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EU: Blame Russia, not sanctions, for global food crisis

FILE - Farm employees spread fertilizer on a farm in Gerdau, North West province, South Africa, Nov. 19, 2018. Families across Africa are paying about...

FILE - Farm employees spread fertilizer on a farm in Gerdau, North West province, South Africa, Nov. 19, 2018. Families across Africa are paying about...

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's top diplomat said on Monday he has written to all African foreign ministers to explain that the bloc's sanctions on Russia are not responsible for the looming global food crisis, and pledged to work out ways for exports of food and fertilizers to reach their continent.

The EU has not banned exports of Russian food or fertilizers to non-EU nations as part of its sanctions package.

Earlier this month, the chairman of the African Union, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the fighting in Ukraine and Western sanctions had worsened food shortages, and appealed to other countries to ensure grain and fertilizer exports from Russia and Ukraine aren’t blocked.

“Russia is blockading Ukrainian exports," Josep Borrell said after a meeting of EU Foreign Affairs ministers. “Not us. Russia is destroying ports, and destroying food stocks, destroying transport infrastructure."

Russia's war against Ukraine has been preventing some 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain from getting to the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia.

Borrell said it is “a deliberate attempt (by Russia) to create hunger in the world," adding that the Kremlin's attempt to blame Western sanctions for the crisis was just “propaganda."

Sall also complained that the collateral effects of the EU decision to expel many Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system will hurt African countries' ability to make payments for food imports.

Borrell said he understands the concerns of African leaders about the consequences of EU sanctions.

“If there is a problem, we will solve it," he said. “But I have to know the problem. Not the whole financial system of Russia is de-Swifted."

Meanwhile, Borrell said the bloc is ready to look into whether sanctions imposed on Belarus before the war targeting exports of potash — a common fertilizer ingredient — can affect its distribution across the world.

In addition, Borrell said the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, will send letters to all financial and economic actors to explain what they can do under the sanctions regime.

“Because our sanctions don't forbid them to participate on the trade on food, fertilizers with Russia and third countries," he said.