In the nearly three months since Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and a delegation from the UN met in Istanbul to hammer out an agreement that would create procedures for the safe export of grain from certain ports to prevent a global food crisis, a clear fact is abundantly clear – the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative has been an abysmal fiasco at almost every level.
Both before and after the July agreement, the United Nations and European Union regularly declare that the trade of agricultural products and fertilizers between Russia and Russian entities with third parties is not subjected to the sanctions that have been levied on the Russian Federation since Moscow ordered an all-out invasion of Ukraine in late February.
Yet, hidden barriers fully contradict these statements.
Russian-produced grain and fertilizers, most of which are vital to the well-being of many of the world’s poorest countries, still have yet to reach most of the Third World. This is despite multiple assurances from international organizations.
With sectoral sanctions on Russian fertilizers in place, the EU in April introduced purchase quotas for items coming from Russia – 837,500 tons of potassium chloride and 1,577,800 tons of other types of fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Brussels then imposed a ban in August on the activities of European operators associated with the transit of Russian fertilizers destined for third countries through the territorial boundaries of the 27-member bloc. As the largest hub for the transit of products from Russia to the Third World, in practical terms, the bans essentially become a blockade of supplies to the world’s most underdeveloped countries.
Josep Borrell, the European Commission’s foreign policy head, has repeatedly attempted to assure the Global South – Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania – that the West would not sanction critical humanitarian goods such as energy, grain and fertilizers.
Until now, however, no effective efforts have been made to lift any of the bans that have choked off supply chains to the Third World.
Roughly 300,000 tons of various types of fertilizers have been stuck in European ports for months. Russia claims that it is ready to deliver the shipments to several African countries, but the fertilizers have not been released from Europe’s harbors.
Moscow has also been cut off from European transport and insurance companies, which have been banned from transporting or insuring Russia’s oil if it is sold at an amount that exceeds the EU’s specific threshold.
Further compounding the bleak facts on the ground is the far from insignificant reality that roughly 300,000 tons of various types of fertilizers have been stuck in European ports for months. Despite being the cause of the backlog due to its attack on Ukraine, Russia has proposed to deliver the shipments to several African countries, but Europe has yet to take the Kremlin up on the offer.
Russian potash, nitrogen, and complex fertilizers producer Uralchem has since stepped in unilaterally at the end of September and sent more than 23,000 tons of complex fertilizers NPK 27:6:6 to Africa as humanitarian aid. Uralchem’s shipments were sent directly from Russia and are due to reach Lome in Togo in mid-October. The fertilizers will then be delivered free of charge to Burkina Faso, only weeks after a coup successfully overthrew a military government that was seen as being closely aligned to France.
In what could be seen as a minor correction within the package of sanctions was a September 28 decision by Brussels to lift the current ban on shipments of Russian fertilizer, coal, cement and timber. Certain observers, however, noted this decision was made not for humanitarian concerns about the Third World, but as a gesture to Greece, Cyprus and Malta to support restrictions on transporting Russian oil using tankers flagged by the three Mediterranean nations.
As for the summer’s much-ballyhooed Black Sea grain deal, of the 2.5 million tons of food that have since been exported from Ukraine by sea, only 3% reached either Africa or Asia, the rest went to countries within the European Union.
Actions like these put nearly half of the Earth’s population on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe that has never been seen before. While it is critically important for the international community to punish Russia for its neo-imperialist ambitions in Ukraine, the debate over the supply of food and fertilizers is being carried out without the participation of countries that need them most.
That is unacceptable.
Europe must understand that its foreign policy initiatives – while correct, in theory – must not have a potentially catastrophic side effect for those who rely on the West’s long track record of goodwill towards the Third World.