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Russia’s grain ‘concession’ will give it more leverage

The would-be consequences of Russia’s withdrawal from the grain agreement at the level of global propaganda have likely forced the Kremlin to reconsider its position.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Credit: Shutterstock.
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Credit: Shutterstock.
Salem al-Ketbi.
Salem al-Ketbi
Salem al-Ketbi is an Emirati political analyst and a former candidate to the UAE’s Federal National Council.

Russia’s resumption of its commitments in the so-called grain deal is a prime example of diplomatic deals between different parties in these complex international circumstances, largely based on the idea of winner-take-all.

The review of this deal shows that Russia made no concessions to Turkish diplomacy, which played the role of a mediator to bring Russia back into the deal after it had been “suspended” indefinitely. The Kremlin’s approval of the resumption of the deal came in an effort to make Moscow’s initiative to create a gas marketing center in Turkey a success.

Thus, one of the motives for Russia’s desire to help the Turkish effort succeed can be derived from Moscow’s resumption of its role in the grain business.

On the other hand, Turkey has become a hub for transporting Russian gas to Europe, as proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has welcomed with great enthusiasm and serves the geostrategic and geopolitical interests of both sides. It seems clear that Russia is interested in maintaining European gas markets in the future.

It wants a more secure gas corridor away from the Nord Stream pipeline, which the Kremlin believes has been sabotaged by unspecified Western hands to drive a wedge between Russia and European countries. Turkey, of course, welcomed the initiative. It is a timely gift.

It is one of Turkey’s indirect strategic gains from the crisis in Ukraine and its aftermath. This Russian initiative gives it a formidable power position vis-a-vis the European Union. It strengthens its position in future negotiations with the E.U., especially in determining the nature of relations between the parties.

So it is a barter deal that benefits both sides, the Russian side and to an even greater extent the Turkish side. The biggest beneficiaries of the agreement are the countries that import grain from Russia and Ukraine.

The agreement to export grain stuck in Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea and to lift the Russian blockade was an important breakthrough in a food crisis that threatens many countries with famine and political and security instability.

According to statistics, Russia and Ukraine together provide about 30% of the world’s wheat needs, 29% of barley needs, 75% of sunflower oil needs and 15% of corn needs, and Russia is the largest fertilizer producer in the world. This, in turn, affects grain prices. The most important indicator of all is that 90% of the two countries’ grain production goes abroad.

Ukraine alone is a major source of food grains, contributing about 45% of world trade in sunflower oil, 16% in corn and only 9% in wheat, with wheat’s share being rather small. But it looks impressive considering that some countries are almost completely dependent on it.

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) uses it to meet 40% of the grain needs of countries on the brink of famine, such as Ethiopia and Afghanistan. The above suggests that Ukraine’s share of the total world grain market may be deliberately exaggerated.

Russia’s return to grain trade is therefore not so much a concession to strategic standards as a good move to counter the West’s attempts to blame Moscow for high prices and world food crises, followed by a decline in Russia’s image and reputation.

So, in my opinion, this is a calculated move and not at all a retreat or a concession, especially since the issue concerns countries where Russia currently wants to strengthen its influence, such as countries in Africa and the Middle East, and in a way that contributes to a broader front of global neutrality in the Ukraine crisis, if not helps to attract new countries to Moscow’s side.

What reinforces the credibility of Russia’s position in returning to the grain deal is its desire to manage a sharper conflict with Western countries, at least at the propaganda level, if not at the military level, due to the worsening effects of Russian gas shortages and the onset of winter in Europe, with all the consequences that this implies for European governments.

Public resentment is spreading in a number of European countries over rising energy prices due to disruptions in Russian gas supplies, and more than a few sections of European societies are blaming their governments for imposing sanctions on Russia.

The consequences of Russia’s withdrawal from the agreement at the level of global propaganda have likely forced the Kremlin to reconsider its position. It has given Turkey a formal victory in return for its agreement to implement Russia’s gas center initiative. It also hands Turkish diplomacy a success that strengthens its position in the struggle for influence with its Atlantic allies, especially after it was proven that these allies are the main beneficiaries of Ukrainian grain exports. The concession is also an attempt to neutralize Turkey’s position regarding the conflict over Ukraine.

Russia, for its part, is waging an image war to counter the Western claim that it is causing a global famine.

The Russian Ministry of Agriculture agreed to fully compensate Ukrainian grain and deliver about 500,000 tons of grain free of charge to the poorest countries in the next four months (normally Ukraine delivers about 45 million tons of grain annually to the world). Russia is ready to deliver ten times the annual Ukrainian exports to poor countries for free.

This is a step that advances Russia’s position in the global power struggle quite a bit. So the bottom line is that much of what is happening in the world is a struggle over image. It is an integral part of the struggle for power and influence between the great powers seeking to reshape the world after Ukraine.

Salem al-Ketbi is an Emirati political analyst and a former candidate to the UAE’s Federal National Council.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.

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