Putin rejects Ramaphosa’s appeal to reinstate Black Sea Grain Initiative
President Cyril Ramaphosa told President Vladimir Putin that African leaders did not come to Russia for food ‘donations’.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected the plea of President Cyril Ramaphosa and other African leaders to restore the Black Sea Grain Initiative, the deal under which Russia lifted its blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to enable Ukrainian grain to be shipped to world markets.
Ramaphosa surprised some of his critics at the Russia-Africa Summit on Friday by telling Putin that the Africans had not come to St Petersburg to seek food “donations” but to ask him to reinstate the grain deal which he pulled out of on 17 July.
Putin did not respond publicly, but Daily Maverick was told that in a later closed meeting with African leaders, he told them there were still conditions he wanted satisfied before the reinstatement of the grain initiative. These were the same conditions he had stated publicly, a source said.
Putin’s response was therefore tantamount to a dismissal of the appeal from the African leaders.
The year-old Black Sea Grain Initiative supplied about 32.8 million tonnes of Ukrainian grain to the world, easing food prices and food insecurity, including in Africa. But Putin has claimed that Western countries did not keep their side of the bargain by lifting all sanctions on the export of Russian grain and fertilisers.
Last week, Putin told African leaders at the summit in St Petersburg: “Russia can well fill in the gap left by the withdrawal of the Ukrainian grain from the global market, either by selling its grain or by transferring it for free to the neediest countries in Africa, especially considering that this year we once again expect to have a record-high harvest.”
He said that over the next three to four months Russia would provide free of charge 25,000–50,000 tonnes of grain each to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea.
Putin claimed that during the past agricultural year, Russia had harvested 156 million tonnes of grain, much more than Ukraine, which had harvested only 55 million tonnes. So Russia was able to make a greater contribution to global food security than Ukraine.
But Ramaphosa, as the spokesperson for the peace initiative of seven African presidents, was clearly unimpressed with this argument. At a meeting of those presidents with Putin — Azali Assoumani of Comoros, who also chairs the African Union, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo and Macky Sall of Senegal — Ramaphosa politely thanked Putin for the donations of grain to the six countries.
But he added nonetheless, “We would like the Black Sea to be opened to the world market. And we… are not coming here to plead for donations for the African continent… our main input here is not so much focused on giving and donating grain to the African continent.”
Ramaphosa said Russia’s blockade of Russian grain had hiked food prices and increased food insecurity in Africa.
In a later closed meeting with the African leaders, Putin effectively rejected Ramaphosa’s plea by restating the conditions that had to be met before the grain initiative could be reinstated — mainly the lifting of Western sanctions which he claimed were restricting the export of Russian grain and fertiliser. These are in fact exempt from Western sanctions though they might be affected indirectly by other sanctions.
Ramaphosa and his team also appeared to get no direct satisfaction in their appeal to Putin for negotiations to end the war in Ukraine peacefully and for the principles of the UN Charter to be respected. Ramaphosa was implicitly referring to the fundamental UN principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations, which Russia has manifestly violated in invading Ukraine.
One African source told Daily Maverick that Putin had responded “positively” to the appeal from Ramaphosa for negotiations. This appeared to mean that Putin had agreed to persist with the African peace mission. Yet there has been no indication that Putin had shifted his position on negotiations. He earlier told the African leaders of the peace mission that it was Ukraine and its Western backers which had violated the UN Charter, and not Russia.
Putin repeated his familiar narrative that this was because Western leaders had backed the 2014 “coup d’etat” which toppled pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and then, according to Putin, “the Ukrainian authorities unleashed hostilities against part of their citizens, using aircraft, heavy equipment and tanks to target those who did not support the Western-backed coup in 2014.
“Therefore, it was the West that unleashed the war in Ukraine,” he said.
In fact, Yanukovych fled Ukraine after his government had brutally suppressed popular protests — known as the “Euromaidan” — which erupted in Ukraine after Yanukovych did an about-turn under Russian pressure and cancelled plans to clinch a trade deal with the European Union.
It is expected that Ramaphosa and the six other leaders in the African peace initiative will release a statement soon to indicate publicly how Putin responded at the Russia-Africa Summit to their appeals.
At a press briefing after the summit, Putin explained that he would not be visiting South Africa for the BRICS Summit next month, because, “I do not think my visit to BRICS Summit is more important than me staying in Russia”.
Ramaphosa had recently persuaded Putin not to attend because South Africa would have been obliged to arrest him on a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court, which has charged him with the war crime of abducting Ukrainian children and deporting them to Russia. DM