Press release on the situation around the Istanbul Agreements

Submitted on Fri, 05/26/2023 - 12:13

Russia has consented to extend the Black Sea Initiative on Ukrainian food exports by two months. As a result, the agreement will remain in effect until the end of the planned 120-day cycle (through July 17), whereupon, as it is stipulated in the document, it can be terminated by an objecting party (Russia, Türkiye, or Ukraine).

However, almost immediately after the decision on extending the initiative was approved, the Westerners and the Ukrainians came forward with demands on a buildup and expansion of Ukrainian exports rather than a mere continuation of the maritime traffic. They habitually resorted to their hackneyed postulates on food security, famine relief, and aid to destitute countries, and got support from the UN staff.

At the same time, Kiev unashamedly and openly talks about its purely “commercial interests, profits for Ukrainian businesses, and important tax revenues for the war economy,” including in the context of possible food deliveries to African countries within the framework of Zelensky’s notorious Grain from Ukraine propaganda campaign.

Part of the same story is the Ukrainian demand that they should get “some additional benefits,” including through adding new seaports to the initiative and expanding the range of exported cargoes in exchange for a possible unblocking of the Tolyatti-Odessa ammonia pipeline. In so doing they make peremptory claims to the effect that the transit and export of ammonia is outside of the deal’s framework.

At the same time, Clause 3 of the Black Sea Initiative says in no uncertain terms that it is necessary to “assist safe shipping for the purpose of exporting grain, food and fertilisers, including ammonia, from the ports of Odessa, Chernomorsk, and Yuzhny.” In formal terms, this authorises the export of products – Ukrainian grain and Russian ammonia – available at the ports at the moment of the parties signing the agreement. (The storage facility of the Odessa Port Plant still holds 24,000 tonnes of ammonia, which the Ukrainians, by refusing to allow its export, have actually stolen from the Russian Federation.) Though not stipulated directly, the transit of ammonia and delivery of new batches of grain are implied by the logic of the agreement. This was done and continues to be done with regard to grain. As for ammonia, there is no progress at all.

The situation being what it is, there are some legitimate questions we would like to ask. Why does Ukrainian grain continue to be successfully exported, while Russian ammonia is stuck in the port of Yuzhny? What did the UN Secretary-General coordinate in Kiev on March 8 and what is the point of his relevant proposals, if supplying this raw material of key importance for the production of fertilisers continues to be impeded by Ukraine’s endless additional requests?  Where are all those champions of food security, who are so vociferous in calling for allowing the export of Ukrainian fodder corn and forage but are keeping mum when the Ukrainians and others block the export of Russian ammonia needed to produce food for 45 million people, primarily in African countries?

Simultaneously, the same people in Washington, Brussels and London who talk about the need to fight hunger and help the destitute, continue introducing sanctions against Russian agricultural exports, among other things. They are not hiding the fact that they have no intention to help the UN Secretary-General in his comprehensive efforts aimed at “designing and coordinating global measures for a food crisis response programme under the leadership of the Secretary-General of the United Nations,” to quote the UN-Russia Memorandum on promoting Russian food products and fertilisers to the world markets. 

For example, Peter Stano, spokesman for the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said the other day that Brussels was not going to reconnect the Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to SWIFT. There is no headway on other systemic problems (apart from ammonia and SWIFT) that the Memorandum seeks to solve. These include supplies of spare parts and equipment, streamlining of the transport logistics and insurance, unfreezing of bank assets, and more.  

In this context, the Westerners, both collectively and separately, are not above lying that their restrictions do not apply to Russian fertilisers and food. We are used to their hypocrisy and double standards. Yet, we cannot but feel surprised by their open and unconcealed disdain for the UN and personally Antonio Guterres, who proposed the well-known Istanbul package of agreements.

In this context, it is all the more paradoxical that UN representatives in their public comments are still calling, as if on orders from on-high, for the continuation and even expansion of the Black Sea Initiative. They don’t feel alarmed or offer criticism at the absolute lack of progress on the UN-Russia Memorandum.  A spokesman for the UN Secretary-General responded to the above comment concerning failure to reconnect Rosselkhozbank to SWIFT with a routine remark that there were other opportunities for making bank transactions.

For our part, we note that insofar as ammonia is not exported from the Yuzhny port, there are other ports that are still exporting Ukrainian grain with Russian assistance.  If Rosselkhozbank is not connected to SWIFT and there is no progress on solving other system-wide problems that are blocking Russian agricultural exports, the Black Sea Initiative will also have to look for alternatives, such as the EU’s much vaunted land “solidarity corridors,” whereby large amounts of Ukrainian products are exported, if at a much greater internal and external cost.