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By Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A top U.S. Treasury official will highlight Washington’s efforts to facilitate Russian grain and fertilizer exports during a visit to Kenya and Somalia and stress that Moscow’s exit from the Black Sea grain deal will hurt African states, a spokesperson said on Monday.

This week’s visit by Brian Nelson, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to host African leaders in St. Petersburg on Thursday and Friday and promises them free Russian grain “to replace Ukrainian grain.”

“He will highlight the exemptions in U.S. sanctions that have always allowed the continued flow of food and agriculture transactions,” the Treasury spokesperson added of Nelson’s trip, first reported by Reuters.

Russia quit the deal allowing Black Sea exports of Ukrainian grain last week, saying that demands to improve its own food and fertilizer exports had not been met, and that not enough Ukraine grain had reached the poorest countries under the Black Sea deal.

Since Russia quit the deal and began attacking Ukrainian food-exporting ports on the Black Sea and Danube river, global wheat and corn futures prices have risen sharply.

The Black Sea grain deal was brokered by the U.N. and Turkey a year ago to combat a global food crisis worsened by Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia are both leading grain exporters.

Somalia received 84,000 tonnes of wheat from Ukraine in 2022, up from 31,000 tonnes in 2021, according to U.N. trade data, as donors stepped up assistance to fend off a looming famine in certain areas.

Famine in parts of the Horn of Africa was averted this year as the rainy season, projected to fail for a fifth consecutive year, beat expectations. But aid officials say some 60 million people are still food insecure in seven east African countries and worry about the impact of a further blow.

While Russian exports of food and fertilizer are not subject to sharp Western sanctions, Moscow has said restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance have amounted to a barrier to shipments.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that over the past year, the U.S. Treasury issued general licenses to help facilitate Russian exports of grain and fertilizer and the U.N. created a “bespoke payments mechanism” for the Russian Agricultural Bank through U.S. bank JPMorgan Chase & Co.

African nations have largely remained neutral on the Ukraine war. Some, notably South Africa, received support from the Soviet Union for their independence movements and have cordial relations with Russia, but most have closer economic links with the United States and Europe.

While in Nairobi and Somalia’s capital Mogadishu from Monday to Saturday, Nelson will also discuss strengthening anti-money laundering and the financing of terrorism frameworks and enhancing partnerships to address regional security, including to combat the Islamic State and al Shabaab militant groups.

Nelson’s second trip to Africa as under secretary and his first to East Africa follows visits by several senior Biden administration officials to the continent this year after President Joe Biden pledged in December that the U.S. was “all in” on Africa’s future.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Don Durfee and Cynthia Osterman)

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