By Marion Gabriel, Contributing Writer
A U.N.-brokered agreement between Russia and Ukraine resumed Ukraine’s grain exports after months of global food crisis. By opening access to the Black Sea and easing a global food crisis, the deal brings relief for developing countries, yet shifts the diplomatic landscape in Russia’s favor.
The Ukraine-Russia grain deal
Ukraine and Russia signed a deal in Istanbul Friday, July 22. This major diplomatic breakthrough brokered by the United Nations opens war-blocked ports on the Black Sea and provides safe passage for merchants, civil vessels, grain and oilseeds, which accounts for most of Ukraine’s international trade.
After month of negotiations, 20 million tons of grain will be exported from Ukraine and shipped through the Black Sea to assist vulnerable countries. 47 million people have moved into a stage of near-starvation since the beginning of the war according to World Food Programme estimations. The agreement will relieve several countries from this danger and global markets from rising commodity prices.
. @antonioguterres in Istanbul: Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea.— UN Spokesperson (@UN_Spokesperson) July 22, 2022
A beacon of hope – a beacon of possibility – a beacon of relief — in a world that needs it more than ever. pic.twitter.com/qQpZxtHgRL
On Monday, as the first grain-filled vessel left Odessa, a Ukrainian port-city, both sides have officially established a maritime corridor. Other convoys respecting the agreed formalities should follow.
Will the agreement be upheld?
Still, scepticism haunts the Black Sea grain deal. Ukraine’s Interfax news agency reported the loss of 400,000 tons of grain stolen by Russia in the Luhansk region last week. State Department spokesman Ned Price later accused Russia of using developing countries’ harvest as another weapon in this war, and ruled out potential for a long-lasting ceasefire.
It is still unclear whether the deal will be upheld. In fact, Russia and Ukraine did not agree on opening a sea corridor. Rather, two mirroring but separate agreements were signed with the U.N.
U.N. officials who helped broker the grain deal insisted that it would be a short-term commercial success, rather than a long-term one for Ukraine-Russia diplomatic relations. Following up on how the agreement is enforced, EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell stressed that its success “will depend on the swift and good faith implementation” of both parties. Conscious that Russia may violate the agreement at any moment, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, insisted that Russia’s compliance depends on the United Nations and Turkey’s roles as mediators.
The Global South as key strategic interest
Undoubtedly, diplomacy is key to the agreement. This ‘de facto ceasefire‘ appears to some officials to be in Russia’s interests. The U.S. State Department’s top diplomat, Victoria Nuland, even said Russia was forced to sign the deal because it was facing criticism from developing countries the Kremlin had been courting diplomatically since the beginning of the invasion. By potentially losing the Global South, she says, Putin was motivated by prospects of renewing Russia’s food exports and clarifying its relations with developing countries.
Recent developments demonstrated that Russian strategy aims at restoring its diplomatic presence in Africa while undermining Western diplomatic relations.
Victoria J. Nuland, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs of the United States, said Russia may have direct financial interests in committing to this deal as well as strategic ones in bringing the Global South back to its side. After months of war, African countries have been pressured financially by imposed catastrophic food shortages. This deal triggers an upturn in the international diplomatic activity of the Kremlin, alongside the Global South.
Meanwhile, sweeping sanctions against Russia have largely disrupted the global economy. European states are now concerned with the upcoming ‘Russian winter’ — recession, global food shortages, and a new migration crisis. While NATO’s united front has advocated general support for Ukraine, critics now contest the efficiency of such sanctions, and suggest peace at any cost. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban even accused the EU of shooting itself not only in the foot but also in the lungs by implementing six packages of sanctions. As Russia pursues a war of attrition, the Kremlin has managed to undermine Western diplomatic unity.
Despite the West’s efforts to isolate the Kremlin from global trade and diplomatic relations, Russia still has allies welcoming Moscow with open arms. On a four-nation tour of Africa, the Kremlin’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is now courting Egypt, Uganda, the Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.
The Russia-Ukraine deal seems to be a war tool opening diplomatic opportunities but unlikely to bring the war to an end.
Edited by James Sutton