Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)

Russia and Africa: too close for comfort

- Janine Ryan, Editor

Ministers from African government­s recently attended the Internatio­nal Parliament­ary Conference in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin agreed to the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative to allow Ukraine to export grain via the Black Sea for another 60 days (see page 19).

This was in contrast to the UN’s call for a 120-day extension, and in order for the deal to be renewed once more after the 60 days have expired, Putin has ordered that the majority of Ukraine’s grain and fertiliser exports be shipped to African countries.

“We insist on the package nature of this deal – above all, in the interests of African and other developing countries, considerin­g that they need large amounts of food. We insist on full compliance with Russia’s key requiremen­ts, first of all, as I said, making sure that grain and fertiliser­s go to the African countries in need, and not to satiated European markets and countries,” News24 reported Putin as saying.

Some of the other conditions the Russian president set for the renewal of the deal were the lifting of some Western sanctions, including the restoratio­n of access to the SWIFT financial messaging system for Russian state-owned agricultur­e-focused bank Rosselkhoz­bank, a resumption of farm machinery supplies to Russia, and the unblocking of foreign assets and accounts held by Russian agricultur­al companies.

He added that if his demands were not met, he would not renew the deal again, and would take it upon himself to export grains and fertiliser to African countries in need – free of charge.

African leaders’ ‘cosy’ relationsh­ip with Putin, not least South Africa’s relationsh­ip with Russia, should be a worrying revelation for all of us. While South Africa has always shown some camaraderi­e with socialist and authoritar­ian countries, such as Russia, our leaders are putting us firmly into the global spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

During the conference, Putin highlighte­d the relationsh­ips between African countries and Russia when he said that his country would always consider co-operation with Africa to be of great importance.

“I want to emphasise that our country has always and will always consider co-operation with African states to be a priority. It would not be an exaggerati­on to say that it is one of the unchanging priorities of Russia’s foreign policy,” Putin said. Again, this should be a major concern for all of us.

It is also safe to assume that Putin is not punting Africa for nothing; he may be willing to export grains and fertiliser­s to African countries for free, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be at a cost. Unfortunat­ely, we don’t yet know what said cost will be, but as citizens of Africa, we are bound to eventually pay the price for the decisions made by our elected leaders.

And Western countries will not remain passive in this regard. As we did during apartheid, we may see sanctions being imposed on South Africa and/or our trading partners in Africa in the future, which will have a serious impact on agricultur­al trade, especially as South Africa’s agricultur­e sector is so export-driven.

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