Black Sea grains: Russia assures that African countries will not be harmed

The agreement allowing the export of Ukrainian grain on the Black Sea expired on Monday evening due to lack of agreement with Russia. Moscow, which condemns obstacles to its exports, confirms that supplies do not go to “countries in need, especially on the African continent”. A way to raise the stakes while scoring points as the Russia-Africa Summit approaches in Saint Petersburg.

Signed in July 2022 and renewed three times since, the grain deal that allows exports of Ukrainian grain to the Black Sea expired on Monday, July 17, due to a lack of agreement with Moscow, which condemns obstacles to trade in the country’s agricultural products.

Despite deep differences between its stakeholders and a sometimes chaotic implementation, it had so far been sustained in the defense of emerging countries.

In one year, almost 33 million tons of grain have been shipped from Ukrainian ports, mainly corn and wheat, helping to avert the risk of shortages.

The termination of the agreement is likely to trigger a rise in prices and a world food crisis condemning the UN, the US or even the EU and accusing Vladimir Putin of blackmail. The master of the Kremlin, for his part, confirms that Russia is wronged and that none of his demands have been heard.

Communication war

Since the announcement of the expiration of this pact, accusations have come from all sides. The Russian Foreign Ministry has called on Ukraine’s supporters to “fulfill their obligations” by “effectively removing Russian fertilizer and food from sanctions”.

Western leaders, for their part, condemn the manipulation, emphasizing the fact that neither Russian agricultural products nor fertilizers are subject to punitive measures.

Another topic of conflict, the destination of Ukrainian grain. After a telephone conversation with his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa, one of his most important partners in Africa, Vladimir Putin said in a statement that “the main purpose of the agreement is the supply of grain to countries in need, especially on the African continent”, was ” Not achieved”.

The UN says 57% of exports went to developing countries and that this initiative has enabled the delivery of 725,000 tonnes of wheat to help people in need in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

Easing of sanctions

If she confirmed that it was “de facto finished”, Russia said it was ready to return to the agreement “as soon as the part concerning Russia is fulfilled”, underlined Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov.

“The two parties cannot agree on the parameters of this pact,” explains Igor Delanoë, deputy director of the Franco-Russian Observatory. “For Russia, it is not limited to the sanctuary of Ukrainian ports and the right to export grain. It believes that it must be inclusive, that is, accompanied by an easing of sanctions to facilitate logistics, financial exchange and obtain insurance. in connection with Russian international sea transport, because if it is true, as the Westerners say, that the cargo is not under sanctions, the whole Russian ecosystem is well affected by it”.

These allegations are not new. As early as May, Russia had agreed to extend the agreement, but only for two months, and added a number of requests aimed at facilitating its foreign trade. Among these was the reconnection of the main Russian agricultural bank Rosselkhozbank to the international payment system SWIFT.

A compromise has been offered to Russia through a subsidiary of the Russian bank, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Monday, lamenting that it was “ignored” by Moscow.

For Anna Creti, an economist specializing in raw materials, the withdrawal from the agreement is a way for Russia to press one of the last levers it has left against the West. “Europe has taken drastic measures to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas. Moscow has lost its grip, and agriculture is now one of its only foreign trade areas in which it can hope to win”.

Diplomatic weapon

Unable to see its demands accepted, Russia slammed the door on a deal it considers far too favorable to Ukraine. “Russia is not dependent on this maritime corridor, unlike Ukraine, for which it is crucial,” recalls Igor Delanoë.

While Ukrainian grain production and exports have fallen sharply since the start of the large-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Russian grain industry has registered an unabashed increase despite Western sanctions. Its grain exports reached a new record in 2023, estimated at between 50 and 60 million tonnes, from Black Sea ports, which continue to operate at full capacity. According to a report by the US government’s agricultural agency, these have particularly registered a significant increase this year in Africa.

“The grain sector is a dilemma for the Russian government” analyzes Igor Delanoë. “From a domestic point of view, it is not a very profitable market because it monopolizes land, labor, while selling prices are low. On the other hand, internationally, it is a lever of power and influence vis-à-vis the West, but also African countries”.

If it does not come as a surprise in light of the previously mentioned complaints, the Russian withdrawal from the grain agreement is causing concern on the continent, even if certain countries such as Somalia, Kenya or Ethiopia are facing an episode of record drought with the risk of famine.

This announcement is all the more significant as it comes as the second edition of the Russia-Africa Summit is to be held on July 27 and 28 in Saint Petersburg. Food security is one of the main themes of this forum, which will cement partnerships between Moscow and the continent.

For Anna Creti, the withdrawal of the Russian presidency a few days before the summit, confirming that Ukrainian grain products will not be sent to the African continent, is not a result of coincidence. “It’s funny to see Russia prepare the accounting that suits it for European exports, while it itself no longer communicates about its exports. It is of course a call to action for African countries before the meeting”, she analysed.

On Tuesday, Dmitry Peskov assured that Moscow was ready to export its grain products for free to the African countries that need it most, adding that this proposal would be discussed at the summit.

“The exit from the agreement is not without risk for Putin, it could cast a shadow over the meeting with African leaders,” judge Igor Delanoë for his part. “But the summit gives the Russians an opportunity to do some pedagogy and to play on the usual narrative of neo-colonialism and the West’s grasp of wealth. It’s a risk that Russia is taking by telling itself that it can take it. The message to Africa is clear: we’re pulling out of the deal, but we’re with you.”

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