Call us

Russia’s weaponisation of grain exports must not be tolerated

Amanda Paul , Svitlana Taran

Date: 31/07/0023
On 17 July, Russia quit the UN-Türkiye brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative and withdrew the safety guarantees for all ships approaching Ukraine. This development risks increasing world famine, global food prices, and inflation, depriving Ukraine of a major part of its hard-currency revenues and further undermining Black Sea security.

The official reason is the West’s failure to meet Moscow's demands for the removal of obstacles to Russian grain and fertiliser exports, including reconnecting the state agricultural bank to the SWIFT international payment system and lifting EU export restrictions on agricultural equipment and insurance for Russian vessels.

Although the fulfilment of these conditions would allow for new loopholes and derogations of sanctions policy, the UN proposed some compromise to save the Grain Initiative including the connection of a subsidiary of the state agricultural bank to SWIFT to allow only grain and fertiliser transactions but exclude all other transactions. Russia refused.

Moscow weaponises the grain corridor to pressure Ukraine and the West. For months Russia has significantly limited the number of vessels under the agreement, with only 1.3 million tonnes exported in May vs 3.9 million tonnes in March. To further reduce Ukraine’s export capacity and access to global markets, Russia launched devastating attacks on Ukraine’s sea and Danube ports, seriously damaging export infrastructure and destroying tons of stored grain.

The seaport corridor is crucial for Ukraine’s exports – proximity, lower logistics costs, and developed capacity. Its loss places a larger burden on alternative routes via the Solidarity Lanes, which have limited capacity and risk leading to new tensions with EU neighbours. The international community must spare no effort to resurrect the deal and safeguard Ukraine’s Black Sea export routes.

Large buyers of Ukrainian grain, including China, countries in the Middle East and Africa, and Türkiye, must use their leverage. However, while the  African Union have called on Russia to return to the deal, at last week's Russia-Africa summit, President Putin repeated that the deal is a commercial project of the West and called on African states to increase imports of Russian agri-food supplies, offering six states free grain. Heavy dependence on Russia as the only source of food supply will make these countries vulnerable to Russia’s actions.

Since President Erdoğan previously convinced Putin to stay in the deal and has leverage, the meeting between Putin and Erdoğan in Türkiye in late August will be crucial.

Options without Russia require developing new Black Sea routes, demining them, and securing and providing insurance to vessels willing to operate under the current conditions. In October  2022, Russia briefly left the deal, but the UN, Ukraine, and Türkiye continued shipments. This time, Türkiye has refused to escort vessels, not wanting to risk a direct face-off with Moscow.

Thus, Ukraine must further reorient export flows to the EU-Ukraine Solidarity Lanes. Danube River ports are critical (their capacity was expanded to some 2-2.5 million tonnes of grain per month after the invasion). However, the level of investment into the transport and storage capacity of the Lanes needs to double, and coordination between the EU and Ukraine needs to intensify to prevent bottlenecks and disruptions. While Croatia and the Baltic states offered their ports to expand the capacity of transit routes, it would bring higher shipping time and logistics costs for Ukrainian exporters.

Lastly, Ukraine urgently needs more defence capacity, air, coastal and river, to protect critical infrastructure in the Black Sea and Danube, including ports and pipelines, and many more missile defence systems to counter Russia’s never-ending attacks better.

Amanda Paul is a Senior Policy Analyst of the Europe in the World programme.

Svitlana Taran is a Ukrainian Research Fellow in the Europe in the World programme at the European Policy Centre.

The support the European Policy Centre receives for its ongoing operations, or specifically for its publications, does not constitute an endorsement of their contents, which reflect the views of the authors only. Supporters and partners cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

This Flash Analysis is part of the Ukraine's European Future project.

The latest from the EPC, right in your inbox
Sign up for our email newsletter
14-16 rue du Trône, 1000 Brussels, Belgium | Tel.: +32 (0)2 231 03 40
EU Transparency Register No. 
89632641000 47
Privacy PolicyUse of Cookies | Contact us | © 2019, European Policy Centre

edit afsluiten