participated in the 2019 summit. The Kremlin attributed this decline to Western pressure discouraging African nations from attending.
Aside from grain-related issues, the fate of the Wagner mercenary group led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, following its brief rebellion against top military leadership last month, is likely to be discussed. This issue will be crucial for countries like Sudan and Mali that engage with Wagner in exchange for natural resources such as gold.
The summit will also address the peace proposal for Ukraine, an issue that African leaders have actively pursued.