Western sanctions on Russian banks have made it difficult or impossible for African countries to buy grain from Russia to help solve a global food crisis triggered by the invasion of Ukraine, the head of the African Union has told EU leaders.
Macky Sall, Senegal’s president made the complaint by videoconference at an EU summit on Tuesday, the latest sign of concern in developing countries about the economic and humanitarian impact of the Ukraine war and the surge in energy and food prices that has been exacerbated by sanctions aimed at Moscow.
“Our countries are very worried about the collateral impact of the disruptions caused by blocking the Swift payment system as a result of sanctions,” Sall said. He was speaking after the EU endorsed a sixth package of sanctions that will curb 90 per cent of Russian oil imports to the EU and added Sberbank to the list of Russian banks excluded from the Swift messaging system for financial transfers.
“When the Swift system is disrupted, it means that even if produce exists, payment for it becomes difficult or even impossible,” Sall said. “I would like to insist that this question be examined as soon as possible by our relevant ministers to find suitable solutions.”
Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s biggest grain exporters, and about 20mn tonnes of wheat are stranded in the Black Sea port of Odesa because of a Russian naval blockade of the Ukrainian coast.
Faced with complaints by Sall and other African governments about the difficulties of importing grain and fertiliser from Russia, EU leaders have laid the blame squarely on Russian president Vladimir Putin while simultaneously trying to arrange the export of Ukrainian wheat stocks by sea or overland.
“The fact that there is a severe food crisis developing is only the fault of Russia’s unjustified war,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said at the conclusion of the summit, noting that there were no EU sanctions on Russian exports of food or fertiliser.
Olaf Scholz, German chancellor, said: “There are many stories that are a distraction from Russia’s war in Ukraine — we shouldn’t accept that.” Last week a senior French official said it was important to “deconstruct” the Russian narrative that it was the retaliatory sanctions rather than the invasion itself that lay behind the growing international food crisis.
But Scholz acknowledged that there were some issues with payments for fertilisers and an EU official said that there was a “glitch” in the sanctions regime given the difficulty of paying for produce that was not supposed to be affected by the EU’s measures against Moscow.
In much of Africa, the Ukraine war threatens not only to increase food prices but also to push the cost of fertiliser beyond the means of millions of farmers, threatening next year’s harvest. “Eastern African countries are fully dependent on fertiliser imports and the rising fertiliser costs are expected to have severe implications of food availability and prices,” the UN said.
A senior Ethiopian official has argued that the war in Ukraine and Swift sanctions on Russia — which make it hard to pay for Russian grain and fertilisers — are “bringing significant shocks” to the economies of east Africa, as inflation spiked.
President Emmanuel Macron of France, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said he hoped that in the coming days and weeks an agreement with Russia could be found for Ukrainian food exports, saying that recent talks between the Russian and Turkish presidents on the matter were a “positive sign”.
Additional reporting by Valentina Pop and Javier Espinoza in Brussels and Andres Schipani in Nairobi