East Africa

Ukraine blasts AU’s stance on demining Odesa port

By PAULINE KAIRU


Ukraine faulted the African Union for not condemning Russia for the ongoing war in its territory and, instead, demanding that Kyiv removes mines in its waters at Odesa port to ease grain export to Africa.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said Ukraine’s legitimate security concerns must be respected, further warning that Russia could “take advantage of the demining.”

Last week, the chairman of the AU, Senegalese President Macky Sall, called on Ukraine to remove the explosive mines from the coastline to enable safe passage of commodities to Africa.

Read: AU chair urges Ukraine to demine Odesa to ease wheat exports

Mr Sall had met the Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he said had assured him of “facilitation of exports”.

Moscow had called for Ukraine to demine the waters surrounding the Ukrainian-controlled port of Odesa to allow out the blocked grain, but Kyiv has refused for fear of a Russian attack.

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“It should be clear to any objective observer that what he [President Sall] should have asked for instead was for Russia to simply put an end to this senseless war,” Mr Nikolenko argued.

Ukraine wants military support and navy patrols to protect its southern coastline and export routes to Africa in order to start shipping food to the continent again, he said.

Export routes

After meeting the Russian leader, President Sall said Mr Putin offered two alternatives to the exports stalemate — either through the Black Sea port of Odesa, “which is difficult because Ukrainians have to clear mines,” or via the Russia-controlled port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

Read: AU chief says ‘reassured’ on food shortages after talks with Putin

Africa is facing a surge in food prices and a potential famine because Ukraine is unable to export food to the continent.

“The Russian army is destroying critical agricultural infrastructure, blocking Ukraine’s sea ports and grain terminals and launching missile attacks on Ukraine’s southern agricultural regions. Russia also steals grain from the Ukrainian territories it has seized by force,” said Mr Nikolenko.

“It is frustrating to hear that Ukraine must do something while not condemning Russia and calling on it to end its devastating war.”

Skyrocketing prices

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions have disrupted grain deliveries from the two countries, fuelling fears of hunger around the world. In Africa, grain prices are already skyrocketing due to the export slump.

Russia and Ukraine produce 30 percent of the global wheat supply.

But grain remains stuck in Ukraine’s ports due to the Russian blockade, while Western sanctions on Moscow have disrupted exports from Russia.

Read: Why AU is calling for peace talks to end Russia-Ukraine war

Ukraine has proposed to the African Union a three-point plan that will enable the unblocking of its seaports. One is withdrawing Russian naval forces in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, provision of military equipment to help it protect its coastline, and an international navy mission to patrol the export routes.

“We call on President Macky Sall and the African Union to use their leverage on Russia to convince it to stop its senseless hostilities. Ending the war will allow 22 million tonnes of grains stuck in the sea ports to be unblocked and avert a food crisis in Africa and beyond.”

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