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Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and the secretary-general of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, meet in Cairo, Egypt, July 24 2022. Picture: RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY/REUTERS
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and the secretary-general of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, meet in Cairo, Egypt, July 24 2022. Picture: RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY/REUTERS

Cairo  — Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov offered reassurances over Russian grain supplies to Egypt during a visit to Cairo on Sunday, amid uncertainty over a deal to resume Ukrainian exports from the Black Sea.

Egypt is one of the world’s top wheat importers and in 2021 bought about 80% of those imports from Russia and Ukraine. Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine disrupted shipments and sped up a rise in global commodity prices, delivering a financial shock to Egypt.

In its response to the war, Egypt has been torn between long-standing ties to Russia and its close relationship to Western powers that have sanctioned and sought to isolate Moscow.

Western embassies had lobbied Egypt and the Arab League ahead of Lavrov’s visit, which included talks with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

Russia blames sanctions on the food crisis.

“We reaffirmed the commitment of Russian grain exporters to meet all their commitments,” Lavrov said in a press conference with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.

“We discussed specific parameters of co-operation in this area, agreed on further contacts between the relevant ministries, and we have a common understanding of the causes of the grain crisis.”

He hailed what he called “an independent path” taken by African countries in refusing to join western sanctions against Russia.

Since the start of the war, a blockade of Ukrainian ports by Russia’s Black Sea fleet has trapped tens of millions of tonnes of grain, worsening global supply chain bottlenecks.

Global commodity prices have soared, prompting the UN to say that an additional 47-million people are facing “acute hunger”.

Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN signed a deal on Friday to restart Ukrainian wheat exports by sea, but a Russian strike on Odesa on Saturday put implementation of the agreement in doubt.

Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday the strikes had destroyed a naval vessel and arms delivered by Washington. 

Ukraine warned that grain exports would not restart as hoped.

Russia has blamed the blockade on Ukrainian mines, though under Friday’s deal pilots would guide ships along safe channels. Lavrov said he hoped the UN would succeed in removing “illegitimate restrictions” on shipping.

“There are still 70 foreign vessels from 16 or 17 countries standing there as almost hostages, including, incidentally, one vessel blocked in Ukrainian ports because of the threat of mines, which is supposed to bring food to Egypt,” he said.

Russia has continued to supply Egypt with wheat since the war’s outbreak, selling to both the government and the private sector.

Lavrov is visiting Egypt at the start of a regional tour of African states which will also take in Uganda, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Reuters 

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