Ahead of a trip to Uganda and Ghana this week, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in an interview that it would be a “listening tour” and that she wanted to find out solutions, not blame, plus an escalating food insecurity crisis on the African continent since Russia invaded Ukraine.
But after arriving in Uganda, she warned African countries that there were red lines they should not cross.
“Countries can buy Russian agricultural products, including fertilizers and wheat,” Thomas-Greenfield said Thursday, according to The Associated Press. But, she added, “if a country decides to engage with Russia, where there are sanctions, then they are breaking those sanctions.”
Buying Russian oil could be a violation of these sanctions. The United States banned Russian oil and natural gas imports in March, and the European Union will ban most Russian oil imports by the end of the year.
“We warn countries not to violate these sanctions,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield said, because then “they have a chance of action being taken against them.”
Most African countries have tried to stay away from Russia’s fight with Ukraine. Nevertheless, they suffered the consequences. Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of grain to African countries, and war-induced price hikes – compounded by droughts, conflict and the lingering economic effects of the pandemic – have hit families hard.
Hundreds of millions of people in Africa do not have enough to eat. According to the humanitarian aid organization Alima, almost a million people are at risk of death in one region alone: the Sahel, a vast expanse of land south of the Sahara.
The effectiveness of Ms. Thomas-Greenfield’s warning is uncertain. Even though African countries are being punished for buying Russian oil, some may decide it’s a price worth paying. Skyrocketing fuel prices and shortages have already hit hard and pushed food prices even higher.
On a trip to four African countries last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov denied Russian responsibility for global food shortages, instead blaming Western sanctions on Russia for preventing its grain to reach the markets. Western officials have repeatedly said – and Ms. Thomas-Greenfield stressed this before her trip to Africa – that the sanctions do not ban exports of Russian agricultural products and have given specific assurances that entities involved in this trade are not in violation.
However, the message from Russia continues to flow. After the visit of Mrs. Thomas-Greenfield, Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan President, said on Twitter, “If they really want to help Africa, they should consider evading us from sanctions in a war we are not a part of.” The message contained a photo of him with Ms. Thomas-Greenfield.