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Conditions have not been met: Russia says there has been no progress on the grain deal

Photo by Mitya Ivanov on Unsplash

The terms of the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative as they pertain to the Russian agricultural sector have still not been met,declares Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“Russia’s position is well known. You know that the deal was at one time extended for two months. Time is actually shrinking like a shagreen leather. The terms of the deal have not been fulfilled as far as the Russian agro-sector is concerned,” Peskov said, adding that the dialogue will continue.

Earlier, a similar statement was made by Andrey Ledenev, Minister-Counselor at the Russian Embassy in the United States.

“There is still no progress in resolving the financial and logistical problems in the shipment of Russian grain and fertilizers. It is difficult to import agricultural equipment to Russia, the ammonia pipeline Togliatti -Odessa does not work. All of this is a direct effect of the thoughtless and world-weary sanctions strategy of the collective West led by the United States,” he was quoted as saying by the diplomatic mission’s Telegram channel.

It is worth noting that Moscow’s concerns are recognized by Ankara as justified. This, in particular, was stated by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on April 28. He also said that difficulties with the implementation of the Russian part of the grain deal continue because of the United States and Britain, whose banks do not cooperate to pay for Russian agro products.

Çavuşoğlu added that the roadmap proposed by the UN Secretary General’s Office suggests solving this problem by involving Turkish banks in the financial operations. However, this will be possible if Ankara receives guarantees that its banks will not fall under sanctions, the minister specified.

At a briefing on Monday, May 1, reporters asked the U.S. State Department spokesman Vedant Patel to comment on Çavuşoğlu’s statement. The State Department spokesman avoided answering directly the question of whether Russia benefited from the grain deal. He said only that the whole world allegedly benefited from the deal. He also said that the agreement prevented Russia from turning its food trade into a weapon.

According to Ledenyov, the U.S. authorities are doing everything possible to avoid mentioning the problems with unblocking the supply of Russian agricultural products to get them to the truly needy.

“It never ceases to amaze me the cunning manner in which the U.S. side ignores the mutually consistent nature of the Black Sea Initiative on the export of Ukrainian grain and the Russia-UN Memorandum on normalizing Russian agricultural exports, which are both clearly spelled out in the texts of the agreements. The impression is that the historical principle Pacta sunt servanda (“Treaties must be observed”) is instantly forgotten here when it comes to our country,” the diplomat said.

The Minister-Counselor also said that within the framework of the “Black Sea Initiative” countries of the global South, for the sake of which the deal was nominally concluded, receive only a small part of the agro-products exported from Ukraine.

“In fact, the Black Sea Initiative has been reclassified as a commercial project. Despite the fact that representatives of the administration continue to actively replicate the thesis about its alleged key importance for global food security, the figures stubbornly show a different picture. Of the nearly 29 million tons of agricultural goods exported from the Ukrainian territory, only 2.6% was sent to the needy national farms,” he stressed.

The diplomat believes that instead of actual assistance to the global South, the U.S. is primarily concerned with uninterrupted supply of Ukrainian grain to the European markets and multiplying the profits of Western agricultural holdings.

“Against this background, the problems Russia faces in shipping its own grain and fertilizers to developing countries, even on a gratuitous basis, look very eloquent,” Ledenev concluded.

Let’s remind, the grain deal was made by Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and UN in July 2022. It consisted of several documents. They stated the UN’s obligations to remove restrictions on the export of Russian agricultural products and fertilizers to world markets, as well as an algorithm for the export of Ukrainian agricultural products from Kiev-controlled Black Sea ports.

Initially it was supposed that one of the main goals of this agreement was to prevent a food crisis in the least developed countries. In particular, UN Secretary General António Guterres said this at the signing ceremony of the final document.

However, Moscow almost immediately raised questions about how the terms of the agreement were implemented. In particular, restrictions on the supply of Russian agricultural products had not been lifted as part of its implementation;

In addition, as Russian President Vladimir Putin noted at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in September, much of the grain, “excluding Turkey as an intermediary country,” was sent not to developing and poorer countries, but to the European Union.

Despite this, Russia extended the deal by 120 days in November and by for another 60 days in March 2023.

However, no significant progress has been made in implementing the agreements during that time. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in mid-April 2023 that several key Russian demands remain unresolved: to reconnect Rosselkhozbank to SWIFT, to resume deliveries of agricultural equipment, to lift restrictions on insurance and the ban on access to ports, to restore the operation of the ammonia pipeline Togliatti – Odessa, and to unblock foreign assets and accounts of Russian companies involved in the production and transportation of food and fertilizers.

The fate of the deal will depend on the resolution of these problems, the Foreign Ministry said.

Moreover, as reported in the Russian Defense Ministry, repeated attempts of Ukraine to use Black Sea humanitarian corridors and ports to conduct combat operations against Russia also put the future of the deal into question.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated on April 28 that the prospects of the agreement at the moment “are not very good. In this respect, yes, the prospects are not very good,” he said.

According to Vladimir Bruter, an expert of the International Institute for Humanitarian and Political Studies, the implementation of the grain deal is hindered by the Western sanctions.

“Since the signing of the deal, Rosselkhozbank has still not been connected to SWIFT, nor has the issue of insurance for Russian cargo been resolved. To solve these problems, the sanctions must be lifted. All other problems are more a consequence of the first two,” the analyst said in a conversation with .

Vadim Koziulin, head of the Center for Global Studies and International Relations at the IAMP of the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy, holds a similar view.

“The West is not directly blocking the implementation of the grain deal. It hinders the work of the financial system. After the imposition of Western sanctions, even those organizations that are not affected by them and would like to cooperate with the Russian Federation are afraid of secondary sanctions, are afraid of the problems that will arise when working with Russian banks. As a result, they refuse from transactions,” the expert pointed out in a commentary to .

The analyst added that the Russian Federation agreed to extend the deal because there was hope that the Russian conditions would be met as part of the negotiations.

“Moscow had hopes. It was obvious that the UN Secretary General was taking certain measures. He wrote letters and convinced the Russian side that these measures would work. But we see that they don’t work,” Kozyulin stated.

Analysts note that now it’s difficult to predict whether the grain deal will be extended beyond May 18. At the same time, Vladimir Vinokurov, professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said in a conversation with that under the current conditions, the termination of the agreement would not be a big problem for Russia.

“Now there is a U-turn of our foreign economic activity to the East. Such changes help us circumvent the very problems that arise in connection with the non-compliance with this deal. I am sure that if there is no serious assurance on the level of the UN Secretary General, then on May 18 we will say goodbye to this grain deal. For Russia there will be no serious consequences from the termination of the agreement”, – concluded the analyst.

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