Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday offered free grain to six poor African countries as he launched a summit with leaders from the continent days after withdrawing from the Ukraine grain export deal. The two-day summit in Putin’s native Saint Petersburg is being scrutinised as a test of his support in Africa, where he retains support despite international isolation sparked by his military intervention in Ukraine last year. Russia last week refused to extend a deal under which Ukrainian grain exports passed through the Black Sea to reach global markets, including Africa, easing pressure on food prices. In a keynote address at the summit, Putin promised to send grain to six African countries. “In the coming months we will be able to ensure free supplies of 25,000 to 50,000 tonnes of grain to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic and Eritrea,” Putin said. Over a year, the grain deal allowed around 33 million tonnes of grain to leave Ukrainian ports, helping to stabilise global food prices and avert shortages. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed African leaders attending the summit to demand answers about the grain disruptions that have propelled poorer nations towards crisis. “They know exactly who’s to blame for this current situation,” Blinken said of the leaders. “My expectation would be that Russia will hear this clearly from our African partners,” he said Thursday during a visit to New Zealand. Seventeen African leaders including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are expected at the Russia-Africa summit taking place on Thursday and Friday. The Kremlin has accused Western countries of trying to prevent African states from participating in the summit. The summit is the second of its kind after an inaugural one held in 2019 in Sochi, southern Russia.