Egypt’s leader, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, has urged Vladimir Putin to return to the Black Sea grain deal during a Russia-Africa summit marked by concerns about the global economic fallout of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a speech during a plenary session of African delegations attended by the Russian president, al-Sisi said it was “essential to reach agreement” on reviving the deal, which had allowed 33m tons of Ukrainian grain to reach markets, many in developing countries in Africa.
Moscow said it quit the deal because its own agricultural exports were still being blocked. But a number of African countries, including Kenya and Egypt, a key importer of Russian grain enduring an acute food crisis, have struck out angrily at Russia as the Kremlin seeks them as allies in its standoff with the west.
Kenya’s leading diplomatic official had called Russia’s exit from the deal a “stab in the back”.
“I emphasise the importance of finding urgent solutions to provide food and fertilisers at prices that help Africa overcome this crisis” al-Sisi said, according to a government transcript. “I look forward to reaching a consensus on a grain export agreement that takes into account the demands and interests of all parties involved and puts an end to the continuous increase in grain prices.”
Egypt is the world’s largest grain importer, of which about 80% comes from Russia and Ukraine. Video released by Russian media on Thursday showed Putin being forced to wait for al-Sisi to attend a bilateral meeting. Egypt had previously said it disagreed with Russia’s exit from the deal and said it would continue to purchase Ukrainian grain via Europe.
Putin had promised on Thursday to send free grain to six African nations in what he called a humanitarian effort. Egypt was not among those countries, which included Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic and Eritrea. All are considered Russian allies except for Somalia, which is enduring a humanitarian crisis.
Putin on Friday also sought to placate African leaders who have called for peace talks to end the war in Ukraine. He responded coolly last month to a peace plan presented by leaders led by South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa.
On Friday, the president of Congo Brazzaville, Denis Sassou Nguesso, said during the plenary session that potential peace talks “must not be underestimated”.
“We treat your initiatives with respect and are considering them closely,” Putin said during Friday’s plenary session on the final day of the summit. Of talks over the Ukraine crisis, he added: “This is an acute problem, and we’re not evading consideration of it.”
The Kremlin has said Putin would discuss the war in Ukraine with African leaders at a working dinner on Friday.
African leaders do not have much leverage with the Kremlin to halt the conflict, which has led to soaring grain and fuel prices that have disproportionately affected their country’s economies.
Some spoke out in support of the Russian military on Friday. Putin applauded a speech by Ibrahim Traoré, the interim leader of Burkina Faso who led a coup last year, which ended with the words “fatherland or death”.
The UN-brokered grain deal was struck in 2022 and allowed cargo ships to carry grain from Ukrainian ports through a corridor in the Black Sea to world markets.