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Don’t fall for Russian lies on food crisis, EU warns Africa

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European leaders on Tuesday appealed to African countries not to fall for a Kremlin-led propaganda campaign that paints an impending global food crisis as the result of Western sanctions against Russia.

Africa and the Middle East risk being severely affected by Ukraine’s inability to ship its massive grain harvests out of the Black Sea, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly accused the West of being responsible for the disruption to global supply of grains and fertilizers.

He reiterated his message last Saturday, when he told French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that ruptures in food networks should be blamed on Western countries, rather than on his invasion of Ukraine.

At a European Council summit in Brussels Tuesday, EU leaders rejected that allegation and insisted that Moscow is to blame for the blockage of grains in the port of Odesa.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi also warned against the risk of Putin’s propaganda gaining momentum in Africa | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s a complete misinformation from Russia’s side, the only reason why we are struggling now with a food crisis is because of this brutal unjustified war against Ukraine,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters, following a meeting with the EU’s heads of state and government in Brussels. “I want to be very clear, we have no sanctions on food and agricultural products, no sanctions on that,” she added, noting that the export of Russian fertilizers to non-EU countries is not affected by Brussels’ sanctions.

Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi also warned against the risk of Putin’s propaganda gaining momentum in Africa. “Winning the battle of food security for Africa is also important from a strategic point of view … because the thesis that is spread is that a possible famine would depend on sanctions,” Draghi told a press conference after the summit.

Many African countries “are not on the side of the West, you have seen their votes at the United Nations, most of them have abstained,” Draghi said, adding that “if you lose the war on food security, there will never be any hope that these countries can come to the side of the alliance, because they will naturally feel betrayed, then whose fault is this is the least relevant issue for them.”

The impact of the war in Ukraine on food supply globally, particularly in Africa, was one of the topics discussed by EU leaders on Tuesday with the President of Senegal Macky Sall joining them via videoconference. He is also chairperson of the African Union.

According to an EU official briefed on the meeting, Macron told leaders that Africa should “be vigilant not to fall into the trap” of Russian disinformation. According to the same official, Sall told leaders that the shortage of fertilizers and food supplies in Africa was “very serious and alarming” and warned that Russia’s narrative blaming the EU “is out there” in Africa. Sall also said he was planning to discuss the issue with Putin.

Sall also raised the problem of payments for food supplies, which are hindered by the exclusion of some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payment system. Macron said that question was addressed during the meeting.

In his call with Macron and Scholz last Saturday, Putin promised he would “grant ships access to the port for the export of grain without it being exploited militarily by Russia if it was first cleared of mines,” according to an Elysée read-out of the call. “The decision doesn’t depend on us, it depends on an agreement by Russia,” Macron told reporters on Tuesday, adding that he proposed Putin should solve the issue by adopting a U.N. resolution on that issue. “We are waiting for Russia’s answer on this point,” he said.

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting.

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