‘Africa is hostage of Russia’s war on Ukraine’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called Africa “a hostage” of Russia’s war during an address to the African Union (AU) on Monday.

Russia’s invasion and its blockade of Ukraine’s grain exports have sparked grain and fertiliser shortages and put millions of people at risk of hunger.

The chair of the AU Commission said there was an “urgent need for dialogue” to restore global stability.

Western countries have urged Russia to release Ukraine’s vast grain stores.

The blockade has sent food prices soaring.

“Africa is actually a hostage… of those who unleashed war against our state”, Mr Zelensky said in his speech.

He said his government was engaged in “complex negotiations” to unblock grain reserves trapped in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

“This war may seem very distant to you and your countries,” he told the AU. “But the food prices that are catastrophically rising have already brought (the war) to the homes of millions of African families.”

Mr Zelensky’s AU speech comes nearly 10 weeks after he first asked to address the continental body.

The BBC understood that 55 heads of state were invited to the virtual session, but only four attended. The rest of the countries sent representatives.

African countries have been divided in their response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. In March, 17 African countries abstained in a United Nations (UN) vote to condemn the invasion.

But on Monday, AU’s chairperson, Macky Sall, thanked Mr Zelensky for addressing the union.

Mr Sall said that “Africa remains committed to respecting the rules of international law, the peaceful resolution of conflicts and freedom of trade”.

Initially, the AU did not want to be addressed by Mr Zelensky, and it did not fully agree with what he was saying – they wanted dialogue to solve the crisis, as they always have.

Earlier this month, Mr Sall held talks with Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. He told Mr Putin that African countries were innocent victims of the war in Ukraine, and Russia should help ease their suffering.

Earlier on Monday, EU Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, said of Russia’s blockade: “This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer.” -BBC

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