Russia says first free grain shipments to Africa are on their way

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia’s agriculture minister said on Friday that Moscow had begun free shipments of grain totalling up to 200,000 tonnes to six African countries, as promised by President Vladimir Putin in July.

In a statement posted on Telegram, Dmitry Patrushev said that ships headed for Burkina Faso and Somalia had already left Russian ports, and that additional shipments to Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Mali and the Central African Republic would soon follow.

Putin had promised to deliver free grain to the six countries at a summit with African leaders in July, soon after Moscow withdrew from a deal that had allowed Ukraine to ship grain from its Black Sea ports despite the war with Russia.

The deal, known as the Black Sea grain initiative, had helped lower prices on the global market. But Putin argued it was failing to get supplies to the countries in most urgent need.

Last year, Russia exported around 60 million tonnes of grain, according to Putin. U.N. chief Antonio Guterres called the promises of free grain “a handful of donations”.

Since quitting the arrangement, Russia has repeatedly bombed Ukrainian ports and grain storage facilities, and Kyiv says hundreds of thousands of tons of cereals have been destroyed.

Ukraine said on Friday, however, that it had managed to ship 4.4 million tonnes of cargo including 3.2 million tonnes of grain via a new shipping corridor it established in August.

(Writing by Felix Light and Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)