Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation: Statement on the Istanbul agreements

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July 17, 2023

Almost a year ago, on July 22, 2022, two interrelated agreements were signed in Istanbul, namely, the Black Sea Initiative on Ukrainian food and Russian ammonia exports and the Memorandum of Understanding between the Russian Federation and the Secretariat of the United Nations on promoting Russian food products and fertilisers to the world markets. This package was concluded at the suggestion and with the participation of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres with the purported humanitarian goals of ensuring global food security, reducing the threat of hunger and helping Asian, African and Latin American countries in need.

A year later now, progress on implementing these agreements has been disappointing.

The Black Sea Initiative was launched just a week after it was signed. A maritime humanitarian corridor was outlined quickly, and a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) was created in Istanbul for registering and inspecting participating vessels. On August 1, 2022, the first Razoni dry cargo ship left Odessa, which clearly confirmed Russia’s good-faith and responsible approach to fulfilling its duties as a party to the agreement.

However, contrary to the purported humanitarian objectives, the Ukrainian food exports were almost immediately transacted on a purely commercial basis and, until the last moment, were used to serve Kiev and its Western curators’ self-serving interests. The facts and figures speak for themselves. 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.

These destinations and the commercialisation of an originally humanitarian initiative will become clear once we factor in the following circumstance: a significant portion of Ukrainian arable land (over 17 million hectares) is owned by Western corporations such as Cargill, DuPont and Monsanto. They bought up Ukrainian land after Kiev lifted a 20-year moratorium on land sales at the request of the IMF and became the main beneficiaries of the Ukrainian grain exports. On the other hand, there are the Europeans who buy Ukrainian food at below market prices and then process it at their own factories for further resale as finished products with high added value. In fact, the Westerners make money twice selling and processing grain. In addition, the United States and the EU engage in price gouging, as they create artificial shortages and push Russian agricultural products out of global markets by imposing illegitimate unilateral sanctions.

Notably, during the year the Black Sea Initiative was in force, the Kiev regime did not hesitate to commit provocations and attacks on Russian civilian and military sites under the cover of the humanitarian sea corridor and shipping. In fact, the ports under Kiev’s control and the safe corridor opened by Russia for the Ukrainian grain exports have been used for perpetrating terrorist attacks in violation of the spirit and letter of the Black Sea Initiative.

The Russia-UN Memorandum has never really worked. With their hypocritical talk about the Global South’s needs and the fact that the sanctions allegedly do not apply to food and fertiliser exports, Washington, Brussels and London continued to turn out restrictions. The EU alone has imposed five new sanctions packages since July 2022. The Americans and the British are keeping pace as they impose extraterritorial restrictions. As a result, Russian bank payments, insurance and transport logistics, as well as spare parts supplies and foreign assets have been completely blocked.

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. At the same time, the Russian owner of the products also paid for shipping and transport. The UN and the Latvians were paid separately, after which the Latvian Foreign Minister did not hesitate to declare, from the UNGA pulpit, their readiness to “donate” our fertilisers to the countries in need, at a time where the UN first failed to mention Russia in its press releases, and then didn’t even attend the ceremony of handing the cargo over.

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. According to our data, this fact is recognised by the EU. In fact, once again they tried to sell us an empty promise under the guise of extending the Black Sea Initiative.

Spare part and equipment imports for the production of farm products and fertilisers in Russia are banned as imports of “dual-purpose” goods. Our country’s entire territory has been declared a military risk zone with outlandish, to the point of being prohibitive, insurance rates, and foreign ports have been closed to our ships and cargo. Foreign accounts of domestic agricultural companies have been frozen despite the fact that Western sanctions allegedly do not apply to food and fertilisers. Partially unblocked funds have migrated into Western pockets as repayment of loans and payment for free deliveries of our fertilisers.

Finally, the developments surrounding the resumption of the Togliatti-Odessa ammonia pipeline, which is laid out in both Istanbul agreements, shows better than any rhetoric Kiev and the UN’s approach to their commitments. At first, they tried to use this to bargain for additional benefits in order to expand the Black Sea Initiative and to include new ports in it, to diversify cargo nomenclature and to increase the number of inspections, and to extend it as part of Antonio Guterres’ special proposal of April 24. Having failed to achieve these goals, Kiev blasted the ammonia pipeline on June 5 following the “no pipe – no problem” approach to the eloquent silence of the UN Secretariat.

The blatant sabotage of the Istanbul agreements defeats the purpose of continuing the Black Sea Initiative which did not live up to its humanitarian rationale.

In accordance with paragraph H of the agreement, Russia objects to an extension, of which the Turkish and Ukrainian sides, as well as the UN Secretariat, were officially informed today. This means revoking safe navigation guarantees, curtailing the maritime humanitarian corridor, resuming the status of a temporarily dangerous area in the northwestern Black Sea and disbanding the JCC in Istanbul. Without Russia, the Black Sea Initiative will cease to operate as of July 18.

We believe it’s time for Kiev’s European allies, who can export Ukrainian food through land corridors, to show their purported solidarity. However, in this case, unchecked cheap and low-grade grain could flood European markets and cause (and is already causing) local farmers’ protests. If Brussels really cares about this, the EU should buy it up and start sending it to countries in need instead of talking about fighting hunger.

If the Western capitals genuinely value the Black Sea Initiative, let them seriously consider the fulfillment of their commitments to lift the sanctions on Russian fertilisers and food. Once concrete results rather than promises and assurances are in place, Russia will be ready to consider resuming the deal.

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