Russian President Vladimir Putin has unveiled his blueprint for Africa, vowing to help build infrastructure and energy projects, ensure food security and develop new trade routes to boost trade between his country and the continent.
Addressing delegates to the second Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg on Thursday, Putin said Russia would provide six African countries with free grain within the next four months after the collapse of the Ukraine grain deal.
Putin used his speech to once again lay into the West, accusing them of sabotaging “the so-called deal”, by reneging on their promise to lift sanctions on Russian grain and fertilisers, while “hypocritically accusing us of the current crisis situation in the world food market”.
Brokered by the United Nations and Turkiye last year, the grain deal between Russia and Ukraine went up in smoke in July this year when Putin withdrew from it. In response, Western leaders accused him of weaponising food.
African Union Chairman Azali Assoumani, also President of the Union of the Comoros, President of the New Development Bank Dilma Rousseff and the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the African Export-Import Bank Benedict Orama were among the heads of state and other dignitaries who packed a conference centre in Russia’s second largest city.
“Of particular importance is the deepening of Russian-African industrial cooperation. Our industrial products, including automobiles, construction equipment, and so on, are well-known on the continent and are in great demand, they are distinguished by good quality, reliability and ease of operation. In Africa, there are special service centers for servicing Russian equipment,” Putin said.
The Russian leader pledged to continue supporting African nations in the areas of energy, education, agriculture, science, technology and nuclear medicine.
Putin said Russian companies were already working with African states such as Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Cameroon to explore oil and natural gas, build infrastructure, develop energy projects and establish a Russian Industrial Zone.
“More than 30 promising energy projects with Russian participation in 16 African states are now in varying degrees of development. The total capacity of the power projects we are working on is about 3.7 gigawatts. Our company “RusHydro” offers a wide range of services to African partners – from the design and supply of equipment to the modernization and construction of new turnkey generation facilities.
“Gazprom, Rosneft, Lukoil, Zarubezhneft are our companies that are engaged in the development of oil and gas fields in Algeria, Egypt, Cameroon, Nigeria, and the Republic of the Congo. Over the past two years, exports of Russian crude oil, petroleum products, and liquefied natural gas to Africa have increased by 2.6 times,” Putin said.
However, Putin warned that efforts to further expand trade and economic ties between Russia and Africa would be impeded if parties do not implement “financial settlements on trade transactions to national currencies, including the ruble”.
“In this regard, we are ready to work with African countries to develop their financial infrastructure, to connect banking institutions to the Financial Message Transmission System created in Russia, which allows cross-border payments to be made regardless of some of the currently existing and restrictive Western systems. This will help increase the stability, predictability and security of mutual trade exchanges,” Putin maintained.
To boost industrial cooperation, Russia was developing “new instruments of concessional lending” for the purchase of its industrial products by Africans, their transportation to the continent and after-sales services.
He said they were working with the continent to connect the North-South transport corridor with Africa, launch regular shipping cargo lines and establish a Russian transport and logistics center in one of the ports on the African east.
“We consider it very important to ensure a wider coverage of the African continent by direct flights, participation in the development of the African railway network – these are the urgent tasks that we invite our African friends to work on together.”
On the grain deal, Putin said grain meant for the poor regions was diverted to wealthy nations, including the European Union, leaving Africa with only three percent of the grain secured through the Ukraine deal.
Despite the illegal sanctions imposed on Russia, which “seriously impeded” food supply and complicated transportation, insurance and bank payments, Russia was committed to global food security with or without the grain deal, he said.
Putin said his country exported 11 million tons of grain to Africa last year, while Ukraine’s grain went to rich countries including European nations.
“However, in almost a year, as part of this so-called deal, a total of 32.8 million tons of cargo was exported from Ukraine, of which more than 70 percent, dear friends, went to countries with high and upper middle income levels, including – and above all having I mean the European Union, while the share of such countries as Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and a number of others accounted for – please pay attention – less than three percent of the total – less than 1 million tons,” Putin said to loud applause from the delegates.
It was for this reason as well as the West’s failure to lift sanctions on Russian grain and fertilisers, he said, that his country pulled out of the Ukraine deal.
“I have already said that our country is able to replace Ukrainian grain both on a commercial [basis] and in the form of gratuitous assistance to the most needy African countries, especially since we again expect a record harvest this year,” Putin added.
“To be specific, I’ll add, I’ll say: we will be ready in the coming months, in the next three to four months, to provide Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Eritrea with 25-50 thousand tons of grain free of charge, we will also provide free delivery this product to consumers.”
Painting a picture of worsening relations between Russia and the West, Putin said they obstructed the supply of grain and fertilisers to needy countries.
Of the 262 000 tons of such fertilizers blocked in European ports, only two batches were sent to Malawi (20 000 tons) and Kenya (34 000 tons).
“The rest remained in the hands of the Europeans. And this despite the fact that it was a purely humanitarian action, which, in principle, should not be subject to any sanctions,” Putin added.
“Well, someone doesn’t want Russia, as some say, to “get rich” and send money to military purposes. But it’s a freebie! No, they are not released. Despite all the empty talk about the desire to help the poorest countries.”
Speaking after Putin, Assoumani, the African Union Chairman, said the idea behind the Russia-Africa summit showed the “grandeur of Russian wisdom and its creator Peter The Great”.
Assoumani said the African continent believed in its relations with Russia.
“Our continent believes in the future of Russia-Africa relations, one which is based on mutual respect and mutual benefit,” Assoumani said.
He said the world was aware that the global governance systems, including the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), needed to be transformed.
Assoumani said the AU sought to diversify its needs and interests, to ensure a win-win situation, because it had no interest in confining itself about geopolitics.
Assoumani also implored the G20 countries to include the AU or be less responsive to challenges, a call supported by Putin.