LONDON - Russian President Vladimir Putin met African Union leaders on Friday and the Kremlin said he would tell them that Moscow was not to blame for the growing food crisis affecting their continent.
State TV showed Putin greeting Senegalese President Macky Sall, chairman of the AU, and Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the AU Commission, at the start of talks in the southern Russian resort of Sochi.
Russia's army has seized much of Ukraine's southern coastline in the course of its 100-day war and its warships control access to the country's Black Sea ports. But it continues to blame Ukraine and the West for the resulting halt in Ukrainian grain exports.
"With a high degree of probability and confidence, I can assume that the president will give exhaustive explanations of his vision of the situation with Ukrainian grain," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
"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," Peskov said.
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.
Moscow blames the situation on all the naval mines floating near Ukrainian ports and on Western sanctions which are hitting its own grain and fertiliser exports because of the impact on shipping, banking and insurance.
Russia has said it is ready to allow vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine in return for the lifting of some sanctions, a proposal that Ukraine has described as "blackmail".
In opening comments at Friday's meeting, Putin made no reference to the food crisis but spoke in general terms of Moscow's desire to develop ties with Africa, saying trade turnover had risen by more than 34% in the first few months of this year.
(Reporting by Reuters)