Russia-Ukraine conflict: African Union head to speak to Pres Putin Friday in Russia

DAKAR— The head of the African Union, Senegalese President Macky Sall, will meet with President Vladimir Putin in the southwestern Russian city of Sochi on Friday.

The visit is aimed at “freeing up stocks of cereals and fertilisers, the blockage of which particularly affects African countries”, along with easing the Ukraine conflict, Sall’s office said Thursday.

The visit was organised after an invitation by Putin, and Sall will travel with the president of the African Union Commission, his office added.

The AU will also receive a video address from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, though no date has been set.

The war in Ukraine has sent the cost of fuel, grain and fertilisers skyrocketing around the globe, which is being acutely felt in African nations.

Both Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of wheat and other cereals to Africa, while Russia is a key producer of fertiliser.

The UN said last month Africa faces an “unprecedented” crisis caused by the war, compounding difficulties facing the continent, from climate change to the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this week, Sall made an appeal to European Union leaders to help ease the crisis on key commodities.

He said their decision to expel Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system could hurt food supplies to the continent.

“When the SWIFT system is disrupted, it means that even if the products exist, payment becomes complicated, if not impossible,” Sall said via video-link.

“I would like to insist that this issue be examined as soon as possible by our competent ministers in order to find appropriate solutions,” he added.

Sall acknowledged that Russia’s blockade of Odessa had harmed Ukrainian food exports, and he backed UN-led efforts to free the port.

Russia has come under a barrage of sanctions from the West following the Feb 24 invasion of Ukraine, in a bid to punish Moscow for the military intervention.