Geopolitics Still Engulfs Black Sea Grain Initiative – OpEd


United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has taken steps for the extension, improvement and expansion of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, but Russia authorities explicitly indicated that it would unlikely to participate in the deal due to the fact that its conditions were not respected and taken into consideration.

“I have presented a new proposal for the extension, improvement, and expansion of the Black Sea Grain Initiative to the presidents of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Turkey. I was informed that the Kremlin is looking into the proposal and there would be a response (….), Guterres said.

Commenting on negotiations to resolve the problem of agricultural and fertilizer exports from Russia, Guterres said that Secretary General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development Rebeca Grynspan would travel to Moscow for talks. “Rebeca Grynspan will be back in Moscow this week,” he said.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative allows shipment of grains and agricultural fertilisers to overseas countries. The relevant grain deal agreements, which were previously extended in March for another 60 days only at Moscow’s request, are set to expire on May 18. Russia has proposed a few conditions in order to continue participating in the deal. 

According to our monitoring, Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said delegations from Turkey, Russia and Ukraine plan to hold a meeting on the grain deal in Istanbul on May 5. “On Friday, May 5, the deputy defense ministers of Turkey, Russia and Ukraine plan to meet in Istanbul to discuss the grain deal. We can say that the sides are ready to extend the agreements. We want this initiative to be extended without problems,” the TRT channel quoted the defense chief as saying.

Akar added that the sides also planned to discuss a number of issues regarding the implementation of the grain deal. “These agreements are very important for regional peace and ensuring stability. They are also of great importance for those countries in need of food,” the defense chief said.

A new round of negotiations relating to the Black Sea grain initiative brought together the United Nations, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, to discuss and review agricultural exports from southern Ukrainian ports in exchange for the lifting of restrictions on Russian agricultural exports. 

Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov also reacted by explaining that should the Black Sea Grain Initiative be terminated, Russia would not do anything going against its interests. “Let’s not run ahead of ourselves. Certainly, Russia won’t be doing anything that goes against its interests,” Peskov told journalists on Wednesday, when asked what Russia would do if the grain deal was not extended.

“Contacts are continuing. The Russian side will continue contacts with representatives of the United Nations and other representatives, expecting that the deal’s terms will be implemented,” Peskov said, and replied in the negative when asked whether there have been any discussions on possibly expanding the format of the grain deal negotiations, particularly by engaging countries interested in Russian grain.

Journalists also asked Peskov what stance Russia would assume in the upcoming grain deal talks in Moscow and Istanbul. “We are interested in seeing the deal’s terms honored and the agreements that were reached quite long ago, when the deal was activated, implemented. Contacts on this account are continuing. Nothing more can be said, because there are very modest reasons for optimism, if not downright the opposite,” he said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with Turkey’s NTV television channel that “There is no one hundred percent guarantee that the grain deal will be extended at this time, but some serious efforts are now underway and there are hopes for success. Our efforts and the UN’s efforts are continuing.”

“The core problem is that the deal was extended only for 60 days due to the failure to meet Russia’s requirements. In particular, this pertains to the issue of reconnecting the Russian Agricultural Bank to the SWIFT system and guarantees for banks in respect of payment for foodstuffs,” Cavusoglu said.

“Problems with exports from Russia continue, and these are serious issues. The UN Secretary-General (Antonio Guterres) is making very important, sincere efforts in this respect. Plugging the Russian Agricultural Bank back into the SWIFT system is being discussed, but there are some difficulties there as well. Western companies, based in the US and the UK, are not very eager to work with (the Russian Agricultural Bank). We can see that,” the minister noted, saying that Turkey “has suggested using Turkish banks as intermediaries” in this regard.

“We told the UN that we would support such a decision if there are no threats to our banks in this case, if such guarantees are given. The technical details are being discussed now. Still, this is a very challenging issue,” the foreign minister said. Ziraat Bank could participate in such a mechanism from the Turkish side, Cavusoglu added.

Experts, however, explained that restoring Russian ammonia exports via Ukraine would be the thorniest question. If a solution can be found to that sticking point, the grain deal overall will stand a chance of being extended, Viktor Nadein-Rayevsky, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, told Vedomosti. 

“But Kiev is resisting thus far, while Ankara does not have enough leverage to put pressure on (Ukraine) regarding the ammonia pipeline, even though it has been showing readiness to contribute to resolving the issue,” he said. Meanwhile, Russia has not benefited from the initiative in its current format, and thus it makes no sense for Moscow to approve extending this iteration of the deal, the expert argues.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statements about his readiness to assist in the restoration of the ammonia pipeline are no accident, since Ankara is one of the main beneficiaries of the grain deal, as it has allowed Turkey to bolster its positions in global politics, said political analyst Yashar Niyazbayev. 

“The deal has a positive effect on the country’s image, especially in Africa, with which it has been expanding economic ties rapidly,” he explained. In addition, any consensus on the grain deal would highlight Ankara’s independence within NATO.

Eduard Zernin, president of the Russian Union of Grain Exporters, agrees, saying: “Turkish consumers may be hard hit if the negotiations were to collapse.”

Russian Foreign Ministry earlier noted that the United Nations Secretariat on the Black Sea Initiative on exporting Ukrainian food products “once again distorts data and facts.” The UN statement for the media was triggered by the failure to carry out inspections within the framework of the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in Istanbul for the first time ever since the grain deal was launched.

“It must be noted that neither Kiev’s continued blocking of ammonia supplies, also prescribed in the agreements, nor the lack of any progress in the implementation of the Russia-UN Memorandum has ever caused the UN Secretariat to make a public response,” the Russian diplomatic agency pointed out.

The Ministry noted that currently 28 vessels with over 1 mln tons of food products within the framework of the grain deal are awaiting inspections in Turkey’s territorial waters. “However, the UN staff at the JCC, which is responsible for the inspection plan, has refused to draw up such a schedule, trying to support the Ukrainians’ demands for the registration of ships engaged in the initiative,” it explained.

“The removal of obstacles to Russian agricultural exports was supposed to take place as part of the Russia-UN Memorandum, which the United Nations did not even mention this time. Such silence is not only a clear indicator of the UN Secretariat’s attitude to the package (UN Secretary-General) Antonio Guterres proposed, but also of the absence of any practical results regarding the Memorandum,” the report concluded.

Addressing both Russian and African parliamentarians during their conference ‘Russia – Africa in a Multipolar World’ in March, President Vladimir Putin spoke about food security, export of Russian grains, operated under the Black Sea Grain deal, to a number of African countries. That conference held March 20 brought together representatives of most countries on the continent, these legislators work with the mandates and in the interests of their people across Africa.

“I would like to stress 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. But unfortunately, there are obstacles here as well,” he stressed at the gathering held in Moscow under the auspices of the State Duma of the Russian Federal Assembly.

According to reports, Russia, guided by the needs of African countries, first and foremost, has recently agreed to extend the agreement concluded in Istanbul on the export of Ukrainian food through the Black Sea and the unblocking of Russian agricultural exports and fertiliser supplies for another 60 days.

At the same time, Russia has insisted on the package nature of this deal – above all, in the interests of African and other developing countries, considering the fact that they needed large amounts of food. It is African countries that are in need, and not to satiated European markets and countries. Meanwhile, about 45 percent of the total volume of grain exported from Ukraine went to European countries, and only three percent went to Africa.

“Let me stress that only if our position is taken into account will the fair and comprehensive implementation of the Black Sea grain deal be ensured, and depending on this, we will decide on our further participation in it,” he explained.

By the way, despite all the restrictions and limitations on the export of Russian grain, almost 12 million tonnes were sent from Russia to Africa. Putin continued: “I would also like to add that if we decide not to extend this deal after 60 days, Russia will be ready to supply the same amount that was delivered under the deal, from Russia to the African countries in great need, at no expense. (Applause.)”

Western powers have imposed tough sanctions on Russia over its Feb. 24, 2022, due to ‘special military operation’ in the neighboring Ukraine. The UN-brokered Black Sea grain deal allows the safe wartime export of grain from several Ukrainian Black Sea ports to different parts of the world. Under the deal – agreed in July 2022 – also allows the parties to reach an agreement on operational priorities. The Black Sea initiative expires on May 18.

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

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