African nations are free to buy grain from Russia but could face consequences if they trade in U.S.-sanctioned commodities such as Russian oil, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Thursday.
“Countries can buy Russian agricultural products, including fertilizer and wheat,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield said. But she added that “if a country decides to engage with Russia, where there are sanctions, then they are breaking those sanctions.”
“We caution countries not to break those sanctions because then … they stand the chance of having actions taken against them,” she said.
Thomas-Greenfield spoke in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, after a meeting with President Yoweri Museveni, a U.S. ally who has not criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has expressed sympathy with Moscow.
Uganda is the U.S. official’s first stop on an African tour that will include visits to Ghana and Cape Verde. Her trip comes a week after the Africa visit of Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, who dismissed charges that his country’s invasion of Ukraine is solely responsible for a dangerous food crisis in countries ranging from Somalia to South Sudan.
Lavrov blamed food shortages in the market on “the absolutely inadequate reaction of the West, which announced sanctions” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, corn, and sunflower oil, with fighting in the Black Sea region, known as the “breadbasket of the world,” pushing up food prices, threatening political stability in developing nations and leading countries to ban some food exports.
Many African countries — including some with areas that are on the threshold of famine — depend heavily on grain imports from Russia and Ukraine.
Thomas-Greenfield insisted that sanctions imposed by Washington are not to blame for rising food prices in Africa and elsewhere.
She said the U.S. seeks to strengthen existing partnerships in African countries such as Uganda and spoke of Museveni, an authoritarian who has held power for 36 years, as a regional leader with whom the U.S. has “mutual interests.”
Uganda is one of 25 African nations that abstained or didn’t vote in the U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. Many countries on the continent of 1.3 billion people have long-standing ties with Moscow, dating back to the Cold War when the Soviet Union supported their anti-colonial struggles.
Museveni said during Lavrov’s visit that Russia has been a friend to the East African country for more than 100 years, suggesting he felt under pressure to support the U.S. position on the war in Ukraine.
MODERATOR: Good evening. Are we on? Okay, good evening. Welcome to our colleagues from the press corps, and welcome to Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Ambassador Brown, I’d like to invite you to give a few opening remarks and then we will pass the microphone to Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield to give her remarks. After that we will do five questions, one from each of the outlets here, and I’ll be moderating. So, thank you all for joining us and over to you, Ambassador Brown.
AMBASSADOR NATALIE BROWN: Okay, can you hear? Good evening, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us and thank you so much for your patience. I think everyone knows between traffic and sometimes meetings at State House, the schedules we have, things can go off a little bit. So, I really appreciate you coming and that you have waited for us to return.
We at the U.S. Mission here in Uganda are thrilled to have with us today Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations. She joined us for a full day to see some of the U.S. – the activities here in Uganda and some of the issues that we’re focused on. I will let her give you some of the details because I think she wants to – she can share her perceptions. But it was useful to meet with civil society, with the business community, and then of course we had a very cordial and candid conversation with President Museveni and some senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
So, I don’t want to steal any of the thunder and, again, I know you’ve been waiting for us to return, so thank you for coming. And Ambassador, over to you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. If you don’t mind, I’ll sit down having been going nonstop for about 24 hours. Good evening, everyone. And again, thank you so much for joining us this evening. It’s such a pleasure for me to be back here in Uganda.
So, I’m here on a long-planned trip that President Biden asked me to make as part of our persistent engagement with African nations. As you know, along with my visit, USAID Administrator Power visited Africa recently and Secretary Blinken will arrive later this week. We also look forward to hosting our African Leaders Summit in Washington in December.
During my visit today, President Museveni and I just had a productive and frank meeting where we discussed a broad range of issues, including the security situation in the region, food insecurity, and strengthening democratic institutions and an independent press. And to that end, I really want to thank all of you. I thank you for the incredible work that you do as journalists; a free press is the only way to have an informed public, and both are necessary for a healthy democracy. And thank you and your colleagues for everything you do under what I know can be challenging circumstances.
Of deep importance to me, President Museveni and I discussed food insecurity around the world, as well as the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine on the availability of food and on oil prices. President Museveni and I also reinforced our shared commitment to advance peace efforts in Somalia and South Sudan and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. During our meeting, I expressed my appreciation for Ghana’s* role as a regional leader in peace and security and counterterrorism, particularly with ATMIS, the mission in Somalia.
Now, as we approach 60 years of enduring relations between the U.S. and Uganda, I want to reinforce that the United States is proud to work with Uganda to build a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future for the people of Uganda both here and for others across the region.
Part of what I did here today as well, I met with organizations that are hosting – that are supporting refugees, including the UNHCR. Every year, the U.S. invests millions of dollars in Uganda to promote economic growth and employment, improve health and education, refugee and humanitarian programs, and strengthen democratic values and security.
Of these investments is the Maganjo Grain Millers facility, which I also had the opportunity to visit earlier today. Agriculture is central to Uganda’s economy and to the lives of so many Ugandans. That’s precisely why the United States supports companies like Maganjo with business planning, due diligence, and many other financial services that boost production and help farmers to get the best prices for their products.
But over the past few years, access to food has become even more challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, supply chain shocks, regional conflicts, and Putin’s war on Ukraine. The prices of food, fertilizer, and fuel have skyrocketed, with widespread hunger and malnutrition rising as well. And that’s why tonight I’m pleased to announce that the United States will provide an additional $20 million to help Uganda to expand investments in fertilizer, grains, and other crops with the goal of increasing resilience to future shocks. From individual households to entire communities, these investments will benefit at least 435,000 people across Uganda by increasing farmer productivity and reducing crop losses.
With these investments, our goal is simple: no one should go to bed hungry; no child should starve or waste away. Food must be affordable and accessible to all. I also want to again recognize and thank Uganda for hosting the most refugees of any country in Africa – more than 1.6 million refugees. And as I mentioned, I met with organizations earlier today.
I know and I heard today that the refugee response in Uganda is stretched as demands only continue to increase. The United States is proud to be the largest donor to Uganda’s refugee response, but we must do more. We all need to do much more. And that’s why last night – sorry, last month – the United States announced here in Kampala that we are providing more than $592 million in humanitarian aid across Africa for the millions who have been persecuted and forcibly displaced across the continent, and of that $592 million we’re providing Uganda with $82 million to address food insecurity, acute malnutrition, and urgent needs of refugees and host communities. And we’re supporting partners like UNHCR to provide lifesaving assistance and protection, as well as the World Food Program to deliver food to places it’s needed most, including in Karamoja sub-region of Uganda.
You can look forward to hearing more from me on this, including a related aid announcement in my speech in Ghana tomorrow, and I want to thank all of you for joining us here tonight. And with that, I look forward to taking questions from you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. I’d like you each to please introduce yourself when you ask your question, including what outlet you’re speaking from, and let’s try and keep the questions brief.
Halima, would you like to ask the first question?
QUESTION: Oh. (Laughter.) Yes, please. Thank you. Ambassador, my name is Halima Athumni and I work for Voice of America.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Nice to meet you.
QUESTION: Nice to meet you, too, Ambassador. First, my question is: You come just a few days after Russia’s Foreign Minister was here, and we all know that President Museveni has openly said, “I welcome everyone.” And I think people have felt like there’s been pressure from the U.S. or the Western countries for them – for Africa to choose sides, and then he insisted we are not going to choose a side, especially President Museveni. Is there a reason? Are you here to sway President Museveni to your side?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I am sure that’s what Foreign Minister Lavrov was here to do. But we have a very strong, abiding relationship with Uganda. This is not my first visit to Uganda; it will not be my last visit to Uganda. And I will tell you that my trip has been in the planning for quite some time. It just happened, coincidentally, to fall after the Lavrov visit.
But what my plans were here is to reaffirm and strengthen the U.S. relationship with Uganda, to discuss with Uganda solutions and how we are working as partners with Uganda to find solutions to food insecurity, high energy cost, and supporting – strongly supporting the refugee community that Uganda so generously hosts here in this country.
Uganda and any African country have the right to choose who their friends are and who their enemies are. We’re here as Uganda’s friend.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: The next question?
QUESTION: Hi, Ambassador. My name is Rodney Muhumuza and I represent the Associated Press. You just said that you have a strong, abiding relationship with Uganda, but I have to ask about Museveni himself, President Museveni. Where do you stand? Is he still a strong ally to the U.S.? And you admitted that you spoke on Tuesday during your press conference ahead of your visit – you were asked if African countries face sanctions for doing business with Russia, and this is what you said: “I would caution that countries should not engage with countries that have been sanctioned by the [U.S.].” Would you please provide a bit more context on that? What did you mean and what would be the consequences of that? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes, and to your first question, yes, we still have a strong partnership with President Museveni. He has and continues to be a leader in this region, and I discussed with him a broad range of issues where we have mutual interests and where we could engage with each other.
On the issue of sanctions, so there are two points on this. One, Russia has a narrative that sanctions on food and agricultural products have led to the increase in prices that countries are experiencing, and I want – and I know this wasn’t exactly your question, but I do want to say that we have no sanctions on any agricultural products coming out of Russia. Russia can export their agricultural products and countries can buy Russian agricultural products, including fertilizer and wheat.
As for sanctions that we have on Russia – for example, oil sanctions – if a country decides to engage with Russia where there are sanctions, then they are breaking those sanctions; they’re breaking our sanctions and in some cases they’re breaking UN sanctions with other countries, and we caution countries not to break those sanctions because then, if they do, they stand the chance of having actions taken against them for breaking those sanctions.
MODERATOR: A question here.
QUESTION: Thanks very much. My name is Fredrick; I work with the Daily Monitor. The last time we interfaced, seven years ago –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You must have been a kid. (Laughter.) Because I was. (Laughter.) I didn’t have gray hair.
QUESTION: It has changed. Anyhow, the last time we interfaced, seven years ago, nothing has changed here pretty much. The human rights are still a concern. Well, the same (inaudible), as you know. And perhaps your coming here, it was a – there was a tweet which was shared by one of the websites, and the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee retweeted again the same – your coming to Uganda – and Senator Menendez, who, as you know, has been very, very vocal about the Kampala regime and the things they do, as you are briefed routinely, saying that they want to see the Biden Administration take a stance.
Last time you were speaking in tongues; still you’re speaking in tongues.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I haven’t made – you’ve got to tell me what language that is. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
QUESTION: No, no, (inaudible) and stuff like that. I am clearly (inaudible) clearly. But the thing is there have been actual concerns. I’ve seen some people saying that – I don’t know if it was an official thing, but you want the President, for instance, to be blocked from the summit in November. I don’t know whether a decision has been taken yet, but if you clarify that I would be grateful.
But given what we saw from the last elections and then your description of the President as your ally, is it safe to say that he has you at hello, so in the position that he wants you to? Because clearly, you seem like you’re stuck with him.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we talk to everyone on this continent, and my view is – and I think that’s a broad view of the U.S. government – that you have to engage with all leaders on this continent. And it is in those engagements that we can talk about the things that we have in common with each other or we can also talk about those issues that are of concern to us. And we don’t hesitate to raise those concerns with any government that we are engaging with.
So, we don’t speak in tongues. We’re speaking very clearly that the U.S. values are very well-known. We make clear that we value human rights. We make clear that we value democracy. We make clear that we value your right, every single one of you, your right to a free press without being harassed by governments. You may not sit in the room when we’re having those conversations with governments, but we’re very clear on our position, and this is a position that starts at the top.
As it relates to the African Leaders Summit, we’re still in the process of planning that summit, but our plan is to invite every country to the summit that is not under sanctions or by the – and are members of – current members of good standing with the African Union. And again, there may be people invited that countries disagree with. We’ve heard from several groups of people from different countries that their president shouldn’t be invited to the summit. We think this is an opportunity for us to engage on, again, the issues where we have mutual concerns. We all are concerned about terrorism and insecurity across the continent of Africa, and we should be able to have those discussions with countries, even those countries where we may have disagreements on other issues.
AMBASSADOR BROWN: Ambassador, may I elaborate a little bit?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Oh, and actually, you just mentioned the 30th anniversary of Daily Monitor. I want to congratulate you for that.
AMBASSADOR BROWN: If I may, well, I’d – which I see some of you have a copy of our report to the Ugandan people. So, I’d also like to point out that when we talk about our relations here, we engage with government, we talk about things that we have in common, those areas where we might differ, but also so much of our relationship is about our relationship with the Ugandan people – in health, in education, in agriculture, in so many other sectors. And just today, one of the things that the Ambassador did here was meet with some of the alumni of our exchange programs, people who did work in epidemiology, who went to journalism school, internships with local government.
So, it’s a broad relationship, it’s multifaceted, and I think when we look at the number of people who are on ARVs – it’s over 1.2 million people living full, healthy lives – we’ve reduced mother-to-child transmission of HIV and AIDS, we’ve reduced childhood death due to malaria, and that all comes from the partnership that we have with the Ugandan people and Ugandan institutions.
So, I think you have to really think about the entire relationship and look at it in a holistic manner. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for clarifying, Ambassador. This is why we have ambassadors who really know what we’re doing.
QUESTION: Thank you for coming, Ambassador. Simon Masaba from New Vision. Just have four separate questions for you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: How many?
QUESTION: Four separate questions.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Fulsome or foursome?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’m just joking. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. I’ll start with you are pumping money in the refugee – in UNHCR. And you’re talking about $82 million. About four years ago, we had issues to do with human rights abuses in refugee camps. Do you find it – do you see that everything you had – do you find it necessary to give it more money? Do you see that – what I’m trying to say is that we had human rights abuses in refugee camps. You are giving more money right now. Does it mean that this is no more in our camps?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, one of the things that UNHCR does is provide protection for refugees. So, if there are human rights violations being committed inside a refugee camp, it is UNHCR’s responsibility to ensure that that does cease. We have refugee coordinators. I served in this region as a refugee coordinator in the 1990s, and my job was to ensure that the funding that the U.S. government provided to UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies was used in the appropriate way.
And I can comment, of course, occasionally, we would find issues. But that was why we were there, to make sure those issues were addressed.
QUESTION: Okay. Second question. You talk about the 20 million aid. On the agenda, it’s all about food security. You are (inaudible) a country where the eastern side, outside Karamoja to be exact, we have over 200 people who are dying out of hunger. Do you find it – and then at the same time, you talk about visiting – you call it Maganjo.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Yeah, the market and the millers. Do you find – do you find it necessary to give a country money where people are, if you have visited a country where sort of (inaudible) let me repeat the question. You have given us $20 million. In a country (inaudible), but (inaudible) does not buy enough. We can grow food. What has been your assessment when you visited some of the markets today?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Unfortunately, I didn’t go to markets, and I actually – that’s something that I actually try to do when I’m taking trips. I’m going to a market in Ghana, but I didn’t have that on my schedule here. But our concern is building capacity. It’s about ensuring that food production is improved, that we work with farmers. And I did meet with some farmers today when I was at the millers’, at the milling plant, to talk to them about providing them technical support and providing them with capacity so that they can produce better quality of food, more quantity, and also try, to the extent they can, to preserve their food from wastage so that they can address these. And certainly, we’re concerned about the reports of hunger. And this is something that, as a strong humanitarian country, that we work to address with the country but also directly with the people.
QUESTION: Okay. Last question from –
MODERATOR: I’m sorry. We have so many other people. I can’t let you just ask so many questions.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah.
MODERATOR: I’m so sorry.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And the ambassador wants –
MODERATOR: You got two already.
AMBASSADOR BROWN: Thank you. I just want to elaborate on this one. And perhaps Dorothy can pass out the statement if it’s helpful. So, the Ambassador just announced the 20 million today, and she talked about some of the capacity-building that it’s going to address. Of the funds that were announced during the recent visit of the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration, there were funds specific for Karamoja and the situation there.
And we can provide the statements that include that breakdown. And if you look there, it’s – a lot of it’s being programmed through the World Food Program. And already, communities there were reading some of the emergency – receiving some of the emergency food assistance that that – that those funds addressed. So, it’s all in agriculture and food security and the – under the broader headline of it. But different allocations to do different programs because we recognize that it’s not just about addressing hunger. Again, you have to build capacity and strengthen systems so that perhaps you don’t have these acute hunger needs in the future. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.
MODERATOR: We’ll be passing you all of the press release momentarily. And I think this will be our final question from Uganda Radio Network.
QUESTION: Yeah. My name is Baker Bette, Uganda Radio Network. You have said earlier – and actually, I (inaudible) there and I also heard what you told CNN today – that what Russia is doing is disinformation. You say that you know the problems they are having for food (inaudible) so you sanctioned, but you sanctioned banks. You sanctioned insurance companies. Therefore, I have (inaudible).
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Okay. Let me stop. We have not sanctioned banks. The issue with the banks and the insurance companies is that they don’t have confidence in Russia’s markets. And so, we have worked to address the concerns that these financial institutions and insurance companies have so that they can provide the financing and the insurance. So, there are banks in Russia that have been sanctioned, but banks outside that could provide financing for companies that want to do business with Russia are a bit skittish. So, we’re working with them to address their concerns. There is a helpdesk in the Department of Treasury that we have opened up and provided so companies can reach out directly to us.
You can finish your question. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Okay. So, I was going to add that when you sanctioned those (inaudible) that I know for a fact that you have – there is a problem with SWIFT. Therefore, you had (inaudible) to transact when they are not on SWIFT. Then, if you know that, it means even when you have not sanctioned agriculture, but if you cannot transact, you can’t send money to Russia; therefore, you are – it is as good as sanctioning agriculture.
Also related to that, the president here was saying, for example, if you sanction their oil, and for us who need – one of the reasons we’re having high commodity prices, including food, is because of the price of fuel, of oil. And it is global. It is an important problem. So, part of what we are having here is, because of the sanctions on the oil, why do you have the problem with Uganda?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The reason you have a problem – and we don’t have a problem with Uganda. But the reason you have a problem with the sanctioning of oil is because Russia started a war with one of its neighbors, attacked that neighbor unprovoked, and they are being held accountable for it. The President was in the Middle East in the past few weeks working with OPEC countries to encourage them to increase their production. I saw an announcement today that OPEC would be increasing its production to address some of the concerns about the high price of oil.
But, yes, Russian oil is sanctioned, and we’re working to try to address some of the impact of oil prices on countries like Uganda. But it is not the sanctions. It is the unprovoked war that Russia itself started with Ukraine. And if they want to end this, they should end the war.
QUESTION: I – where the question was ending was that don’t you think you should be doing more than giving us 20 million if the problem of our higher commodity prices is as a result of having sanctioned Russian oil and, therefore, oil becoming expensive and also Uganda buying it expensive? Isn’t it? You have given more than all those (inaudible).
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I announced that –
QUESTION: So, wouldn’t you be giving us more than what you are giving us?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I announced an additional $20 million, and we can provide you with the amount of funding that we provide to Uganda. So, what I announced today was additional, not all that we provide to your country. And again, I think I want to be clear as I end. It is not sanctions that are contributing to the crisis that we are in right now. It’s an unprovoked war on the people of Ukraine that Russia started. And if they want to end it, they can end it by pulling out of Ukraine.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for joining us this evening. Thank you, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Have a great evening.
AMBASSADOR BROWN: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thanks to all of you.