The head of the African Union, Senegalese President Macky Sall, held talks with President Vladimir Putin in the southwestern Russian city of Sochi on Friday.
The visit was aimed at “freeing up stocks of cereals and fertilisers, the blockage of which particularly affects African countries”, along with easing the Ukraine conflict. Sall’s office said.
The war in Ukraine has sent the cost of fuel, grain and fertilisers skyrocketing around the globe, which is being acutely felt in African nations.
Both Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of wheat and other cereals to Africa, while Russia is a key producer of fertiliser.
The UN said last month Africa faces an “unprecedented” crisis caused by the war, compounding difficulties facing the continent, from climate change to the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier last week, Sall made an appeal to European Union leaders to help ease the crisis on key commodities.
He said their decision to expel Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system could hurt food supplies to the continent.
“When the SWIFT system is disrupted, it means that even if the products exist, payment becomes complicated, if not impossible,” Sall said via video-link.
“I would like to insist that this issue be examined as soon as possible by our competent ministers in order to find appropriate solutions,” he added.
Sall acknowledged that Russia’s blockade of Odessa had harmed Ukrainian food exports, and he backed UN-led efforts to free the port.
After the meeting Sall tweeted that Putin “expressed his availability to facilitate the export of Ukrainian cereals,” even as Russia has bombarded or blockaded Ukraine’s Black Sea ports like Kherson, Mariupol and Odesa since the beginning of its invasion in February. Around 20 million tons of cereals are stuck in the country.
The United Nations and Turkey are attempting to broker a deal with Russia and Ukraine to create protected shipping corridors to allow grain ships to leave those ports, but it’s unclear if those efforts will succeed.
Sall met Putin alongside Moussa Faki Mahamat, the African Union Commission chairperson, who referred to the “historical, strong fraternal relations” between Russia and Africa.
Russia has come under a barrage of sanctions from the West following the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, in a bid to punish Moscow for the military intervention.
The visit was organised after an invitation by Putin.