In July 2022. it was announced that Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Nations had come to an understanding whereby Russia would ensure Ukraine’s continued export of grain and fertiliser. At the same time, all restrictions on the export of Russian agricultural products and fertilisers to countries in need would also be lifted.
To allow payment to be taken for this exported grain, it was agreed that the Russian Agricultural Bank would be reconnected to the Swift payment system, Russian grain-carrying ships would no longer be blocked from European Union ports, and restrictions on the supply of agricultural machinery and spare parts to Russia would be lifted.
All this was agreed in order that grain could reach the countries where it was desperately needed. Had it been implemented, the arrangement held out the prospect that the impending famine threatening north Africa could be mitigated and prices in many hard-pressed countries could be brought down.
In the year that has passed since the agreement was made, 33 million tonnes of grain did indeed leave Ukraine’s ports. The British government is claiming that 61 percent of that went to low or middle-income countries, but Russia has said that the proportion of the grain that went to the very poorest countries was less than 4 percent.
There was one really big problem with the ‘grain deal’, however. Whilst Russia stuck rigidly to its side of the agreement, Ukraine and its western backers reverted at once to Minsk-mode, stonewalling and doing nothing to meet their reciprocal obligations.
Indeed, far from doing as promised, the Ukrainians have been using the ‘grain ships’ to smuggle arms into Ukraine without Russia seeing them arrive.
Despite all this, the Russians agreed on three occasions to extend the deal, but with a year gone by and not the faintest glimmer of cooperation from the Kiev junta, they have now called time, resuming bombardment of Odessa and other Black Sea ports.
Grain to Africa
Russia has not given up trying to find a way to get grain to where it is most needed, however. President Vladimir Putin has told African leaders that they will get Russian grain, and that for many countries it will be free. “Our country is capable of replacing Ukrainian grain on a commercial and a gratuitous basis,” he said, adding that “continuing the grain deal in its current form had lost all sense”.
At the second Russia-Africa summit, held in St Petersburg on 27-28 July, representatives from 49 African countries listened as the Russian president promised to send free grain to six African nations in dire need (Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea) and made a point of celebrating the “joint determination to counter neocolonialism, the practice of applying illegitimate sanctions and attempts to undermine traditional moral values”.
At the summit, President Putin recalled the Soviet Union’s policy of supporting African liberation and development – by offering free university education to African students, by building industrial infrastructure, by sharing technological knowledge and more – and pledged that from now on Russia would return to that fraternal policy of assistance and support, from which it had been a mistake to depart.
“Getting your flag is not enough,” said the Russian president, referring to the formal independence won by African countries in the 20th century. “It’s obvious. Maintaining the monopoly of some countries in the fields of finance, technology and food is unacceptable. We need to fight this.
“And of course many people here know that the USSR and Russia never proceeded from the fact that it was necessary to buy only raw materials from Africa. How many enterprises, power plants, steel mills the Soviet Union built in Africa. We must return to this practice.”
The summit concluded with participants signing a joint declaration calling for “the establishment of a more just, balanced and stable multipolar world order, firmly opposing all types of international confrontation in the African continent”.
Russia is ‘turning its face towards Africa’
In March this year, the Peoples’ Friendship University in Moscow (RUDN), founded in the Soviet Union in 1960, was given once again the name the Soviets had applied to it in 1961 – the Patrice Lumumba University, in honour of Congo’s murdered liberation hero and short-lived prime minister.
During the summit, Oleg Ozerov, head of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum secretariat announced the name-change, saying:
“We restored historical justice. This is an important symbolic gesture, an indicator that Russia is turning its face towards Africa.
“Russia remembers the heroes of Africa and fighters for national liberation. Not just Patrice Lumumba, but also Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Leopold Sedar Senghor and many others. Samora Machel, Ahmed Ben Bella, Gamal Abdel Nasser and all those who fought for national liberation, sometimes at the cost of their lives.”
No wonder the imperialists are foaming at the mouth, and making every effort to confuse the world as to the nature of the relationship between Russia and Africa.
And no wonder either that anti-imperialist crowds across the continent are so often to be seen waving Russian flags.