Russian Grain Politics And Africa’s Import-Dependency Syndrome


By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

Despite its sudden exit from the United Nations-brokered agreement that allowed Ukraine to export grains, Moscow says it will continue to consolidate efforts and deliver its grains uninterruptedly to the world markets. With most African countries in need, Moscow offered its assurances and would further negotiate agreements at the forthcoming summit in St. Petersburg.

At the media briefing, the Russian Foreign Ministry also offered similar assurances on the African leaders’ gathering. African countries will receive Moscow’s assurances concerning food supplies at the Russia-Africa summit, which will be held in St. Petersburg, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said.

“The countries in need will definitely receive the necessary assurances in their contacts with us and during the upcoming Russia-Africa summit regarding their need for agricultural products, primarily grain,” Vershinin. Russia understands concerns that its African partners might have, he said, “But I’d like to say that these concerns are not only understandable but will also be fully taken into account.”

A group of African countries led by South Africa have put forward a peace initiative to resolve the Ukrainian conflict. Meanwhile, Russia’s influence on the social and economic situation in African countries has increased in line with rising prices for food, fertilizer and energy.

Another source also indicated that the participants of the Russia-Africa Summit do not plan on making a separate statement on the situation in Ukraine, although the ongoing conflict will be discussed on the forum’s sidelines. However, a separate statement on this issue should not be expected, except there will be a general declaration dedicated to the positive bilateral agenda and a document relating to the global geopolitical situation.

At different occasions, Russian President Vladimir Putin has unreservedly stressed that “Russia is reliably fulfilling all its obligations pertaining to the supply of food, fertilisers, fuel and other products that are critically important to the countries of Africa, and ready to ensure their food security.”

On July 17, Russia rejected a further extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, or so-called grain deal, an agreement initially concluded in Istanbul in July 2022 to ensure the safe export of Ukrainian grain and foodstuffs through humanitarian corridors in the Black Sea. Moscow said, however, that it may consider returning to the Istanbul initiative if the provisions of the deal allowing for exports of Russian agricultural products to world markets can be duly implemented.

The international community denounced Moscow’s decision, while Turkey, which had brokered the Black Sea Grain Initiative jointly with the United Nations, expressed hope that the deal could be reanimated. Although upbeat statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed to prevent grain prices from soaring on major commodity exchanges, experts claimed that “the price increase was largely speculative.”

Some media reports have indicated that Putin’s latest economic assault on the West is fueling fears of a global food crisis. Business Insider’s George Glover wrote that Russia has started bombing Ukrainian ports and threatened to attack ships, and these actions have pushed prices soaring and sparked fears of a global food crisis.

When international grain prices rise, it becomes more expensive for poorer countries to import those commodities – so Russia’s withdrawal from the UN’s initiative has fueled policymakers’ fears that there could be a worldwide food crisis. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Putin has tried to squeeze commodity supplies in a bid to disrupt the global economy and hinder Kyiv’s Western allies.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the Kremlin’s decision to pull out of the grain deal would end “a lifeline for global food security” and extinguish “a beacon of hope”, while the European Union’s head of foreign policy Josep Borrell told journalists there could be a “big and huge food crisis in the world”.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says Russia’s exit from Ukraine’s grain deal risks adding to global food inflation. An IMF spokesperson said the global lender would continue to carefully monitor ongoing developments in the region and their impact on global food insecurity.

“The discontinuation of the initiative impacts the food supply to countries that rely heavily on shipments from Ukraine, in particular in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia,” the fund said. “It worsens the food security outlook and risks adding to global food inflation, especially for low-income countries.”

Several Group of 20 members this week condemned Russia’s move to quit the United Nations-brokered Black Sea grain deal over what it called a failure to meet its demands to implement a parallel agreement easing rules for its own food and fertilizer exports.

Local Russian financial daily newspaper Kommersant reported on July 24 that despite the termination of the grain deal, where there are indications that Kyiv, Ankara and the West remain committed to resuming shipments of Ukrainian agricultural products across the Black Sea.

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has called an emergency meeting of the newly formed NATO-Ukraine Council, which allies have touted as an alternative to admitting the country into the alliance. For now, however, the West seems to be placing more hope in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ability to find convincing arguments in dialogue with Moscow.

The proposal to engage a third-party country to escort commercial ships across the Black Sea has been raised several times since Russia’s withdrawal from the Istanbul agreements, but no side has taken it up because all stakeholders see such a scenario as entailing a potentially serious risk of escalation.

According to the Financial Times, Washington is attempting to persuade its African partners to condemn Russia’s withdrawal from the grain deal. For its part, Russia is not sitting idle and says that Moscow understands “the concerns that may arise among our African friends” and is proposing to provide free food supplies to the continent, but continues to insist that the initial Russia-related provisions of the Black Sea Grain Initiative must be implemented before there can be any return to the deal, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin noted.

These past several days, the current questions discussed most by both the Russian and foreign media were related to Russia’s threats to block Black Sea shipping, no Putin at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, and that the Western and European sanctions were insufficient.

The European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and Canada simultaneously expanded sanctions against Russian individuals and legal entities. But as Russia continues to attack Ukraine with missiles and drones, the existing sanctions are clearly not enough to hinder its weapons production, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his evening address on July 18.

Russia has started blocking Ukraine’s seaports. The recent Russian missile strike targeting Chornomorsk, Odesa Oblast’s port infrastructure, has destroyed 60,000 tons of grains. Russia’s Defense Ministry has designated all ships bound for Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea as “potential carriers of military cargo,” Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported on July 19.

Russia’s air attack against Odesa highlights the country’s attitude towards food security, African nations, the UN and global hunger, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, tweeted on July 19.

The termination of the deal would affect a number of countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia.  Due to the limited transport capacity and infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe, a significant part of the land export of grain from Ukraine may get stuck in transit countries, which have local producers of this agricultural product.

The Black Sea agreement has helped keep benchmark foodstuff prices under control by boosting supply to world markets. On July 17, Russia officially withdrew from the grain agreement after an attack at the Crimean Bridge. In addition, Moscow withdrew guarantees of navigation safety in the Black Sea. The UN-brokered Black Sea grain deal expired on July 18.

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