After more than 100 days of war in the Ukraine, the global supply bottleneck for grain is increasingly coming to the fore. It is striking that the President of the African Union (AU), the Senegalese head of state Macky Sall, avoids taking a clear position against Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. On the contrary: After a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi last Friday, Sall accused the EU of impeding Russian grain and fertilizer exports with its sanctions.
Neither grain nor fertilizers from Russia are on the EU sanctions list. But that didn’t stop Sall from urging Western countries to facilitate the export of the goods in question from Russia. The AU President’s demand has a simple reason: more than 40 percent of the wheat consumed in African countries comes either from Ukraine, which is currently cut off from exports via the Black Sea port of Odessa, or from Russia.
According to the African Development Bank, wheat prices on the African continent have risen by around 45 percent since the start of the war. Countries in the Horn of Africa, such as Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia, which were already suffering from drought before the war, are particularly hard hit.
During last week’s special EU summit, the President of the African Union complained that the separation of individual Russian banks from the Swift international payment system was also having a negative impact on deliveries to the African continent. “If the Swift system is disrupted, then payments will become difficult or even impossible, even if the products are in stock,” said Sall, who was virtually connected to the summit. The 27 EU countries had previously agreed in principle on the sixth package of sanctions, which also includes the exclusion of the largest Russian bank, Sberbank, from the Swift payment system.
According to Green MEP Sergey Lagodinsky, the concerns of African countries are justified, but the causes of the food shortages have been misidentified by the AU President. “It is dangerous that the African Union is fooling Putin and repeating the tale of Western sanctions against Russian food exports,” Lagodinsky told Tagesspiegel. Instead, the AU states should “urge Moscow to end the blockade of Black Sea ports that is responsible for the crisis”.
According to Lagodinsky, the current shortage of food is also due to the fact “that Putin has large quantities of Ukrainian food transported to Russia instead of to customers in the Global South, for whom it is vital for survival”. “It has nothing to do with Western sanctions. Instead, with disinformation and blackmail,” he said.
At the same time, the MEP demanded that Europeans should do everything “to help Africa and to restore our credibility in the region in the long term”. But even “in this existentially threatening situation, there is little point in Africa letting Putin exploit it,” he added.
Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted that Russia was “directly responsible” for the bottleneck in international grain trade. Instead of ending the war against Ukraine, Moscow is trying to blame EU and US sanctions for the emergency, Borrell said.