OPED By Vaishali Basu Sharma
On August 2, Russia reaffirmed its stance on the collapsed Black Sea Grain deal by striking Ukraine’s main inland port city of Izmail, on the Danube River, near the Romania-Ukraine border, and has become the main transfer point for Ukraine’s grain and oil seeds.
Since then, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield has been trying to bring the issue of combating food insecurity to the forefront of the UN agenda. The US also believes that Russia might be ready to return to the grain deal.
Intensification Of Attacks
Since withdrawing from the grain deal, Russia has allegedly targeted 26 Ukrainian port facilities and destroyed 180,000 tonnes of grain. These attacks have triggered a spike in global grain prices.
The Kremlin has reacted by stating that the attacks on the Danube ports targeted facilities housing foreign fighters, military hardware, and a naval shipyard.
Kiev has been targeting Moscow with indiscriminate drone attacks. On August 1, a skyscraper in Moscow which houses some government ministry offices, was bombed, the second drone attack on the same building in two days.
Black Sea Grain Initiative
The Black Sea grain initiative was negotiated in July 2022 between Turkey, the UN, and Russia to facilitate Ukrainian grain to leave its southern ports via the Bosphorus, as the grain could not be exported using the alternative methods of road or rail, in the quantities required, through Poland or by canal and river through Romania.
The grain deal allowed Kiev to ship grain through the Black Sea, where Russia has positioned its worships and created a humanitarian corridor that allowed roughly 33 million metric tons of grain and oil seeds to be moved out of Ukraine.
Russia Quitting The Deal
Russia has been saying that it is facing obstacles to its grain and fertilizer exports. On July 17, Russia’s foreign ministry announced the country would leave the agreement that has helped bring Ukrainian grain to the world’s markets over the past year.
President Putin declared that the grain deal goal was “not achieved,” accusing Western countries of perverting the expired Black Sea grain deal for their own ends.
As part of its withdrawal from the deal, Russia said it would no longer guarantee the safety of ships transiting the maritime humanitarian corridor in the Black Sea.
In late July, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) security service turned away a cargo ship, ‘Bmo River,’ bound for the southern Russian port of Rostov-on-Don, after finding traces of explosives.”
The foreign ship may have been used earlier to transport explosive substances to Ukraine,” the FSB said. Moscow pulled out of the deal, saying it would return to the deal when all parties fully implement the agreement. In the aftermath of the announcement, the fighting between Russia and Ukraine has only intensified, and wheat prices spiked.
Earlier in May, just a day before Russia could have quit the pact over obstacles to its grain and fertilizer exports and the deal was set to expire, the Ukraine Black Sea grain deal was extended for two more months, in what U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed it as “good news for the world.”
In response to accusations that Russia’s withdrawal has led to the price rise of grain, President Putin has claimed the grain deal had, in any case, not been getting grain to the poorest countries and said Russia was ready to provide its own grain to help avoid a “global food crisis.”
Russia’s main issue with the deal is that the related three-year pact, also brokered last July by which the United Nations agreed to help Moscow overcome any obstacles to its own food and fertilizer shipments, is not being honored.
Despite the fact that Russian exports of food and fertilizer are not subject to Western sanctions, restrictions on payments, logistics, and insurance have amounted to a barrier to Russian shipments.
Putin has said that Russia would return to the deal as soon as the West met its five key demands -“Of course, we will consider the possibility of returning to it — but only under one condition: if all principles under which Russia agreed to participate in the deal are fully taken into account and fulfilled.”
These demands are – firstly, the re-admission of the Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to the SWIFT payment system; second, the resumption of exports of agricultural machinery and spare parts to Russia; third, the removal of restrictions on insurance and access to ports for Russian ships and cargo; fourth the reinstatement of a now-damaged ammonia export pipeline from Russia’s Togliatti to Odesa in Ukraine; and fifth the unblocking of accounts and financial activities of Russian fertilizer companies.
Last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, “As soon as this is done, this deal will immediately be renewed.”
Turkey Is Key
Because under the Montreux convention signed in 1936, Turkey overseas maritime traffic in the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, it played a key role in negotiating the Black Sea grain deal.
Furthermore, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin are believed to enjoy warm relations. Despite mounting pressure on Ankara to mount Western sanctions against Moscow, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told CNN, “We are not at a point where we would impose sanctions on Russia like the West have done.
We are not bound by the West’s sanctions,” “We are a strong state, and we have a positive relationship with Russia.” Putin has accepted Erdoğan’s invitation to visit Türkiye next month, and this is crucial because Erdogan has been a key player in trying to negotiate a deal, and there is some indication that there will be an attempt to renegotiate the deal.
Last week President Erdogan spoke about his phone call with his Russian counterpart Putin and told him that Turkey would continue its “intense” efforts and diplomacy for the resumption of the Black Sea grain deal.
The US has said that the Kremlin might be prepared to return to the talks on the Black Sea grain deal, which allows safe passage to Ukrainian ships carrying grain shipments. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said that if Russia wants to get its fertilizer to global markets and facilitate agricultural transactions “they’re going to have to return to this deal.”
“We have seen indications that they might be interested in returning to discussions. So we will wait to see whether that actually happens,” she said without giving further details.
The impact of the collapse of the grain deal would affect countries in the global south more. Better harvests are expected in Brazil, Argentina, and the US, which reduces the pay-off for Russia, which is hoping to limit Ukrainian exports to damage its economy. The Russian bombing of ports on the Danube is hardly likely to help its own argument that it is seeking the removal of sanctions for the interest of the hungry around the world.
China, which receives the bulk of Ukrainian grain, will be most affected in terms of grain shortages. Since the deal last year, China has imported almost 8 million metric tons of Ukrainian agricultural products.
Even though Moscow and Beijing are now considerably close, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, has called for the immediate resumption of Ukrainian agriculture exports as well as Russian fertilizer products – “China hopes that all relevant parties will intensify dialogue and consultation and meet each other halfway,” he said at the U.N. Security Council meeting chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
India, another close friend of Russia, has meanwhile voted for the resumption of the Black Sea grain deal. New Delhi has announced that it supports the efforts made by the UN Secretary-General in continuing the grain initiative, highlighting the issue of conflict-induced food security and hoping for early resolution and resumption of the Black Sea grain deal.
- Vaishali Basu Sharma is an analyst of strategic and economic affairs. She has worked as a consultant with India’s National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) for nearly a decade. She is presently associated with the New Delhi-based think tank Policy Perspectives Foundation.
- The author can be reached at postvaishali (at) gmail (dot) com.