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African leaders press Putin on grain deal, end to Ukraine hostilities

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Picture: TASS host photo agency via REUTERS Russian President Vladimir Putin and some of the participants in the Russia-Africa summit pose for a group photo in Saint Petersburg, Russia, yesterday. While prices of fertiliser and grain have skyrocketed, Putin maintains that Western “mistakes” in the form of monetary stimulus were at the root of the problem, the writers say.

By AFP and Reuters

African leaders pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday to move ahead with their peace plan to end the Ukraine war and renew a deal on the export of Ukrainian grain that Moscow ended last week. While not directly critical of Russia, their interventions on day two of a Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg served as reminders to Putin of the depth of African concern at the consequences of the war, especially for food prices.

However, Putin rejected suggestions yesterday that Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine was responsible for high global food prices, saying Western “mistakes” in the form of monetary stimulus were at the root of the problem. He asserted to the Russia-Africa summit that the US and the EU had printed money to buy food as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and that “prices rocketed”.

Putin appeared to be referring to the policy of “quantitative easing” to help major Western economies function under the social and economic disruption of the pandemic. He also said the West had neglected investment in hydrocarbons: “One mistake led to another, it upended markets.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged Russia to revive the Black Sea grain deal (which collapsed last week) in which it had allowed Ukraine to export grain from its seaports despite the war. Sisi told the delegates at the summit that it was “essential to reach an agreement” on reviving the deal, which Russia quit because it said Ukraine and the West were failing to hold up their end of the bargain. Egypt is one of the key buyers of Black Sea grains.

Russia last week refused to extend a deal under which Ukrainian grain exports passed through the Black Sea to reach global markets, including Africa, easing pressure on food prices. In a keynote address at the summit, Putin said Russia could “substitute Ukrainian grain” and promised to send grain to six African countries as he launched the summit. “In the coming months we will be able to ensure free supplies of 25,000 to 50,000 tons of grain to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic and Eritrea,” Putin said.

Over a year, the Black Sea grain deal allowed about 33 million tons of grain to leave Ukrainian ports, helping to stabilise global food prices and avert shortages. Since the suspension of the agreement attacks have intensified on the southern Odesa region home to Ukraine’s ports – where the Russian army said it hit military infrastructure.

Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was attending the summit, said he hoped that some aspects of Africa’s peace plan for Ukraine will be discussed. He thanked Putin for receiving an African delegation in June which proposed a peace plan. Mali President Assimi Goita thanked Putin yesterday for support in fighting “terrorism”. Goita also said he was grateful to Russia for its proposals on grain supplies to Africa.

In another show of camaraderie, Putin gifted the president of Zimbabwe a helicopter, Harare said on Thursday, as the Russian leader courts the backing of African leaders in Saint Petersburg. – Reuters and AFP