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Sall Food Talks Stall Over Western Sanctions

FILE - An Ethiopian woman scoops up portions of wheat in Agula, Ethiopia, May 8, 2021. The Russia-Ukraine war has raised the specter of food shortages in countries that rely on affordable grain imports such as Ethiopia.

African Union head Macky Sall on Friday urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to take into account the suffering in African countries from food shortages caused by Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine. Putin says the lifting of Western sanctions imposed after it invaded Ukraine is needed.

The meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and African Union head Senegal President Macky Sall was intended to try to get Russia to relent and allow grain shipments from the Black Sea ports.

The message brought by Sall to the Sochi, Russia talks Friday was for Moscow to "become aware that our countries, even if they are far from the theater [of action] are victims on an economic level" regarding grain and fertilizer access.

The African Union leader stated "That really creates serious threats to the food security of the continent."

The ports that normally would be shipping grain to Africa and the world have been blocked by the Russian attack against Ukraine, which specifically targeted Kyiv's coastline in what observers say is an attempt by Moscow to make Ukraine a landlocked nation.

In response to Russia's invasion, Western nations and multilateral bodies have imposed a series of strong sanctions against Moscow, which also has Black Sea access.

Sall blames those sanctions as part of Africa's problem, stating that because of them, "We no longer have access to grain from Russia, and especially, fertilizer."

AU Leader Sall Sits Down with Russia Putin
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Joseph Siegle, director of research at the African Center for Strategic Studies told VOA that Sall’s decision to meet with Putin highlights the desperation many African countries are feeling right now.

The fact that the African delegation was so direct and appealing to Putin may open up the door and it may give Russia an opportunity to present itself as a magnanimous international actor that will make allowances and special efforts to try and help Russia's African partners,” Siegle said.

AU Chief Calls on Putin for Grain Release
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But ahead of the meeting, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said "The President [Putin] will tell our African friends the real state of affairs,' adding "He will explain once again what is happening there, who has mined the ports, which is needed for grain to go [be shipped]." Peskov also stated "No one on the Russian side is blocking these ports."

Russia has said that it is ready to allow food shipments to leave Ukrainian ports, but only if some of the sanctions against it are lifted. Those sanctions also bar the purchase and transport of Russian grain and fertilizer.

In Putin's public remarks at the meeting, he did not specifically address the grain situation covered by Peskov. But the Russian leader did state for the cameras that Russia was "always on Africa's side."

Information in this article was sourced in part from Reuters and Agence France-Presse