Over the last few days, a number of interesting but apparently unrelated events have occurred which are, in fact, a sign of important changes in international relations. July 21 saw the publication of an Order of the President of the Russian Federation: “On the organizing committee responsible for the preparations for and holding of the second Russia-Africa summit in 2023, and other events held between Russia and Africa.” And the following day saw the announcement of an agreement on the export of Ukrainian wheat from Black Sea ports, signed by Russia, Ukraine, the UN and Turkey. As many commentators have noted, in exchange for the opening of Black Sea routes for the export of Ukrainian wheat, the UN will make efforts to remove barriers (including sanctions) to the export of Russian grain and fertilizers. With international focus on that agreement, two other developments went almost unnoticed: Lithuania removed its restrictions on transit of goods between Russia and Kaliningrad Region, and Victoria Nuland, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, announced that there was a need for Russian oil on the world market.
To express these news items in political terms, these four almost simultaneous developments suggest that the West’s unilateral and illegal sanctions has been dealt a serious blow and the international isolation of Russia is simply a myth being promoted by the West. After all, the Presidential Order on the Second Russia-Africa Summit (the first took place in Sochi in October 2019) would not have been published unless it was clear to the political leaders concerned that most African governments would be prepared to send representatives to Russia to take part in the event.
As time passes by, African nations are increasingly viewing and interpreting events in terms of their own national interests rather than kowtowing to their Western sponsors and former colonial masters, who are now putting unprecedented pressure on African states by demanding that they cut their links with Russia.
But the events in Ukraine, and developments related to those events, are making it clear to many Africans that the war that began on February 24 is not going as the West is hoping. Firstly it is becoming increasingly clear that the Ukrainian armed forces are retreating and the Western supplied arms are unable to break the determination of the combined forces of the DPR, LPR and Russia to liberate the Donbass (Luhansk region has already been liberated) and bring the denazification and demilitarization of the Ukrainian state to its logical conclusion.
Secondly, the West has become the victim of its own fears, phobias and failure to evaluate the situation, causing it to overreact and take the highly dangerous step of arming the Ukrainian regime and imposing unprecedented sanctions on Russia, thus damaging not only their own economies and national interests but also those of many other regions around the world, including in Africa.
The signing of the agreement on the export of wheat through specially-created corridors in the Black Sea on July 22, and a separate memorandum between the UN and Russia to support the sale of Russian agricultural produce and fertilizers on international markets have effectively undermined the legal or political grounds for accusing Moscow of provoking a global food crisis. Other facts that have until now been obscured by Western and Ukrainian propaganda will soon be revealed. For example: Ukraine does not have 20 million tons of wheat awaiting export (according to the Russian President Vladimir Putin it probably only has 5-6 million tons of wheat), and all the uncertainty on global food markets has been caused by the Western sanctions against Russia.
Thirdly, the signing of the four-party agreement in Istanbul and the Memorandum between the UN and Russia on the sale of Russian produce and fertilizers will require the UN to act as an intermediary in dealings with the Western nations and lobby them to lift restrictions on the export of Russian grain and fertilizers. And looking over the shoulder of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will be a large group of African nations who have a very real interest in seeing that these essential shipments from Russia reach their destination. Macky Sall, the President of Senegal and the current Chairperson of the African Union, has already set out these nations’ position in his meetings earlier this month first with Vladimir Putin, and then with the French President, Emmanuel Macron. This position is quite simple: the ability to import Russian grain and fertilizers will enable African states to protect their food security and other national interests – the same goals which have led Western countries to insist on exceptions to safeguard their oil and gas supplies and the US to exclude Russian fertilizers from sanctions in order to support its farmers.
Fourthly, in the latest stage in the sanctions saga, which began after the summit in Istanbul, another serious problem has appeared. The EU and US are now insisting that since they have lifted the restrictions on the export of Russian grain and fertilizers, the rest is now Moscow’s responsibility. But, as anyone involved in international shipping is well aware, goods can only be delivered if all links in the logistic and financial chain are in place. Which is far from the case. The partial lifting of sanctions from specific categories of goods does not work, and cannot work for a number of reasons. The key Russian banks, including Rosselkhozbank, which provide banking support and carry out settlement and payment procedures for grain and fertilizer shipments, are under sanctions and have been excluded from the SWIFT international payments system. Rotterdam, Europe’s largest container port, has refused to work with Russian ships, Lloyds of London – along with other major Western insurers – has refused to insure them and Russian Railways is also under sanctions. In other words, the transportation of Russian grain and fertilizers is impossible because of the financial and other sanctions imposed on Russia, and the claims that sanctions on Russian agricultural produce and fertilizers have been lifted are just a fig leaf to cover up the West’s attempts to dictate terms to Russia and stifle it – attempts which, as Victoria Nuland has declared, are aimed at ensuring that the war in Ukraine is a “strategic failure” for Russia. As for how many million people have to die of hunger as a result of this policy – that is of little concern to the West.
To put it simple, the Western alliance is approaching a moment of truth: either the US and EU will recognize that their unilateral sanctions against Russia are a failure and represent a danger for the world by pushing many countries, especially in Africa, to the brink of famine, or they will continue with their destructive policy which is harming their own economies and those of some of the most underdeveloped countries. There is no third alternative in this matter. Only a full – and not a partial – removal of the banking and logistics sanctions can ensure the uninterrupted supply of grain (20% of global supplies) and other agricultural produce (40% of global supplies) from Russia to international markets. The moment of truth is approaching.
Oleg Pavlov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.