NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ukraine’s president says tons of grain from his country will arrive in the coming weeks in Somalia, where famine approaches and the global crises of food security and climate change put millions at risk.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s comment came as Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses the West of sending most of the grain from Ukraine’s reopened ports to Europe instead of poorer and hungrier parts of the world.
Speaking at an economic forum in Vladivostok on Wednesday, Putin accused the West of colonialism and suggested that Russia may talk with Turkey about revising the deal that lifted Russia’s blockade on Ukrainian ports and allowed ships safe passage.
“With the exclusion of Turkey as a mediator, practically all the grain exported from Ukraine was sent to the (European Union) nations instead of the poorest countries,” Putin said.
“It’s obvious that with an approach like that, the magnitude of the food problem in the world will keep growing, and that could lead to an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe,” he added. “Maybe it’s worth thinking about restricting the exports of grain and other products on that route? I will certainly discuss the issue with the president of Turkey.”
Russia has raised the allegation before, but this is the first time Putin has echoed it.
The Russian president said of 87 ships loaded with grain from Ukraine, just two carried grain for the U.N. World Food Program — 60,000 tons out of the total of about 2 million tons.
Only one ship from Ukraine has arrived in sub-Saharan Africa, docking at the port of Djibouti last week with grain that WFP said would go to drought-affected Somalia and Ethiopia. That first ship carried 23,000 metric tons of grain, which WFP called enough to feed 1.5 million people on full rations for a month.
The Ukrainian president in a tweet Tuesday night said 28,600 tons of wheat will arrive in Somalia in the coming weeks and blamed the coming famine in that country on Russia’s actions this year.
“Ukraine continues to save the world with its grain,” Zelenskyy asserted.
African nations were at the center of Western efforts to reopen Ukraine's ports as the United States and allies accused Russia of starving the world by denying exports from Ukraine, one of the world's largest grain exporters. African leaders also visited Russia to meet with Putin over the issue.
But now, Russia is trying to turn the food security issue question against the West. “They cheated the public and partners in Africa and other regions who acutely need food,” Putin said. “They were claiming that they were acting in the interests of developing countries, but acted entirely in their own interests.”
The Joint Coordination Center, run by the U.N., Turkey, Russia and Ukraine, in its latest update Tuesday night said 96 outbound ships have been enabled so far carrying more than 2.2 million metric tons.
Food security experts have said many of the shipments are deliveries on existing contracts that had been struck before Russia's actions.
One of the five commercial vessels authorized to depart Ukraine on Wednesday is bound for Kenya with 51,400 metric tons of wheat, the JCC said, adding that destinations “may change based on commercial activity.” The destinations for the four other ships are Spain and Turkey.
Isachenkov reported from Moscow.