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Kremlin promises grain supplies ahead of St Petersburg summit

Moscow's withdrawal from the Black Sea accord which facilitated supplies of Ukraine's grain angered African officials

Russia's war on Ukraine will haunt its Africa summit in St Petersburg due to open on 27 July – due both to its withdrawal from the Black Sea grain pact which had shielded some countries from the rocketing prices and also the lack of seriousness with which Africa's peace plan is being treated in Kyiv and Moscow.

Aware of the diplomatic damage, Kremlin officials insist that African states will not pay the price for the end of the Black Sea grain initiative and are due to explain how a replacement mechanism might work.

Following Russia's decision to withdraw from the grain deal – an accord mediated by Turkey which allowed Ukrainian grain to travel south from the Black Sea without the threat of Russian attacks – criticism of Moscow has been mounting in Africa. A senior Kenyan official had referred to Moscow's ending of the accord as a stab in the back.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia is offering to replace Ukrainian grain supplies to poorer countries free of charge. The London daily Financial Times reported on 24 July that Russian officials have been trying to negotiate a new accord under which Qatar finances shipments of Russian grain to Turkey, some of which would be distributed cheaply to countries hardest hit by spiralling prices. But none of the three parties have yet confirmed the arrangement.

If successful, it would cut Ukraine out of the grain market in Africa or it might trigger a naval war in the Black Sea.

Along with Russia and Ukraine, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, and Turkey all border the Black Sea.

Peskov said that 'the poorest countries in Africa have benefited the least' from the Black Sea initiative. Several African ministers had lobbied Russia to stay in the Black Sea accord (Dispatches 23/5/23, Power politics could derail vital grain deal for Africa).

Even if Moscow can win backing from Qatar and Turkey, it could take weeks if not months to launch a new arrangement. The subject will dominate this week's Africa summit.

The Kremlin says that it has received confirmation from 49 countries to attend the summit. In addition to politics, security and business cooperation, the summit feature a parallel Economic and Humanitarian Forum intended to 'diversify the scope and nature of Russian-African cooperation, setting the course long-term development.'

Russia's foreign policy concept, published in March, points to its aim of supporting Africa as a 'distinctive and influential centre of world development' through improved bilateral relations, trade, and scientific and humanitarian cooperation.

That differs from the last Russia-Africa summit in 2019 which was focused on trade and defence. Business deals worth some $12.5 billion were signed at the Sochi meeting.

Alongside these grand ambitions, the leading members of Africa's peace mission to Ukraine and Russia – South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa and Senegal's Macky Sall – will expect to discuss their ideas for a peace settlement at the summit (AC Vol 64 No 13, Kyiv and Moscow give peace mission short shrift).

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