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Russian President Vladimir Putin was on a charm offensive at the recent Russia–Africa Summit in St. Petersburg. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – or the “special military operation”, as it’s called in Moscow – was likely a hot topic of conversation at the event, given how it has impacted Ukrainian grain exports that are vital to the survival of Africans, Al Jazeera reported.
Leaders of the African Union started the summit by calling for Putin to reinstate a United Nations-brokered deal that allowed Ukraine to export grain out of its Black Sea ports. “The problem of grains and fertilizers concerns everyone,” Comoros President Azali Assoumani told Russian media, according to Politico.
Putin dropped out of the UN-brokered grain deal because he said the UN had told him Russia would receive help in exporting its grain and other products, explained Reuters. That help never came, however, according to the Russian president. He also alleged that the deal enriched American and European companies that were buying and reselling Ukrainian grain, Newsweek added.
At the summit, Putin promised to ship as many as six grain aid packages up to 50,000 tons each to Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Mali, Somalia, and Zimbabwe over the next few months, wrote the Associated Press. The move was clearly intended to expand Russian influence in Africa at a time when Western nations are funneling aid to Ukraine and have imposed sanctions on Russia.
“Our country will continue supporting needy states and regions, in particular, with its humanitarian deliveries,” said Putin at the summit. “We seek to actively participate in building a fairer system of distribution of resources. We are taking maximum efforts to avert a global food crisis.”
Politics and economics are certainly playing a role in this generosity, analysts say. The Russian mercenary organization, the Wagner Group, currently has troops in the Central African Republic and Mali, a militia that is helping to prop up autocratic regimes in these countries, noted Africanews /Agence France-Presse. Wagner is reportedly interested in working in Burkina Faso and has offered to fight in Somalia. Eritrea has voted alongside Russia in the UN on Ukrainian-related matters. Wagner might also have financial interests in Zimbabwe.
In fact, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin appeared on the sidelines of the event just a month after launching a failed mutiny, Politico reported.
Meanwhile, Putin and some African leaders had a meeting of the minds on other issues, too.
At the summit, for example, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill I, denounced the West for advocating progressive values like gay rights, reported the New York Times. Many socially conservative countries in Africa such as Uganda have enacted draconian laws against homosexuality.
All the dictators were happy nobody was there to raise objections.