Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said Russia is making maximum efforts to avert a food crisis and offered to supply free grain to six African nations.
Addressing at the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg, Putin said Russia could supply grain to African nations, replacing Ukraine. The Guardian reported that Putin offered to supply free grain to six nations - Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic and Eritrea. Putin said that Russia could supply grains in three to four months and offered 25-50,000 tonnes of free grain to each of the nations.
Putin told leaders and officials from most African countries that his nation is making full efforts to avert a global food crisis despite concerns that its withdrawal from a deal allowing grain shipments from Ukraine will cause shortages and price spikes.
“Our country will continue supporting needy states and regions, in particular, with its humanitarian deliveries. We seek to actively participate in building a fairer system of distribution of resources. We are making maximum efforts to avert a global food crisis,” Putin said.
"I have already said that our country can replace Ukrainian grain, both on a commercial basis and as grant aid to the neediest African countries, more so since we expect another record harvest this year,” he said.
Russia and Ukraine agreed a year ago on a UN and Turkey-brokered deal that reopened three Ukrainian Black Sea ports that had been blocked by Russia-Ukraine fighting and provided assurances that ships entering the ports would not be attacked.
Russia declined to renew the agreement this month, complaining that its own exports were being held up. Both Russia and Ukraine are major grain suppliers.
Promising Russian food exports to Africa is key to Putin's stated goal of using the summit to bolster ties with a continent of 1.3 billion people that is increasingly assertive on the global stage.
Putin also announced other moves to deepen relations with Africa, including increased enrollment of African students in Russian universities, the opening of Russian state news media bureaus in many African countries and a proposed common information space in Russia and Africa, within which objective, unbiased information about events taking place in the world will be broadcast to Russian and African audiences.
Africa's 54 nations make up the largest voting bloc at the United Nations and have been more divided than any other region on General Assembly resolutions criticizing Russia's actions in Ukraine.
It's the second Russia-Africa summit since 2019. The number of heads of state attending shrank from 43 then to 17 now because of what the Kremlin described as crude Western pressure to discourage African nations from taking part.
Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said that while only 17 heads of state are attending the summit, 32 other African countries are represented by senior officials or ambassadors.
Along with grain, another issue likely to be on the agenda is the fate of Russia's Wagner mercenary group led by Yevgeny Prigozhin following its brief rebellion against the top military leadership last month.
Wagner's future will be an urgent issue for countries such as Sudan, Mali and others who contract with the mercenary group in exchange for natural resources like gold. Russian officials and Prigozhin have said the company will continue working in Africa.
A peace proposal for Ukraine that African leaders have tried to pursue is set to be discussed as well.
(With PTI inputs.)