After Senegalese President Macky Sall’s visit to Russia on June 3 and Vladimir Putin’s extended interview published on the same day, in which he declared Russia’s readiness to do everything in its power to ensure the export of Ukrainian grain, the subject seemed to have been exhausted. On June 8, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks in Istanbul with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and discussed in detail issues related to organizing the export of Ukrainian grain through Black Sea ports. It should be recalled that the Russian President earlier suggested six options for exporting Ukrainian grain, including by sea provided that the Ukrainian authorities clear mines in the Black Sea, and gave guarantees that the new situation would not be used by the Russian military and navy for combat operations during this period.
The Russian minister in Ankara reiterated that attempts to turn this problem into a global disaster are groundless, as the share of Ukrainian grain in global food production is small. While Ukraine’s share of the global food market is one per cent, in wheat it accounts for 11% of the global market, whereas Russia’s share, depending on the harvest, ranges from 16% to 20%. Sergey Lavrov once again confirmed that Russia was ready to continue to open humanitarian corridors for the export of grain as far as the Bosporus, as has long been the case. And this applies to all merchant ships, not just those exporting grain. It should be recalled that over 80 ships and 450 foreign sailors are blocked in Ukrainian ports.
Sergey Lavrov drew attention to the duality of the language used by the Ukrainian side: publicly they avoid commitments to clear the Black Sea waters, while in private talks with Turkey they are allegedly ready to do so or to provide a map of the minefields and to guide ships through them.
This does not change the fact that Africa continues to follow the negotiation process very closely. The obvious reason is that African countries are heavily dependent on Russian and Ukrainian grain. But the level of this dependency varies, with most of the grain from both countries exported to Africa.
According to UNCTAD, as of March 4, 2022, 25 African countries imported a third of their grain from Russia and Ukraine, but predominantly from Russia – Eritrea (30% out of 40% coming from Russia and Ukraine combined in the common country bread import basket), South Africa (47 out of 50), Cape Verde (50 out of 50), Malawi (48 out of 50), Mozambique (47 out of 50), Togo (55 out of 55), Kenya (48 out of 55), Namibia (55 out of 55), Burundi (60 out of 60), Uganda (55 out of 65), Burkina Faso (60 out of 65), Congo (64 out of 65) Madagascar (65 out of 65), Rwanda (64.5 out of 65), Tanzania (64 out of 67), Senegal (50 out of 65), Democratic Republic of Congo (55 out of 67), Sudan (70 out of 75), Egypt (62 out of 81), Benin (100 out of 100). Ukraine is leading in only five countries: Mauritania (38% out of 52% of the total bread import basket), Tunisia (33 out of 53), Libya (36 out of 58), the Gambia (29 out of 58) and Somalia (68 out of 100).
The largest importers of Russian wheat are Egypt (8.8 million tons), Sudan (2.2 million tons) and Nigeria (1.8 million tons). As you can see, these three African giants import millions of tons of Russian grain, while another five countries depend to a greater extent on Ukrainian grain.
Hence the great attention paid by African leaders to the problems of grain exports. And while Ukraine’s export problems are more or less being solved (discussed below), Russia is forced to think about how to fulfil its obligations in the face of completely illegal unilateral sanctions. These latter stand in the way of normal trade, contrary to WTO norms, which the Western countries themselves lobbied for. And the West vehemently and unjustifiably denies that these sanctions affect grain supplies. In practice, a return to the status quo ante would require lifting sanctions from Russian economic agents, considering that once the sanctions regime was introduced, not even a ship can be insured to enter a foreign port, not to mention the prohibition for Russian banks to use the SWIFT banking messaging system.
The harm of sanctions was again highlighted by the above mentioned Macky Sall in his interview on the eve of his visit to Paris, published on June 10. Reiterating the Russian leader’s commitment, he pointed out in very diplomatic terms to his Western partners that Asia, despite Western sanctions, continues to trade with Moscow, while the Europeans have found a solution with Russia for their needs, providing special mechanisms for payment for gas and making exceptions for a number of other goods. In the meantime, however, Western partners continue to put pressure (as he elegantly put it, “friendly pressure”) on African leaders to vote on anti-Russian resolutions at the UN (by the way, they have succeeded in securing the support of only half the states on the African continent) and to halt all cooperation and trade with Russia.
While defending the right to trade with Russia, stressing that African countries are sovereign and have the right to choose, including to pursue their national interests, Mr. Sall also pointed out that African peoples were in a more difficult situation than other countries after the pandemic ended. Of the 611 billion euros of aid earmarked for combating the impact of the pandemic, the EU has allocated only 33 billion, i.e. less than 5%, to Africa.
And this objective picture, which demands the abandonment of unilateral sanctions and the normalization of Russia’s trade with Africa and elsewhere, continues to be actively disliked by both Kiev and its supporters in the West. Despite Russia’s well-reasoned explanations, they continue to make waves and allegations that the Russian special operation allegedly poses a threat of widespread hunger in the world. At the same time, they were de facto forced to admit that Ukraine can now export wheat via Poland and Romania (i.e. via two of the six routes named by Putin) almost without any restrictions, without any change in anyone’s position. And officials in the Ukrainian capital have said they can export up to two million tons of grain a month. The distance to the Romanian port of Constanta is very short and all the wheat can be transported further by sea. So what is the problem?
Simply put, all the fuss about “Russia’s sea blockade of Ukrainian wheat exports” was needed just to accuse Moscow of all mortal sins. Again. Meanwhile, under the cover of this cynical Russophobic propaganda, all of Ukraine’s grain can be easily exported, although not to Africa, of course not. Instead, it will be used to pay for weapons supplied under the lend-lease from the US and Europe, as the latter is actively stocking on food (makes one wonder, why). It cannot be ruled out that some of it will then be resold to the African continent at speculative prices. In other words, behind all the outwardly beautiful rhetoric about Europe and the US caring for the people of the world, there is a banal scooping of all the Ukrainian grain for Western arms supplies, which only serves to prolong the conflict in Ukraine.
Let’s just hope that he who has ears to hear!
Oleg Pavlov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.