Russia Decides Not To Renew Grain Deal: Some Context – Ted Snider 7/27/23


Like the war that necessitated it, Russia’s decision not to renew the UN-Turkish brokered grain deal is bad for the world but not entirely unprovoked.

The deal allowed Ukraine safe passage for its grain laden ships through the mined and blockaded Black Sea ports so it could export its grain to the world.

On July 17, Russia announced the decision not to renew the deal

It has often been reported that Russia’s decision is retaliation for Ukraine’s recent sabotage of the Kerch Strait bridge that links Crimea to the Russian mainland. But Putin had announced the distinct possibility of suspending the agreement prior to the attack on the bridge.

In a July 13 question period, in a response to a question from a journalist, Russian President Vladimir Putin had already said, prior to the attack on the bridge, that “We can suspend our participation in this deal.”

Putin gave two reasons for suspending the deal after having “extended this so-called deal many times.” The first is that, though it was Russia that suspended the deal, it was the West that broke it. “As for the conditions under which we agreed to ensure the safe export of Ukrainian grain, yes, there were clauses in this agreement with the United Nations, according to which Russian interests had to be taken into account as well,” Putin said. “Not a single clause related to what is in the interests of the Russian Federation has been fulfilled.”

Announcing the decision not to renew the deal four days later, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated that charge: “Unfortunately, the part of the Black Sea agreement that concerns Russia has not yet been fulfilled. As a result, it has been terminated.” However, he added that “As soon as the Russian part [of the deal] is fulfilled, the Russian side will immediately return to the implementation of this deal.” Putin made a similar pledge in his answer to the journalist. One option, he said, is “not first the extension and then the honoring of promises, but first the honoring of promises and then our participation. What do I mean? We can suspend our participation in this deal, and if everybody once again says that all the promises made to us will be fulfilled, let them fulfill them – and we will immediately join this deal. Again.”

George Bebe of the Quincy Institute has said that “Russia’s withdrawal from the deal is part of classic negotiating behavior, after its repeated demands went unaddressed by partners to the deal.”

While Russia kept its promise to allow Ukraine to export its grain, Moscow argues that the West failed to implement their commitments on facilitating Russian exports of grains and fertilizer due to an impossible to navigate web of sanctions and the failure to reconnect the Russian Agricultural Bank to the SWIFT financial system to enable payments.

Though better known as the grain deal, the deal was meant to facilitate the export of fertilizer as well. As early as the end of April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had complained that Russian cargo vessels carrying fertilizer were paralyzed in European ports. Russia has been unable to export its fertilizer. The world also watched silently with no condemnation when Russia’s Togliatti-Odessa pipeline that carries ammonia necessary for fertilizer was sabotaged.

The second reason is not about the failure to meet the conditions of the deal, but about the failure to meet the purpose of the deal. Putin has frequently pointed out that “this whole deal was presented under the pretext of ensuring the interests of African countries” whose food security was threatened. Instead, from Russia’s perspective, the deal has boosted the economy of Russia’s enemy by allowing Ukraine to export grain and boosted the economy of those supporting Russia’s enemy by allowing western Europe to import that grain while helping African countries barely at all.

Putin has repeatedly claimed that Ukrainian grain exported under the deal is not reaching Africa but is headed, instead, for Europe. He has claimed at various times that “about 45 percent of the total volume of grain exported from Ukraine went to European countries, and only three percent went to Africa.” In his response to the journalist, Putin again said that “only a little more than 3 percent went to the poorest countries – a bit over 3 percent. Everything else went to a well-fed and prosperous Europe.”

And he’s not wrong. Though Africa has benefited from the deal indirectly by stabilizing global supply and prices, they have not been the ones to benefit directly. While only 12% of the grain has reached Africa, 40% went to Western Europe, according to the World Food Program. The biggest recipients of Ukraine’s grains have been China, Spain, Turkey, Italy and The Netherlands. 80% of the grain has gone to upper-middle and high income countries, with 44% going to high income countries, while only 2.5% has made its way to low-income countries, according to the most recent UN data….

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