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Russia says it has delivered 200,000 tons of grain to African countries

By Nimi Princewill, CNN

(CNN) — The Russian Ministry of Agriculture said Tuesday it had shipped 200,000 tons of grain in humanitarian aid to six African nations, fulfilling the Kremlin’s pledge to the continent last July.

Agriculture Minister Dmitry Patrushev said late Tuesday that Burkina Faso, Mali, Eritrea, and Zimbabwe each received 25,000 tons of grain while the Central African Republic and Somalia got 50,000 tons each, Russian state news agency TASS reported.

Shortly after backing out of a crucial deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey that enabled the export of Ukrainian grain, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged free grain exports to Africa during a summit with some of its leaders in St. Petersburg last year. This move aimed to strengthen support from leaders on the continent amidst a series of sanctions from the West.

“The first ship departed on November 7, 2023. The average travel time stood at 30-40 days. The last vessel arrived in Somalia in late January and the unloading of its cargo was completed on February 17,” Patrushev said, adding that “this is the first time that our country carried out such a large-scale humanitarian operation,” according to TASS.

Swathes of Africa rely heavily on grain imports from Russia and Ukraine but Moscow’s two-year war on its neighbor has fueled a severe grain shortage that has exacerbated the continent’s food insecurity and sent food prices rocketing.

Somalia and Eritrea had previously sourced 90-100% of their grain needs from both Russia and Ukraine before the conflict, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

‘A strategic donation’

The Kremlin’s grain initiative has been described by analysts as a “strategic” move as Putin’s African alliance broadens.

“It’s strategic in the sense that Russia realizes that these countries are in need, and basically takes advantage of that specific need,” said Zimbabwean development economist Godfrey Kanyenze.

“It is geopolitics at play … the major string is to control or get a head start ahead of your rivals or competitors,” he told CNN, adding that “Africa has become a very critical playing ground.”

Kanyenze, who is a founding director of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe, also suggested that Russia could be playing the long game to emerge as Africa’s preferred global partner.

“They (Russia) are also riding on the fact that the East were not colonizers. So, they’ve always taken advantage of that historical precedent where the East portrays itself as a non-colonizer and probably a better partner with Africa. So, it’s contestation.”

Many African states took a neutral stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in perceived loyalty to the Kremlin.

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