Debunking 10 Russian myths about the Black Sea grain initiative

The EU is debunking 10 myths about the Black Sea grain initiative spread by the Russian authorities.

Myth 1. The West is "shamelessly burying" the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) that facilitates the export of Ukraine's agricultural products from its southern ports.

False. The EU fully supports the extension of the BSGI. The EU, alongside international partners, is at the forefront of global efforts to address food insecurity.  Since the implementation of Solidarity Lanes and the Black Sea Grain Initiative, food prices have continuously decreased.

Myth 2. The ‘Special Military Operation’ in Ukraine did not create the food crisis which existed before following manipulation and speculations from the West.   

False.   Conflicts, climate change and COVID-19 had undoubtedly negative effects on local and global  food systems and the people who rely on them, but Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine significantly worsened these challenges and vulnerabilities. Despite all the efforts, the EU and its Member States are wrongfully and cynically blamed by Russia for aggravating and benefiting from the crisis. By invading Ukraine and blocking Black Sea ports, Russia effectively cut Ukrainian food from the global markets and fuelled high food prices. Ukraine alone has the potential to feed 400 million people around the world.

Myth 3. The Istanbul agreements constitute two parts of a package, which should be equally implemented.             

False. While the EU supports the implementation of both agreements,  it  wishes  to  underline  that  two separate agreements were signed in Istanbul: one is the Memorandum of understanding between the United Nations and the Russian Federation to facilitate the unimpeded access  for  their  food  and  fertilisers  exports  to  global markets. The second is the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), signed by the Russian Federation, Türkiye, Ukraine, and witnessed by the United Nations to allow the safe export of grain, fertilisers and other foodstuff from Ukrainian ports via the Black Sea. The simple fact that the signatories of the two agreements are different is a clear evidence that this is not a package.

Myth 4.  The  EU  is creating  trade obstacles against Russian exports of wheat and fertilisers.The EU caused a global food shortage  by  banning  Russian agricultural products and fertilisers. Russia bears no responsibility of the global food crisis. EU is keeping all the grain from   Ukraine,  starving other countries.

False. Russia bears the full responsibility of this situation created  by  the  unprovoked  and  unjustified  invasion  of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 and the illegal annexation of Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. If there was no war, there would not be any trade problems. Both the Black Sea Grain Initiative and the EU-Ukraine Solidarity Lanes have contributed significantly to getting food and cereals prices down, by making sure that the much needed grain from Ukraine is again available on the global markets. UN data clearly demonstrate that total exports  of  Russian  fertilisers  to  developing  countries remained quite stable in 2022 compared with previous years (only a 10% decrease in volume according to FAO), with significant increases to big countries like Brazil, China, India and  Turkey.  Moreover, FAO  data  shows  that  RU  has significantly increased its incomes from exporting fertilisers in 2022, benefiting from the high prices. In addition, Russia itself applies export taxes and export quotas both on cereals (wheat, meslin, rye, barley and maize) and fertilisers, with in particular a 23.5% levy when price exceeds 450 USD/tonne. The sole objective of these measures, coming on top of the price increase linked to the cost of energy (for manufacture and transport) and the increase of insurance fees, because of the transport taking place in a war zone, is to manipulate markets and push prices up, in complete opposition to the key objectives of the BSGI.

Myth 5. Most of the food exported under the  Black  Sea  Grain  Initiative goes to developed countries, in particular EU Member States.    

False. UNCTAD in its March report titled “A Trade Hope - The Impact of the Black Sea Grain Initiative” confirmed that Developing countries received the largest share (55%) of food exports from Ukraine and the lion’s share (65%) of wheat.

Myth 6. Russia is doing its utmost to facilitate the implementation of the BSGI.             

False. Russia is voluntarily slowing down the process of inspection of ships. In January 2023, the total volume of exports decreased to 3 million tonnes, mainly because of the artificial bottleneck created at inspection level. Russia allows only 5-6 inspections a day by three teams. As a result, the backlog of waiting ships is growing and the exports are down.

Myth 7. Designed  as  an  humanitarian initiative, the EU made the Grain Deal becoming a purely commercial operation.          

False. The EU does not control the world food markets, where private actors freely interact and negotiate. To be noted that any additional food brought on the world markets wherever it goes contributes to calm down prices.

Myth 8. EU  sanctions  on  Russia  are targeting Russia’s own exports, in particular  of  fertilisers.  EU sanctions    affect    payments, shipping   and   insurance   and therefore pose a “barrier” to Russia’s  grain and fertiliser exports.      

EU sanctions on Russia do not prohibit to import, export, purchase, or trade in, food and fertilisers from Russia*. Transactions are allowed even if they involve sanctioned entities (9th package),  sanctions  do  not  apply  to  third countries. Non-EU country persons can deal with listed individuals/entities and import any products from Russia, if they do so entirely outside the EU or without the involvement of an EU operator. Transactions related to Russian exports as showed by trade data have largely remained stable compared with previous years across all types of fertilisers.

* with the exception of potash and potash related products.

Myth 9. EU Member States are blocking exports  of  Russian  fertilisers donated by Russia to developing countries

The World Food Programme is instrumental in facilitating donations of 260.000 metric tons of fertiliser to countries in need. These fertilisers were owned by the Russian firm Uralchem-Uralkali and stocked in 4 EU MS ports before the war.  It also  needs  to  be  clarified  that  these  fertilisers represent around 1% of overall Russia fertilisers exported in 2022. The operation is complex, requiring different steps (inspection, financing, mixing of fertilisers, identifying the countries  of  destination  etc.).  Moreover, the receiving countries need to mobilise funding for inland transport. The World Food Programme is undertaking this process with utmost urgency. None of the EU Member States (LV, EE, NL, BE) is blocking or has blocked the donation via WFP of Russian fertilisers to countries in need: all four MS have played their part and fully cooperate with the WFP in this regard. A first shipment left NL on 29 November (20.000 metric tons) for final destination Malawi. 34.000 metric tons of fertilisers are also being shipped to Kenya from LV. The fact that all fertilisers were rapidly made available to WFP shows that there were no obstacles. In case consignments had arrived in the European ports before sanctions were imposed  on  the  owner  of  the  RU  fertiliser  company, solutions for a changed situation had to be found. These transactions were done with companies owned by listed oligarchs. Thanks to the new derogation, such transactions can now be authorised prior to the arrival of the fertilisers (on the condition that the concerned businessperson was active in this sector before being sanctioned).

Myth 10. Western sanctions  against Russia are  illegal and cause global harm.  They destabilise the global economy and drive up the cost of living for ordinary citizens  around the globe. Sanctions have no effect on the Russian economy, and Russia has proven that  sanctions  do not work.        

Russian disinformation  about  the  EU  sanctions  is  a compilation of contradictions, lies, manipulated data and figures. This disinformation narrative downplays the impact of sanctions for domestic audiences in Russia, and creates the   false   image   that   the   West   itself   is   collapsing. Internationally, Russia wants to stoke unsubstantiated fears that Western actions have negative global consequences. All EU sanctions are fully compliant with obligations under international law. Sanctions are reducing Russia’s means to finance the war and acquire key components for its military- industrial complex. The effects of sanctions are visible in all major sectors  of  Russia’s  economy.  In 2022,  Russia’s budget   deficit   massively   increased. The   economy significantly  shrunk  in 2022,  and 2023  figures  already demonstrate  an  aggravation.  Sanctions  do  work.  The international decision to cap oil prices aiming at limiting price surges driven by extraordinary market conditions, drastically reduces the revenues Russia has been earning from oil. The oil price cap also serves to stabilise global energy prices while mitigating adverse consequences on energy supplies to third countries. EU sanctions have important exemptions. They explicitly exclude food supplies and fertilisers. And although European airspace is not open to Russian aircrafts, EU Member States can authorise overflight of their airspace by   Russian aircrafts when required for humanitarian purposes.