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Russia 'ready' to send Tunisia more grain: Lavrov

Tunisia's Foreign Minister Nabil Ammar (R) welcomes his counterpart from Russia Sergei Lavrov ahead of their meeting in Tunis on December 21, 2023   -  
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Russia was ready to supply more grain to Tunisia, Moscow's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday during a visit to the North African country grappling with shortages fuelled by drought.

At a meeting with Tunisian President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis, Lavrov said Russia's crop yields had been good "for the second or third year in a row" and that it was willing to help Tunisia.

"There is interest in increasing deliveries of our grain," said Lavrov, without specifying the conditions or cost.

"We are ready to do it."

Over the past four years, Tunisia has been plagued by drought, which dealt a major blow to its last grain season.

The North African country almost exclusively depends on imports for cereals and is in dire need for durum wheat, soft wheat and barley until spring 2024 at least.

This summer, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was set to deliver grain for free to six African countries -- Mali, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Somalia -- as Moscow seeks to bolster its foothold on the continent.

Mired in debt of around 80 percent of its GDP and weighed down by weak growth, Tunisia lacks cash to finance its imports.

Lavrov said after meeting with Tunisian Foreign Minister Nabil Ammar that "we agreed to develop our cooperation in all sectors."

The top Russian diplomat cited "promising areas" for bilateral cooperation such as agriculture, energy, nuclear power and technology.

Lavrov, whose last trip to Tunisia was in 2019, said Moscow does not intend to supplant Tunisia's other partners, alluding to the United States and the European Union -- Tunisia's main trading partner and aid provider.

"Russia never seeks to forge friendly ties with the aim of countering others," said Lavrov. "Unfortunately, our Western colleagues have been prone to making friends in opposition to others."

The Tunisian presidency in a statement underlined "the historic relations which unite our country with Russia".

Tunis wishes to "further strengthen these strong bonds of friendship and fruitful cooperation", the presidency said.

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