The Black Sea Grain Initiative

The Black Sea Grain Initiative

The Black Sea Grain Initiative

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on July 17, that the Black Sea agreements were effectively terminated on Monday as the part of the deal concerning Russia has not been fulfilled.

“The Black Sea agreements are no longer in effect. The deadline, as the Russian president said earlier, is July 17. Unfortunately, the part of the Black Sea agreement that concerns Russia has not yet been fulfilled. As a result, it has been terminated,” he said.

“As soon as the Russian part [of the deal] is fulfilled, the Russian side will immediately return to the implementation of this deal,” Peskov added. In other words, he did not say that the deal was off the agenda for good.

He also noted that Russia’s position on suspending its participation in the grain deal was announced before the most recent terrorist act on the Crimean Bridge and this attack does not influence Moscow’s decision.

The announcement triggered a reaction from the US, the EU countries, and the UN.

In a statement on the same day, Secretary Blinken said, “The United States deeply regrets Russia’s decision to suspend participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The Russian government’s continued weaponization of food harms millions of vulnerable people around the world… We urge the Government of Russia to reverse its decision, to resume negotiations, and to extend, expand, and fully implement the Initiative immediately for the benefit of the millions of people who depend on Ukrainian grain.” [i]

The EU went a step further and condemned unequivocally Russia’s decision to terminate the Black Sea Grain Initiative. In a statement, Joseph Borrel said, “With its decision, Russia is further exacerbating the global food security crisis it created by its war of aggression against Ukraine and its blockade of Ukrainian sea ports. Russia must cease illegally blocking Ukrainian seaports and allow freedom of navigation on the Black Sea.” [ii] And, “I strongly condemn Russia’s cynical move to terminate the Black Sea Grain Initiative, despite UN & Türkiye’s efforts,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen posted on Twitter.

And the UN Secretary-General Guterres told the press that he regrets Russia’s decision; that he had sent a letter to President Putin with a new proposal to keep the Black Sea Initiative alive and was deeply disappointed that his proposals went unheeded.[iii]

“The Initiative on the Safe Transportation of Grain and Foodstuffs from Ukrainian Ports”, shortly referred to as the “Black Sea Grain Initiative” was signed in Istanbul on Istanbul on July 22, 2022, Republic of Türkiye, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.[iv]

The purpose of the Initiative was to facilitate the safe navigation for the export of grain and related foodstuffs and fertilizers, including ammonia from the Ukrainian ports of Odesa, Chernomorsk, and Yuzhny.

Prior to operations, a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) was set up in Istanbul under the auspices of the United Nations and including representatives of the Parties and the United Nations to provide maximum assurances regarding a safe and secure environment for all vessels engaged in this Initiative. The JCC was also given the task of conducting general oversight and coordination of the Initiative.

Under the Initiative, merchant vessels have to be registered with the JCC including the confirmation of their loading port, and the duration of their passage. Vessels have to proceed through the maritime humanitarian corridor, agreed by all Parties. To prevent any provocations and incidents, the movement of vessels transiting the maritime humanitarian corridor is monitored by the Parties remotely. No military ships, aircraft, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) may approach the maritime humanitarian corridor closer than the distance agreed by the JCC.

The second document signed in Istanbul on the same day was the “Memorandum of Understanding between the Russian Federation and the Secretariat of the United Nations on promoting Russian food products and fertilizers to the world markets.” [v]

The Memorandum underlined the importance of unimpeded trade of fertilizers and the raw materials required to produce fertilizers including ammonia, for the purposes of supporting global agricultural production. It established a process to facilitate unimpeded access to food and fertilizers, including the raw materials required to produce fertilizers (including ammonia), to global markets originating from the Russian Federation.

It was agreed that the Russian Federation will continue commercial supplies of food and fertilizers to the countries in need of such products. The Russian Federation undertook to inform the UN Secretariat of the impediments to access to food and fertilizers originating from Russia to the world markets. And the UN Secretariat agreed to continue efforts to facilitate transparent unimpeded access to food and fertilizers, including the raw originating from the Russian Federation to the world markets. This included impediments that may arise in the sectors of finance, insurance, and logistics. The Secretariat also committed to engaging relevant authorities and the private sector to effectively exempt food and fertilizers, including raw materials originating in Russia from measures imposed on the Russian Federation, based on the principle that those measures do not apply to food and fertilizers. What was meant by the “measures” was the Western sanctions imposed on Russia.

Articles 4 and 5 of the Memorandum say that it is not an international treaty and does not establish any rights or obligations under international law and any differences between the Russian Federation and the Secretariat arising from the interpretation, implementation, or application of this Memorandum will be resolved through consultations between them.

Türkiye and the UN signed those two documents with Ukraine and Russia separately, as the Ukrainian government did not want to put its signature on papers with the aggressor country, especially one that would support the export of Russian goods.

On July 10, the UN published an update on the implementation of the Black Sea Grain initiative.[vi] It said that since the beginning, more than 32 million tonnes of food commodities have been exported from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports to 45 countries across three continents.  It underlined that the Initiative has allowed the World Food Program (WFP) to transport more than 725,000 tonnes of wheat to help people in need in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Ukraine supplied more than half of WFP’s wheat grain in 2022, as was the case in 2021. Moreover, it said that the Initiative has helped reconnect foodstuffs from Ukraine to global supply chains, contributing to lower prices on world markets.

President Putin disagrees. [vii] Replying to journalists’ questions on July 13, he said:

“… the so-called grain deal was justified by the desire to support the poorest countries. I have said many times that of all the food, primarily grain, exported from the territory of Ukraine, 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. But ironically, many European countries started turning down Ukrainian grain. They started discriminating against Ukrainian grain – not us.

“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. This concerns logistics, insurance, the movement of money related to the payment for our products, and many other points. Nothing – I want to emphasize this – nothing was done at all. There was no give and take. Not a single clause related to what is in the interests of the Russian Federation has been fulfilled.”

And on July 17, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on the “Istanbul Agreement”.[viii] It said:

“During the time the Black Sea Initiative was in force, a total of 32.8 million tonnes of cargo were exported, of which more than 70 percent (26.3 million tonnes) was shipped to countries with high and higher than average income, including the EU. The low-income countries, notably Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia, received less than 3 percent, or 922,092 tonnes.

“Shipping, under the auspices of the UN, free Russian mineral fertilisers to the countries that are most in need is an indicative example. Since the time this initiative was announced in September 2022, only two shipments – 20,000 tonnes to Malawi and 34,000 tonnes to Kenya – have been made out of the total of 262,000 tonnes blocked in Latvia, Estonia, Belgium and the Netherlands despite the fact that this is a purely humanitarian effort that should not be subject to any sanctions, in principle.”

As for the proposals contained in Secretary-General Guterres’s letter to President Putin, the statement said, “We are forced to state that none of the five systematic objectives stipulated in the Russia-UN Memorandum has been accomplished. Rosselkhozbank has not been reconnected to the SWIFT system. The UN Secretary-General’s spur-of-the-moment and last-minute proposal regarding some options concerning access to SWIFT for a “subsidiary” or an entity affiliated with our bank is basically infeasible and unviable.”

In brief, the UN and the US on one side, and Russia on the other, disagree on what has been accomplished under the Initiative to benefit the needy countries as well as the implementation of the Russia-UN Memorandum aimed at ensuring Russian exports of Russian food and fertilizers.

Before his departure for the Gulf countries where he would seek financial support for Türkiye’s battered economy, President Erdoğan said he believes Putin wants this “humanitarian bridge” to continue. Previously, he had said that President Putin is to visit Türkiye in August to discuss bilateral relations and regional issues.

South Africa will host BRICS leaders at the 15th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, from August 22 to 24, 2023. But it seems that President Putin attending the summit in person poses a challenge for the host country. South Africa’s Deputy President Paul Mashatile recently said that the government is still trying to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin not to attend the next month’s BRICS summit.

As a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which has issued a warrant for his arrest, South Africa is obliged to arrest President Putin, should he go there. But this is an unthinkable proposition for the government, as that very government has invited him.

Mr. Mashatile said, “It’s a big dilemma for us. Of course, we cannot arrest him. It’s almost like you invite your friend to your house and then arrest them. That’s why for us, his not coming is the best solution.” [ix]

Thus, while President Putin’s attending the BRICS summit is still to be decided, his coming to Türkiye appears to be a certainty as the website of the Turkish Foreign Ministry says, “Even though Türkiye is not State Party to The Rome Statute, the activities of the ICC are closely followed and the annual meetings of the Assembly of States Parties which take place in The Hague or New York are attended by our officials.”

In the meantime, both the UN and Türkiye will do their very best to revive the Initiative and score points on the global scene.