June 17, 2024

I’ll Give You Free Grain to Be My Friend

As Russia’s defense minister marveled at banned ballistic missiles alongside North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, the Kremlin on Thursday ramped up efforts to court allies with a summit appealing to African leaders.

With just 17 heads of state from 54 African nations in attendance, Vladimir Putin announced at the “Russia-Africa” summit in St. Petersburg that Moscow would provide up to 50,000 tons of grain to six African countries for free—to replace the Ukrainian grain exports whose delivery Moscow blocked by pulling out of a grain deal.

“We are expecting a record harvest this year. In the coming months, we will be ready to supply Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea with 25,000-50,000 tons of grain free of charge. We will also provide free shipping for this product,” Putin said.

After tanking the Black Sea Grain Initiative on July 17—which had helped to keep Ukraine’s huge farming industry afloat by allowing deliveries out of Black Sea ports—Moscow unleashed a string of attacks that decimated the country’s grain exports and wiped out supplies that the United Nations said could have fed hundreds of thousands of people.

But Putin, speaking to the crowd, presented himself as a sort of benevolent overlord, accusing “Western countries” of obstructing Russian grain deliveries to Africa and insisting that Moscow “will always pay special attention” to food supplies for “the poorest countries.”

The Russian leader also proposed setting up schools in Africa where classes are taught in Russian. Putin’s war-mongering spiritual leader, Patriarch Kirill, made sure to reassure African leaders in attendance they should never fear Russia’s grip, however: “Moscow has never considered Africa an object for colonization,” the Russian Orthodox Church leader said, according to RIA Novosti.

He went on to argue that Russia and Africa were united in a holy war against the legalization of same-sex marriage and other forms of “overindulgence.”

The two-day summit is the second to be held since 2019. A day earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov explained away the low turnout, claiming the West was to blame for an “absolutely outrageous” pressure campaign to keep African leaders from attending.

While Russia’s war against Ukraine loomed over the summit, the short-lived mutiny by the Wagner Group last month was also expected to be an issue on the agenda as the mercenary group vows to continue its work in Africa.

The group’s foul-mouthed founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, made sure to demonstrate he was still very much in charge despite the Kremlin banishing him to Belarus after several Russian service members were killed by his men. The former Putin confidant accused of stabbing the Russian leader in the back was seen grinning in a photo “from the Russia-Africa summit” shared by his right-hand man in the Central African Republic, Dmitry Syty.

According to the local news outlet Fontanka, the photo, which shows Prigozhin wearing dad jeans as he shakes hands with an African diplomat, was taken in his hotel in St. Petersburg, where he has reportedly been meeting with members of the delegation.

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