This article was last updated on July 24, 2023
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Putin reassures Africa about grain deal cancellation
President Putin is trying to reassure African countries affected by the cancellation of the grain deal with Ukraine. The agreements were actually pointless, he concludes in an opinion piece that the Kremlin published this morning in the run-up to the Russo-Africa summit that will take place in St Petersburg later this week. Russia can supply Africa with grain much more efficiently than Ukraine, Putin said.
“I assure you that we can replace the Ukrainian grain,” he writes about the lost trade flows, “especially as we expect a record harvest this year.”
Russia, meanwhile, seems bent on completely crippling Ukrainian grain exports. The port city of Odesa, where much of the infrastructure for grain exports is located, is under relentless harassment from Russia. Also this morning, according to the Ukrainian authorities, another grain depot was destroyed. Four employees were injured.
In addition, a port in the Danube Delta, which is considered an alternative to Odesa, was bombed for the first time last night. In that attack on the border with Romania, six people were injured and grain silos were destroyed. The attack is seen as an escalation of violence against Ukraine’s export facilities.
Russian strategy to shutdown Ukrainian ports
Russia correspondent Iris de Graaf:
“The Russian story is that the ports of Odesa are being shut down in ‘retaliation for the attack on the Crimean bridge’. But above all it is a convenient strategy: the constant bombardments will cause foreign ships to avoid Odesa and no exports and imports can take place. This will force Ukraine to export grain by rail, which makes trade very difficult. Putin is ready to fill that self-created hole. He profiles himself as the reliable grain supplier who – “unlike Ukraine and the West” – poor hungry children in African countries.”
Putin notes in his article that most of the nearly 33 million tons exported during the grain deal did not go to poor countries. “70 percent ended up in high and middle-income countries, including the EU. Countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia received less than 3 percent of the goods in addition to Yemen and Afghanistan.”
The quoted figures are correct the official data of the United Nations (UN). But Putin is hiding an important caveat from the UN, which supervised grain transport. “All exports can help calm markets and limit food price inflation,” says the regulator. “The grain deal has helped depress global food prices.”
Prices have indeed risen rapidly since the grain deal expired last week. For example, the price of wheat shot up by about ten percent.
Russia’s offering to Africa
Putin tells Africa in his op-ed that Russia has more to offer than grain. In the battle for the continent’s favor, he emphasizes the “strong ties” that have always existed and the support Russia has provided in the fight against colonialism. If Russia can compete with the US as a world power, Africa will also have more influence, he argues.
“Undoubtedly, the new multipolar world order – which is already taking shape – will be fairer and more democratic,” Putin claims. “Africa, certainly together with Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, will take a worthy place in it and finally free itself from the bitter legacy of colonialism and neo-colonialism.”
Explosives found in Ukrainian grain transport ship?
Meanwhile, Moscow is placing the grain deal in an increasingly negative frame. Security service FSB claimed this morning to have found traces of explosives in a cargo ship used for grain transports from Ukraine. According to the security service, this would indicate that civilian transports carry out arms deliveries, something that cannot be independently confirmed.
The FSB writes that the find was made two days ago during a routine check. En route from Turkey to Russia’s Rostov-on-Don, the unnamed ship then passed through the Kerch Strait, between Crimea and the Russian mainland. Ships are searched there to prevent terrorist attacks or sabotage actions.
Russia correspondent Iris de Graaf:
“The claims of the FSB cannot be independently verified, but these kinds of messages fit well into the Russian narrative. Ever since the grain deal was first agreed, we often hear in the Russian media that Ukraine would ‘misuse’ the deal to smuggle weapons and explosives into the country to attack Russia. That is also one of the reasons – according to Moscow – that the grain deal ‘would not work’. The FSB’s claim can once again legitimize the halting of the grain deal.”
Russia said last week that ships en route to Ukrainian ports are a potential target because they may have military equipment on board. The countries under which such ships sail are seen as involved in the conflict, the Defense Ministry warned. Ukraine then issued a similar warning for shipping traffic bound for Russian and Russian-occupied ports.