The UK foreign secretary has accused Russia of hitting “a new low” by “deliberately burning food stocks” while millions of people are “struggling to eat”.
James Cleverly is visiting Africa, as part of a mission to combat the growing influence of Russia and China.
In a speech in Lagos, Nigeria, he set out the UK’s “vision” for partnerships with African countries.
It follows last week’s military coup in neighbouring Niger.
Mr Cleverly, whose mother was born in Sierra Leone, said he was “proud” of his roots and of the UK’s contribution to the history of Africa.
“As the UK’s foreign secretary I’m not allowed to have a favourite continent. But if I did, it would be Africa,” he said.
Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum – an ally of the West – was deposed in last week’s military coup.
Some supporters of the coup were reportedly waving Russian flags.
The UK government has criticised what it calls an attempt to “undermine stability and democracy” in Niger and has advised against all travel there.
The Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who chairs the Economic Community of West African States, has also condemned the military takeover.
In his speech in Lagos, Mr Cleverly said the UK shared democratic values with Nigeria, adding that Russia’s invasion of of Ukraine was an attack on those values.
He said: “This month Russia has hit a new low. We are witnessing the grotesque spectacle of a G20 nation, deliberately burning food stocks whilst there are millions of people around the world struggling to eat.”
James Cleverly’s tour follows a Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg last week, hosted by President Putin, in which he promised to provide some African countries with free grain.
Training with UK forces
The Russian private military group, Wagner, has an increasing presence in Africa and has welcomed the Niger coup.
The Foreign Affairs Committee criticised the government last week for under-playing Wagner’s activities and called for a “genuinely compelling alternative” for countries in need of security partnerships.
In an interview with the Financial Times before the trip, James Cleverley said he would “look with seriousness” at any requests from African leaders “to work on capacity building and training with the British armed forces”.
James Cleverly told the FT some countries had turned to Wagner to meet an “unfulfilled need”.
During his tour, Mr Cleverly is announcing a package of financial support to help Nigeria develop crops with increased tolerance to heat and floods.
According to the World Bank Nigeria is one of the 10 countries most vulnerable to the impact of climate change due to “more intense and untimely” rainfall – with many Nigerians living in “fear and despair”.
More than 600 people were killed and at least a million displaced in Nigeria last year following the worst flooding in a decade, which also washed crops away.
Nigeria is accustomed to temperatures of 40 degrees although the forecast for the capital Abuja during the Foreign Secretary’s visit is for thundery showers and a high of 29 degrees.