EXPLAINER | How African diplomacy nudged Ukraine, Russia to seal grain export deal

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  • The AU Commission has engaged President Vladimir Putin about opening up cereal exports in June.
  • The AU has revived its call for a peace settlement between Russia and Ukraine.
  • Russia's foreign affairs minister is on a four-nation African tour to countries with close ties with the US.

The UN, Turkey, Ukraine, and Russia on Friday agreed to a plan for Ukraine to resume grain and fertiliser exports via the Black Sea to Africa and other international markets.

Russia's attempt to invade Ukraine has had a significant negative impact on food security in Africa and elsewhere.

The Food Agriculture Organisation estimated around 346 million people required food aid in Africa.

Aid organisations operating on the continent import a large portion of their supplies from Ukraine and the war has resulted in increased costs due to limited supply.

Before the new deal was brokered between Ukraine and Russia, the European Union (EU) had come up with an ambitious high-cost "solidarity corridors" plan to facilitate food exports from Ukraine through different EU land routes and ports.

It is an African idea

Since the beginning of the war in February, many African countries openly showed their support for Russia.

During a UN General Assembly vote to decide whether to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 17 African countries chose not to vote while eight abstained.

Eritrea openly sided with Russia by voting for it.

Africa's place in global politics was cemented and Russia's soft power approach in Africa is yielding results for Moscow.

As such, when an AU joint mission met President Vladimir Putin on 3 June in Sochi, the largest resort city in Russia, the AU delegation, led by Macky Sall, the president of Senegal and AU chairperson, spoke about the need to open trade routes into Africa to alleviate hunger and starvation.

READ | Wheat shortages caused by Ukraine/Russia war a cautionary tale for Africa - Cyril Ramaphosa

"The chairperson wishes to warmly congratulate His Excellency Macky Sall, president of Senegal and current chair of the African Union, for having called for the urgent need for the resumption of cereals from Ukraine and Russia to the global markets as made to President Vladimir Putin during a joint AU mission to Sochi on 3 June 2022, of which this welcome development is a testament," said Moussa Faki Mahamat, AU Commission president, about the new deal.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has since called on the international community to "now hold Russia accountable for this deal, ending its effective blockade of Ukraine's ports and ensuring Ukrainian agricultural goods - including grain, oilseeds, and sunflower oil - reach world markets".

Call for Peace

Mahamat, while noting the progress of the grains exports deal, has revived calls for a ceasefire between the two countries.

He said:

I further reiterate the appeal of the AU as expressed on 24 Feb 2022 for the parties to establish an immediate ceasefire and open further political negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations in the interests of global peace and stability.

"The AU reaffirms its continued and steadfast commitment to multilateralism and the shared responsibility of all members of the international community to work towards global peace and security," he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has openly said his country would not give up territory for peace as Putin continues his efforts to restore Russia's sphere of influence over former Soviet territories.

Russia's foreign affairs minister on African visit

Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign affairs minister, began his four-nation African visit on Sunday.

On his first day, he was in Egypt where he held talks with Egyptian officials.

Egypt is one of the African countries that chose not to vote at the UN General Assembly in February.

It is also one of Africa's biggest importers of wheat from Russia and Ukraine.

As the most populous country in the Arab world, bilateral ties with Egypt are critical for Russia or US interests in the Arab world.

Lavrov will also visit Ethiopia and Uganda, countries that are strategic partners of the US global war on terrorism.

Ethiopia is also the host of this year's Russia-Africa Summit, scheduled for October or November.

Thus the visit by Lavrov will be the most high-profile by any Russian official to Africa before the summit convenes.

Hi last port of call will be in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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