(Bloomberg) — Russian shipments of donated grain are expected to begin landing in Africa within days, adding new momentum to its bid to strengthen its influence on the continent.
Most read on Bloomberg
President Vladimir Putin promised to send free grain to six African countries with close ties to Moscow during the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg in July. The move followed criticism that Russia’s war in Ukraine and its withdrawal from a deal facilitating the export of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea was driving up global prices for food and fertilizer.
Shipments will total 200,000 tonnes by the end of the year, the Russian Ministry of Agriculture announced on November 17, cited by the Interfax news agency, with Somalia and Burkina Faso expected to be the first recipients. Zimbabwe, Mali, Eritrea and the Central African Republic are also expected to receive between 25,000 and 50,000 tonnes of grain each, Putin said in July. This represents only a tiny fraction of what they consume.
Russia’s efforts to strengthen ties with African countries by increasing trade and deploying Wagner mercenaries to support unstable governments follow efforts by the United States and its allies to isolate it in response to the invasion of Ukraine. However, it remains a minor player: its bilateral trade with the continent represented only $18 billion in 2022, a fraction of China’s $282 billion.
A study presented Sunday at a conference in Cape Town by a foundation set up by former South African President Thabo Mbeki sought to dispel the notion that Moscow is primarily responsible for rising food prices. Direct or indirect sanctions imposed on Russia and its ally Belarus have reduced global supplies of fertilizer and ammonia by 40.8 million tonnes through April 2023, according to the study supported by a fund founded by the billionaire Russian fertilizer maker Andrey Melnichenko.
Ukraine and Russia are two of the world’s leading exporters of grain and vegetable oil. The war impacted the global supply of both goods, with Russia bombing Ukrainian stores and ports.
Although Russian fertilizers have not been subject to international sanctions, sanctions on the owners of companies that produce them and restrictions imposed by the banking and logistics sectors caused exports to plummet last year. Since then, they have recovered, leading to a drop in prices.
Analysis of the impact of the Black Sea grain deal showed that it helped feed around 95 million people, but failed to ensure that fertilizer from Russia could flow freely to global markets. If that had happened, food production could have fed about 199 million people, the report said.
Billionaire Melnichenko, who has dual Russian and Arab Emirati citizenship, was sanctioned by the European Union and the United States following the invasion of Ukraine. He visited South Africa late last year to lobby politicians to support his calls for the EU to resolve fertilizer supply problems.
Pretoria has adopted a non-alignment stance on the war in Ukraine, drawing criticism from the United States and some of its other major trading partners. Mbeki spent time in exile in Russia during the apartheid regime and served as president of South Africa from 1999 to 2008.
–With the help of Paul Vecchiatto.
Most read from Bloomberg Businessweek
©2023 Bloomberg LP