By: Francesco Stuffer
The Broken Grain Deal
On Monday, July 17th Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson of the Kremlin, announced the suspension of Russian participation in the “grain deal” that allowed Ukraine to export cereals through the Black Sea.
The intention of the deal, brokered under Turkish and U.N. mediation, was to help lower food prices, especially in African countries that were big importers of Ukrainian grain. Russia decided to withdraw from the deal to regain leverage in Africa, after the uncertainty of Moscow's influence in the continent following the Wagner’s mutiny, one of their former assets in Africa. Moreover, as under the former deal 47% of the grain went to European countries rather than African ones, Russia can claim to be willing to negotiate a more favourable deal for African countries in the upcoming Russia-Africa Summit.
Geographical distribution of the UN Black Sea Grain Initiative
Data according to the Joint Coordination Centre of the UN Black Sea Grain Initiative, updated 14/09/2022.
Chart: Spykman Center. Source: UN Black Sea Grain Initiative. Created with Datawrapper.
The deal was presented as a masterpiece of the Turkish diplomacy of equilibrium between Ukraine and Russia in the current conflict. By sinking the deal, Moscow is sending also signals to Ankara, which just gave the green light for Sweden's accession to NATO in Vilnius last week. With the corridor between Odessa and the Bosphorus no longer shielded by the deal, the conflict may heat up again in the Black Sea. The Ukrainians struck first, damaging the Kerch bridge on Monday, and Russia immediately responded by bombing Odessa and Mykolaiv.
Another crucial aspect of the broken deal are the implications for Europe. Since the beginning of the war, grain has been the most visible aspect over which tensions were clear between Ukraine and central-eastern European states, as much of the grain shipped under the deal flowed to the European market, in concurrence with the ones produced by Eastern European States. Poland showed a firm determination to protect domestic producers: last spring its Agriculture Minister resigned when the European Commission decided not to impose tariffs on grain coming from Ukraine. Poland, along with Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, managed in any case to impose a ban on domestic sales of Ukrainian grain until September.
The Polish position on Ukrainian grain may come as a surprise, as the country has been one of the fiercest supporters of Ukraine. However, the Polish back Kyiv as they wish for a weaker Russia, not a stronger Ukraine. At the same time, Warsaw is trying to position itself as the head of the European countries between the Baltic, the Adriatic and the Black Seas, and hopes to create coalition of countries around its position. On the other hand, western European countries welcome cheap Ukrainian grain to moderate inflation.
Russia’s withdrawal from the grain deal lies in continuity with Moscow's approach towards Europe, which aims to divide the continent. Whether it is Siberian gas or Ukrainian wheat, little matters. To which extent this will pay off, it remains to be seen.
The opinions expressed in this article is of the author alone. The Spykman Center provides a neutral and non-partisan platform to learn how to make geopolitical analysis. It acknowledges how diverse perspectives impact geopolitical analyses, without necessarily endorsing them.