May 24, 2024

African nations are free to buy grain from Russia but could face consequences if they trade in U.S.-sanctioned commodities such as Russian oil, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Thursday.

“Countries can buy Russian agricultural products, including fertilizer and wheat,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a news conference in the capital, Kampala, after a meeting with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Museveni is a U.S. ally who has not criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has expressed sympathy with Moscow.

She added that if a country decides to engage with Russia where there are sanctions, then they “stand the chance of having actions taken against them.”

Her trip comes a week after the Africa visit of Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, who dismissed charges that his country’s invasion of Ukraine is solely responsible for a dangerous food crisis in countries ranging from Somalia to South Sudan.

Lavrov blamed food shortages in the market on “the absolutely inadequate reaction of the West, which announced sanctions” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower oil, with fighting in the Black Sea region, known as the “breadbasket of the world,” pushing up food prices, threatening political stability in developing nations and leading countries to ban some food exports.

Many African countries – including some with areas that are on the threshold of famine – depend heavily on grain imports from Russia and Ukraine.

Thomas-Greenfield insisted that sanctions imposed by Washington are not to blame for rising food prices in Africa and elsewhere.

She said the U.S. seeks to strengthen existing partnerships in African countries such as Uganda and spoke of Museveni, an authoritarian who has held power for 36 years, as a regional leader with whom the U.S. has “mutual interests.”

Uganda is one of 25 African nations that abstained or didn’t vote in the U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

Many countries on the continent of 1.3 billion people have long-standing ties with Moscow, dating back to the Cold War when the Soviet Union supported their anti-colonial struggles.

Museveni said during Lavrov’s visit that Russia has been a friend to the East African country for more than 100 years, suggesting he felt under pressure to support the U.S. position on the war in Ukraine.

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