Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Senegal’s President Macky Sall, who is currently the chairman of the African Union, at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi, Russia June 3, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

Senegal’s President Macky Sall said Russia’s Vladimir Putin had told him on Friday he was ready to enable the export of Ukrainian grain to ease a global food crisis that is hitting Africa especially hard.

“President #Putin has expressed to us his willingness to facilitate the export of Ukrainian cereals,” Sall wrote on Twitter after meeting Putin in his role as chairman of the African Union.

Russia was also ready to ensure the export of its own wheat and fertiliser, Sall said after the talks in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on day 100 of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sall did not say if Putin had attached any conditions to his offer. Russia has previously said it is ready to allow vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine in return for the lifting of some Western sanctions against it, a proposal that Ukraine has described as “blackmail”.

Africa is heavily dependent on grain supplies from Russia and Ukraine that have been badly disrupted by the war.

“I have come to see you, to ask you to be aware that our countries, even far from the theatre (of war), are the victims of this economic crisis,” Sall told Putin earlier.

In remarks that were carried on Russian state television, he said most African countries had avoided condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine at votes in the United Nations.

In the televised part of the meeting, Putin made no reference to the food crisis but spoke in general terms of Moscow’s desire to develop ties with Africa.

Russia’s army has seized much of Ukraine’s southern coastline and its warships control access to the country’s Black Sea ports. Yet it continues to blame Ukraine and the West for the resulting halt in Ukrainian grain exports.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters before the meeting: “The president will tell our African friends the real state of affairs, he will explain once again what is happening there, who has mined the ports, what is needed for grain to go, that no one on the Russian side is blocking these ports.”

Moscow blames the situation on naval mines floating near Ukrainian ports and on Western sanctions that are hitting its own grain and fertiliser exports because of the impact on shipping, banking and insurance.

Sall said he had spoken to the European Union this week and said everything concerning food and grain supplies should be outside the scope of sanctions.

African countries are acutely affected by the growing crisis, which has sent prices of grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer soaring.

Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, while Russia is also a key global fertilizer exporter and Ukraine is a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.

By Mark Trevelyan

Additional reporting by Bate Felix in Dakar, editing by Frances Kerry

(Reuters)