The center of interest of the past week was the second Russia-Africa Summit which took place in St. Petersburg on July 27-28. The US and some of its allies were delighted that only 17 heads of African states attended this year’s meeting, less than half of the 43 heads of state that attended the first conference in 2019. This must have been a disappointment for Moscow. Nonetheless, during his bilateral meeting with President Putin South Africa’s President Ramaphosa said what is particularly pleasing is that Russia conducts its relationship with Africa at a strategic level, and it conducts it with a great deal of respect and recognition of the sovereignty of African states. Russia has continued to be supportive of Africa as it did in the past, even during the days of the Soviet Union. [i]
President Ramaphosa is to host the BRICS summit on August 22-24.
The meeting ended with a number of documents including the Declaration of the Second Russia–Africa Summit. [ii] It appears that the center of interest at the Summit was food security including the revival of the Black Sea Grain Initiative or another deal to serve the same purpose. Thus, President Putin tried hard to convince the African leaders that the West, not Russia, was to blame for the collapse of the Initiative.
At the Plenary session of the Russia-Africa Economic and Humanitarian Forum, he said:
“We are witnessing a paradox. On the one hand, the West seeks to block our grain and fertilizer exports, while accusing us of the current crisis in the global food market. This is outright hypocrisy…
“However, in almost a year since this so-called deal was concluded, a total of 32.8 million tonnes were exported from Ukraine, of which over 70 percent ended up in high-income and above-average income countries, including primarily the European Union, while I would like to draw your attention to the fact that countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and several others received less than 3 percent of this total, or under 1 million tonnes.” [iii]
And he promised that during the next three to four months, Russia will be ready to provide, free of charge, a supply of 25,000–50,000 tons of grain each to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea.
Russian news agency TASS reported that African countries were asking that the delivery of Russian and Ukrainian grain to the continent be made easier. Indeed, this is an issue on which African leaders are united.
President of the African Union and President of the Comoros Azali Assoumani pointed out that Russia is doing a lot to solve the food problem. “This is a vital problem for us. The suspension of the grain deal may have some impact on our cooperation. Russia is closely cooperating with us and is doing a lot to fight grain problems, [to solve] the food problem,” he said at the Forum.
But he also said, “The Ukrainian crisis is having a major impact, so resolving this crisis will save the lives of a large number of people who depend on these food supplies. Our continent is currently being severely impacted by food prices. Therefore, we urge all stakeholders to facilitate the delivery of both Ukrainian and Russian grain to our countries.” [iv]
“This war must end. And it can only end on the basis of justice and reason,” African Union Commission Chairman Mahamat told President Putin and African leaders in St Petersburg. “The disruptions of energy and grain supplies must end immediately. The grain deal must be extended for the benefit of all the peoples of the world, Africans in particular,” he added.
Egyptian President El-Sisi said:
“The importance of taking into consideration the needs of developing countries, primarily countries in the African continent, with regard to the severe repercussions on their economies as a result of the ongoing conflicts and challenges, specifically in the areas of food security, supply chains, and high energy prices. In this regard, I underscore the importance of finding prompt solutions to provide food and grain at prices that would help Africa overcome this crisis while exploring innovative financing mechanisms to support agricultural and food systems in Africa. I look forward to reaching a consensual solution with regard to the Grain Deal, that would take into consideration the demands and interests of all parties and curb rising grain prices.” [v]
And finally, during the meeting with heads of African delegations on the “Ukrainian agenda”, this is what South African President Ramaphosa said:
“As we said right from the onset and as we listened to you today, you responded to some of the issues that were in our proposals and one of those was about the grain. We proposed that we would like the Black Sea Initiative to be implemented and that the Black Sea should be open and, in that regard, we were saying – so that we are understood – we were saying we would like the Black Sea to be open to the world market.” [vi]
African countries have made similar calls also to the West. Addressing a G7 ministerial meeting hosted by Germany toward the end of June, the African Development Bank Group President Dr. Akinwumi Adesina said, “I raise my voice on behalf of the 1.3 billion people affected in Africa by a looming food crisis arising from this war. For Africa, we must, however, move beyond emergency food aid. We must prioritize food production. We have the technology to feed Africa – Africa does not need to hold bowls in hand to beg for food. Africa needs seeds in the ground to produce food for itself.” [vii]
To sum up, African leaders expressed appreciation for what Russia has been doing to help alleviate their grain problems, but they also stressed their expectation to see the Black Sea grain deal revived.
While African nations are calling for peace and grain security, some wise heads are suggesting that NATO convoys should protect ships carrying Ukraine’s grain through the Black Sea. In other words, they are suggesting that the undeclared land war between Russia and NATO should now extend to the seas, to trigger a properly declared war.
Whatever the historical background, President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a mistake. It failed to reach its objectives despite the immense cost. Russia is weakened to the delight of Washington and some of its NATO allies. President Putin’s prestige has suffered. But expanding the war in ways that would risk the security of the NATO member states neighboring Russia is not an option.
Last week, President Putin said he does not reject the idea of peace talks. Western media reported that Ukraine’s spring offensive was making progress. With earlier reports of secret talks between a delegation of high-ranking US foreign policy experts and former national security officials and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in New York last April, it may be that the moment to declare the spring offensive an important achievement and launch ceasefire talks is approaching.
Despite the lack of information regarding what is taking place behind closed doors, one may assume that the UN and several countries, among them Türkiye, are busy searching for paths to revive the Black Sea Grain Initiative or other ways to ensure that Ukrainian grain once again reaches the global market. The call from Africa for a grain deal would probably encourage diplomatic competition between those who wish to get credit for contributing to a new arrangement. If a new deal were to be secured, Ankara’s contribution to it would also send a signal about the current state of relations between Russia and Türkiye.
Last week Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a brief visit to Türkiye where he met with President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Fidan. Although very little has been said beyond generalities about what was discussed between the parties, the timing of the visit was interesting. So far Beijing has carefully avoided getting involved in the war in Ukraine. But could it be that China is also considering an active role in reviving the grain deal? One would have to wait and see.