According to the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is meeting with African Union officials, would assure them that Moscow is not to blame for the continent’s mounting food problem.
Putin was seen on state television greeting AU Chairman Macky Sall and AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat at the opening of meetings in the southern Russian resort of Sochi on Friday.
During the country’s 100-day war, Russia’s army has taken much of Ukraine’s southern coastline, and its warships restrict access to the country’s Black Sea ports. However, it continues to blame Ukraine and the West for the stop in Ukrainian grain exports that has resulted.
“With a high degree of probability and confidence, I can assume that the president will give exhaustive explanations of his vision of the situation with Ukrainian grain,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“The president will tell our African friends the real state of affairs,” Peskov said. “He will explain once again what is happening there, who has mined the ports, what is needed for grain to go, that no one on the Russian side is blocking these ports.”
African countries are acutely affected by the growing crisis, which has sent prices of grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertiliser soaring.
Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, while Russia is also a key global fertiliser exporter and Ukraine is a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.
Moscow has blamed the situation on all the naval mines floating near Ukrainian ports and on Western sanctions which are hitting its own grain and fertiliser exports because of the impact on shipping, banking and insurance.
Russia has said it is ready to allow vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine in return for the lifting of some sanctions, a proposal that Ukraine has described as “blackmail”.
In opening comments at Friday’s meeting, Putin made no reference to the food crisis but spoke in general terms of Moscow’s desire to develop ties with Africa, saying trade turnover had risen by more than 34 percent in the first few months of this year.