Istanbul deal casts Putin as Africa’s kind-hearted ally

Wheat harvested in part of Ukraine under Russian control – ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/Reuters

It was supposed to be the deal that revives Ukraine’s war-ravaged economy and saves the world from global starvation. The UN has described it as a “glimmer of hope” on the Black Sea.

And it is possible. But what if Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine triggered global food shortages, turns out to be the big winner?

Analysts said Friday’s agreement in Istanbul to lift Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports gives the Kremlin two important boosts. He will fill the Kremlin treasury with money he can use to fund his war and he will also allow Russian officials to portray themselves in Africa as the continent’s saviour.

“The export of cereals and fertilizers will be an important income source of Putin’s war chest amid the impending EU oil embargo,” said Alexander Gabuev, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank.

Western sanctions have not been imposed on Russian grain or fertilizers, which are considered too important to global supplies to be banned, but companies around the world have been reluctant to deal with them because they fear they will not abide by the rules and are afraid of being able to handle stolen Ukrainian products.

Wheat grain stored in the village of Zhurivka, Ukraine, July 23 - VALENTYN OGIRENKO/Reuters

Wheat grain stored in the village of Zhurivka, Ukraine, July 23 – VALENTYN OGIRENKO/Reuters

This reluctance caused prices and sales volumes to plummet. Russia’s fertilizer sales are down 24% and grain sales are down about 10%. By concluding the deal, Russian grain becomes clean again and can be traded at near-market prices.

Mr Gabuev explained that the Kremlin had told European and American officials that there could be no agreement if they had not reassured shippers, insurers and bankers that they could sell Russian grain and fertilizer.

“It was not a formal part of the Istanbul process, but developed in parallel and was a Russian prerequisite,” he said.

But it’s not just a question of money. Effectively at war with the West over its invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin is desperate to find support elsewhere. Now he can portray himself as the kind-hearted ally who saved Africa from the West’s selfish sanctions policies, a point that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov wasted no time in discussing. assert.

Less than two days after the grain deal was signed, he was on a flight to Egypt, the start of a journey that also includes Ethiopia, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

One of his first meetings was with the Arab League in Cairo. Footage from the meeting showed diplomats from North Africa and Middle Eastern countries lining up to shake hands with the imposing Russian. There were smiles and warm words.

A grain terminal after a Russian missile strike at the Odessa seaport on July 23 - Reuters

A grain terminal after a Russian missile strike at the Odessa seaport on July 23 – Reuters

He was not welcomed as the leader of a pariah state but as a friend.

Russia already has strong economic, security and educational ties with Africa and lacks the colonial baggage that weighs on European countries. It also presents itself as a powerful counterweight in the United States.

The Kremlin is also ready to lend its brutal Wagner mercenaries to prop up some of the continent’s most dodgy regimes, build energy projects and advise on how to discredit pro-Western democratic groups.

The importance the Kremlin places on relations with Africa was underscored in June when Mr. Putin received Macky Sall, President of Senegal and head of the African Union.

In an article published in African newspapers ahead of his visit, Lavrov called the West “bloody colonialists” bent on imposing their “unipolar world order”. By signing the grain deal, Lavrov said Russia was proving to be Africa’s true friend.

Moscow will continue to pursue a peaceful foreign policy and play a balancing role in international affairs,” he wrote.