US diplomats warned 14 countries, most of them from Africa, that Russian ships filled with stolen Ukrainian grain could be headed their way, the New York Times reported. This poses a serious dilemma for those countries struggling with large food shortages.
As New York Times journalists wrote, in mid-May the US sent a warning to 14 countries, mainly in Africa, that the Kremlin was trying to profit from the looting of Ukrainian grain by selling it to drought-stricken countries in Africa, some of which may face hunger .
They said Russian cargo ships were leaving ports near Ukraine, according to the US State Department, and loaded with what the department called “stolen Ukrainian grain” in the warning. The message was sent to eastern and northern African countries, including Kenya and Tanzania, as well as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Turkey.
Africa before choosing
The American warning, the NYT assessed, has only exacerbated the dilemma of African countries, many of which already feel trapped between East and West. This presents them with a difficult choice: to benefit from Russia’s actions and the dissatisfaction of a powerful Western ally, and to refuse cheap food when wheat prices are soaring and people are threatened with starvation.
As the newspaper wrote, the alert was not a direct call for countries not to buy stolen food, and was sent “in a spirit of cooperation, not coercion”.
The problem with stolen grain
According to Hassan Khannenje, the director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Kenya, quoted in the article by Hassan Khannenje, in the face of the threat of famine, African countries will not hesitate to take advantage of the Russian offer.
In his opinion “this is not a dilemma”. “Africans don’t care where they get their food from, and if anyone is going to moralize them, they are wrong,” he said. “The demand for food is so serious that it is not something they will be discussing,” he added.
In much of Africa, Khannenje says, Western pressure is likely to backfire, unless it can propose a way to fill the wheat shortage. “If the West can provide alternatives, countries will listen to it,” he assessed. “But hysteria about this will only push them further into the arms of Russia,” he added.
The US Department of State has not confirmed the “NYT” information, but pointed out that the theft of grain, mainly wheat, by Russian troops is widely documented.
The granary of the world
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of grain, which it transports mainly by sea. It accounts for a tenth of the world’s wheat exports. However, the Russian aggression launched on February 24 has significantly reduced its production capacity. In addition, Russia is blocking ports in the Black Sea, preventing Ukraine from exporting grains. This poses the risk of a sharp increase in grain prices in world markets and a food shortage in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East.
President Volodymy Zelensky said at a conference on Monday that 22-25 million tons of grain cannot be shipped from Ukraine at present. By autumn, it may already be 75 million tons. He added that he is discussing with Great Britain and Turkey the idea that the navy of a third country should guarantee the flow of Ukrainian grain exports through the Russian-controlled Black Sea.
It is also known that Russia is exporting and trying to illegally sell stolen grain. According to Ukrainian officials, most of them were looted from warehouses in the occupied parts of the Zaporizhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
According to the Ukrainian minister of agriculture Taras Vysotsky, quoted by the newspaper, in addition to 500,000 tons of wheat worth $ 100 million, Russian soldiers also stole agricultural machinery worth $ 15-20 million. Ukrainian officials reported that most of the grain had been trucked to ports in Russia-controlled Crimea and then shipped to ships – including some under sanctions.
Vladimir Putin met with the leader of the African Union
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Sochi with Macky Sall, President of Senegal and president of the African Union. Leaders discussed securing grain exports. The New York Times noted that critics said the visit by Sall, who called Putin his “dear friend,” gave the Russian president another tool to “use divisions in the international response” to his brutal attack on Ukraine.
Moreover, many African countries are ambivalent about sanctions against Russia. The reasons include their dependence on Russian arms sales, lingering sympathies from the Cold War and their perception of the West in the context of double standards. Above all, the entire continent is suffering.
According to the United Nations, Russia and Ukraine meet about 40 percent of Africa’s wheat needs, where grain prices have risen 23 percent over the past year. In addition, in the Horn of Africa area, severe drought has left 17 million people hungry, mostly in parts of Somalia where more than 200,000 people are on the verge of starvation, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Main photo source: VINCENT MUNDY / Reuters / Forum