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Putin promises African leaders free grain, blasts 'hypocritical' Western sanctions

Attendees gather for the plenary session of the second Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg (TASS Host Photo Agency via AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told a summit of African leaders he would gift them tens of thousands of tons of grain within months despite sanctions by the United States and other Western states.

Speaking at a summit on Thursday in St Petersburg devoted to Russian-African ties, Putin said Russia was expecting a record grain harvest and was ready to replace Ukrainian grain exports to Africa on both a commercial and aid basis to honor Moscow's critical role in global food security.

"We will be ready to provide Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic and Eritrea with 25-50,000 tons of free grain each in the next 3-4 months," the president said. "We will also provide free delivery of these products to consumers."

Last year, Russia exported a total of 60 million tons of grain, of which 48 million tons was wheat, he said.

The event follows Russia's first Africa summit in 2019 and is part of a concerted push for influence and business on the continent.

Responding to Western criticism of Moscow's decision to quit the Black Sea grain deal, in which it allowed Ukraine to ship grain from its seaports despite the war, Putin restated his argument that promises made to Russia about facilitating its own grain and fertilizer exports had not been met.

The Russian president said that over 70% of Ukrainian grain exported thanks to the now-lapsed deal had gone to high- or above-average-income countries, including in the European Union and that the poorest countries, like Sudan, had been "screwed over" and received less than 3% of the shipments.

Elsewhere, President Putin said Western sanctions, imposed in response to the Ukraine war, had even prevented Russia from supplying free fertilizer to poor nations.

"A paradoxical picture is emerging. On the one hand, Western countries are obstructing supplies of our grain and fertilizers, while on the other they hypocritically blame us for the current crisis situation on the world food market," he said.

Moscow has said it will not extend the deal as long as obstacles to Russian food and fertilizer exports under the accord were not fulfilled.

Russia says 49 of the continent's 54 states are represented in St Petersburg, including 17 by their heads of state and four by heads of government.

The organizers describe the Summit as the “highest-level and largest-scale event in Russia-Africa relations”.

On Tuesday, the Kremlin said the United States, France and other Western countries were putting an unprecedented level of pressure on all African countries to prevent them from taking part in the Russia-Africa summit.

Over the past decade, Russia and China, in particular, have consolidated their relations with African states in a number of domains, from trade to energy and military cooperation.

With ties forged under Soviet rule, Russia has historically enjoyed warm relations with many African countries, as their economic and ideological ambitions often align and their ties are bolstered by a mutual mistrust of the West.

The war in Ukraine has highlighted the growing diversification in the partnerships of countries in the Middle East and Africa with global powers.

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