Moscow must Listen Seriously to Concerns about Food Crisis

African countries did not yield to Russia’s conciliatory approach to provide grain free of charge to six countries.

Russia must take the voices of impoverished African nations seriously and quickly return to the international agreement on grain exports.

Russia held a summit with African countries in St. Petersburg in western Russia. This is the second time such a meeting has been held and the first time in four years.

The summit was intended to show off Russia’s partnership with African nations, which are members of the so-called Global South of emerging and developing nations, and to counter the United States and Europe.

Russia has unilaterally suspended the implementation of an agreement to export Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea. African countries, suffering from soaring food prices, are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with this.

African countries have so far maintained cooperative relations with Russia without participating in sanctions against Russia by the United States, Europe, Japan and other countries. However, out of the 49 African countries that participated in the summit this time, only 17 heads of government attended. This is a significant decrease from 43 at the previous summit.

Many of the heads of government apparently did not want to be seen as pro-Russia by sharing a table with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It can be said that Russia’s attempt to create closer ties with African countries has come up empty.

Regarding the reason for Russia’s withdrawal from the grain export deal, Putin shifted the blame to the West at the summit, stating that the West is hampering Russia’s grain exports.

On top of this, Putin announced that Russia would provide grain free of charge to six African countries. This is a blatant conciliatory attempt to win over countries that are in a weak position.

In response, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his displeasure, stating that the leaders of African nations “did not come here to ask for any gifts” for the African continent. It is quite natural that he called for a fundamental solution through Russia’s return to the grain export agreement, rather than immediate aid from Moscow.

With the U.N. Security Council in a state of dysfunction, to address the problem, it is necessary to convene an emergency special session of the General Assembly and adopt a resolution to ensure the safe passage of vessels exporting Ukrainian grain.

To that end, the endorsement of many countries will be needed. It is important for Japan, which has better relations with emerging and developing countries than the United States and Europe, to urge them to adopt the resolution.

Russia, through the private military company Wagner Group, has been increasing its involvement in African countries with unstable political situations, such as Central African Republic and Mali. Moscow is taking on the responsibility of maintaining security in these countries and is gaining huge concessions in areas such as diamond mining.

African countries will not be able to develop if they rely on Russia, which uses violence to block opposition. It is important that the United States, Europe and Japan support the economic growth and democratization of African countries and encourage their self-reliance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 2, 2023)