To observe Zelensky’s statement to western media, arguing that African countries may face famines, is both absurd and disingenuous.
The Black Sea attacks on Russian naval vessels will no doubt focus the minds on decision-makers, after Russia reacted — briefly — by swiftly shutting down the grain deal, brokered by Turkey’s firebrand leader Recep Erdogan in August of this year.
Since the deal was signed, almost 400 ships passed through Istanbul heading towards Black Sea ports transporting over 9 million tonnes of grain all over the world.
And yet, despite Ukraine being the culpable party by instigating the attacks on Russian naval ships — knowing full well that this would risk the tenuous deal holding — the original agreement signed itself served neither side. It is understandable that Russia would be angry and respond in such an audacious way by pulling out of the deal immediately as attacks on the very Russian ships which operate in the Black Sea securing the passage for the grain ships seems like the best way for Ukraine to scrap the deal, knowing media will place the emphasis on Russia halting the arrangement.
But to observe Zelensky’s immediate statement to western media, arguing that African countries may face famines, is both absurd and disingenuous. Clearly the Ukrainian President is desperate to keep the international community engaged in the war, funding his war chest, and banked on annulling the deal as a way of stirring up more attention for his objectives. Zelensky knows full well that this ridiculous notion that Africa is going to incur a number of famines due to the grain being stopped from Black Sea ports won’t be checked by western media. Indeed, if the spotlight was shone on this very subject, some journalist might erroneously stumble onto the subject of how little, if anything, the West is doing to feed its own ex-colonies in Africa. 300,000 tonnes of Russian fertilizer is said to be confiscated and held in EU ports, much of it in Riga. This is as good as grain for African countries battling with droughts and the Russians have already offered to the UN secretary General to let Africa have it for free.
Long summers, long story
Exceptionally long and hot summers in Europe have led to bigger crops and Russia has always questioned where the real demand for wheat came from in the world.
Analysts will underline that the grain deal, brokered both by Turkey and the UN, didn’t really favour Russia much. Putin might have thought that its own Black Sea ports being able to export grain as well as other exports like agricultural equipment might benefit from it. But in reality, they didn’t as most of the grain ships went to Ukrainian ports.
Putin has said the grain deal is under review by Moscow because Ukrainian grain is being shipped not to the Middle East and Africa, where it is most needed, but to Europe. In fact, out of 108 ships which had left Ukrainian ports, 47 percent of the grain went to Turkey and Asian countries, 17 percent was heading to Africa, and just 36 percent to the EU, according to Carnegie.
Regardless, Putin himself acknowledged neither of the two agreements Russia signed to enable the export of both Ukrainian and Russian grain specified any destinations, which played into the hands of western journalists and analysts who pointed out that the Kremlin’s apparent concern over the food situation in the world’s poorest countries is unfounded.
The truth is a little too nuanced though for most journalists to grasp. Firstly, when the deal was signed, most African governments saw that the price had risen since the number of ships willing to go to the Black Sea had dropped which affected their orders; secondly, some African governments were even cautious about buying grain from Ukraine, worried that this would put them under a spotlight with Washington which imposed secondary sanctions against them; and thirdly many of these African destinations were already being served by EU ports processing Ukrainian grain.
In September, about 190 thousand tons of grain products were handled at the port terminals of Riga in Latvia which is operating at maximum capacity. Most of this amount is wheat shipped to South Africa, Nigeria, Mozambique and Algeria — a curative detail which Zelensky’s PR operation in Kiev fails to mention when it spews out his Africa rants or western media which omits to mention when it writes up the ‘Africa will starve’ story.
November the 19th is now an important date as it should be noted that Russia, by once pulling out of the deal, has indicated that it has less confidence in the arrangement. Indeed, the grain shipments had not stopped altogether in the few days when Russia made the gesture as several ships were reported to have left their ports two days after the attack on a Russian naval ship. Putin will now renegotiate and strive to get a better deal via Turkey over its role in the shipping corridor while Zelensky will no doubt continue with his disingenuous claims about starving Africans. Interesting how well coordinated the Ukrainian president is with the UN and western media. Since Russia’s move to temporarily leave the deal, seven ships leaving three Ukrainian ports laden with grain heading towards Yemen, Afghanistan and Ethiopia gave the Ukrainian president the opportunity for perfect soundbites, aided by Reuters, to project to the world the noble and honourable role that Ukraine plays in feeding the poorest countries, even though the ships were UN food program ones and the grain was not donated by the Ukrainian government but sold.
Presumably readers of such articles around the world also believe in Father Christmas and that the Earth is indeed flat but remarkable that few, if any, western journalists question Zelensky’s claims that if Black Sea ports can’t operate, that Africa will starve. The truth is that the EU is holding Russian agriproducts which they could send to those African governments if they really care whilst also snatching over 300 billion dollars in Russian capital and swiftly drawing up new laws allowing governments to steal Russian oligarchs high walled villas in the West.
The ’Africa will starve’ line is not linked to the Black Sea but more to despondent western elites who simply don’t care. The UN Food Program is free to buy as much grain as it wants from EU ports and send it to poor countries. You can’t have your ‘we have bumper crops this year due to the long summer’ and ‘we can’t get this grain to Africa’ two narratives sitting on the same page when Poland and Baltic ports are already exporting, surely?
And so, there are other ways of getting grain to “starving” African countries. The question is whether the will is there in the first place from the West, in preference to letting Putin come out a winner in terms of PR. Even the Russian president’s offer to give Russian grain to African countries in the event of the deal with UN and Turkey collapsing once again is airbrushed out of western mainstream media’s coverage and remains a fringe item buried on the obscure corners of the internet.
Indeed, for the few sceptics left who see through the unedifying maize of duplicitous Kiev media fodder, the whole subject of grain shipments is complicated, nuanced and boring with much of the story smoke and mirrors more on the Ukrainian side than the Russian. The grain story is an enigma. The real truth is that neither party really needs the grain shipments to operate as much as media claims and both sides might have rushed into signing for different reasons although Putin is being tarnished in poor taste as since his reaction to the Ukrainian attacks, the Ukrainian ports briefly operated for a few days at 25% of what they were previously. In short, Zelensky saw the Black Sea as a source of PR stunts, fake news and international political leverage while Putin saw the deal as a way of firstly showing the world that the Global South countries which might have been affected by a grain blockade are friends more of Russia than the West and so could do with a break; and secondly Black Sea ports of Russia should be taken into consideration.
In reality Russia’s ports aren’t doing nearly enough trade as the Ukrainian ones which might have something to do with the West’s sanctions, even though the secondary sanctions don’t touch grain. Putin might use this period now to gain further assurances from the UN and Turkey that Russia’s interests might be guaranteed in the next draft of the agreement. By the time these negotiations take place at the end of November though most Ukrainians will be burning their own furniture to keep warm and living with no electricity which will be blamed on Putin as well. Naturally.