Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov lashed out at Western countries Wednesday as he wrapped up a four-nation trip to Africa with a stop in Ethiopia’s capital.
Moscow is seeking to bolster support from African countries, who have largely declined to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. His visit came as the U.S. announced nearly half a billion dollars in additional aid for drought relief in Ethiopia.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th and its blockade of Ukraine’s ports massively disrupted grain shipments, trapping millions of tons of grain and causing global commodity prices to soar.
But at a Wednesday news briefing in Addis, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov claimed prices were rising before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and what he called “green policies” pursued by the West.
“I know that the Western media presents the situation in a totally distorted manner, if only to mention the food crisis, so called food crisis, as if nothing was of concern before February this year,” he said.
Nataliya Bugayova, a Russia research fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, dismissed Lavrov’s remarks as an attempt to reshape the narrative on the food crisis during his Africa tour.
"Russia's blockade of grain in Ukraine's ports and deliberate destruction of Ukrainian agricultural capabilities is at the center of this effort, as Russia is trying to falsely link Ukraine's grain exports with sanctions against Russia, and to falsely frame Ukraine as a party, as a responsible party, in the global food crisis,” she told VOA.
Lavrov’s African tour included stops in Egypt, Uganda and the Republic of Congo. Along the way, he has sought to reassure regional leaders that grain exports through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports will resume, even while pinning the blame for their halt on the West.
While in Addis, Lavrov met with the Ethiopian foreign minister, Demeke Mekonnen. The pair agreed to strengthen cooperation and economic ties, according to state media.
There was no indication that Lavrov met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has rarely been seen in public lately, or with officials at African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.
AU officials told VOA that Lavrov’s stop was a bilateral visit between Russia and Ethiopia.
Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. government announced a package of $488 million to help Ethiopia with drought relief efforts. Dry weather and conflict have left 30 million Ethiopian in need of aid.
Announcing the new funds, Tracey Ann Jacobson, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Ethiopia, said current weather conditions across the region were the “worst in recorded history.”
The new U.S. special envoy for the horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, this week is making his first visit to the country, where the U.S. is supporting efforts to mediate between the federal government and rebels from the northern Tigray region.
VOA's Cindy Saine contributed to this report.