Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday he is ready to support the smooth export of Ukrainian grain via the country’s Black Sea ports.
“You are quite welcome to export [wheat] via sea ports under Ukrainian control, first of all via the Black Sea ports: Odesa and the nearby ports,” said Putin at a meeting with the African Union.
His remarks come amidst a global food crisis which is being aggravated by Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.
Moscow has been accused of fuelling food price rises across the world by preventing Ukraine from exporting cereals and fertilisers. However, the Russian president denies his country is blockading Ukraine.
African Union head Macky Sall told Putin that African countries have become the innocent victims of the war in Ukraine.
The Senegalese president, who met with Putin in the Russian city of Sochi on behalf of the 55-member body representing the African continent, said Russia should help ease their suffering.
Africa relies on Russia and Ukraine for more than 40 per cent of its wheat, a major food staple across the continent.
The war has exacerbated already existing shortages in Africa caused by bad harvests and insecurity.
Already the ensuing price rises have worsened food insecurity, with the UN’s crisis coordinator Amin Awad warning that “failure to open those ports will result in famine.”
He added that a grain shortage in Africa could affect 1.4 billion people and trigger mass migration.
After their talks, Sall told journalists “I found Vladimir Putin committed and aware that the crisis and sanctions create serious problems for weak economies, such as African economies.
Sall continued that he was leaving Russia feeling “very reassured and very happy with our exchanges.”
The Russian leader also responded to allegations that Russia has been laying mines to prevent ships from sailing in the Black Sea.
“We didn’t mine the Ukrainian ports – it was Ukraine,” he claimed. “I’ve told our colleagues many times, let them clear the mines so the ships loaded with wheat can leave these ports, we will guarantee their safe passage with no problems.”
In April, the UK Ministry of Defense said it has “high confidence” Russian activity set the anti-ship mines adrift, although this is not definitive.
After saying he was ready to assist the safe export of Ukrainian grain via ports on the Azov and Black seas Russia controls, Putin said the best solution would be to lift sanctions on Belarus, a staunch Russian ally, so that grain could be shipped that way.
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has said he is open to allowing Ukraine’s grain to travel through his country to reach Baltic Sea ports.
But it is on the condition that Belarusian goods can be exported from these ports too.
Belarus is currently under international sanctions for its role in the Ukraine war.