The EU’s revised sanctions policy is impeding vital shipments of Russian fertilizers to the Third World

On August 29, the European Commission published an updated clarification text on the application of sanctions to fertilizers manufactured or exported from Russia, including potassium chloride, as well as complex fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Brussels’ new position now makes it impossible to supply Russian fertilizers to third countries, including Africa, using European operators and infrastructure, as well as EU territory.

This decision clearly contradicts the bloc’s own previous statements on trade in agricultural products and fertilizers between Russia and third countries, particularly in cases where it is pushing people in developing countries to the brink of starvation.

Earlier this year, on April 8, the EU imposed sectoral sanctions on fertilizers of Russian origin. These sanctions banned the purchase, import or movement of these products into the EU, regardless of whether they exceeded the quotas set by Europe itself. The quotas amount to 837.5 thousand tons of potassium chloride and 1,577.8 thousand tons of other fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potash.

The bans initially did not apply to the transit of Russian fertilizers to third countries that use the infrastructure of the EU. However, on August 10, Brussels further tightened sanctions by extending the ban to activities by European operators related to the transit of Russian fertilizers destined for third countries across the bloc’s administrative borders. In addition, under the new sanctions regime, supplying fertilizers to third countries without using EU territory and infrastructure is considered a violation of the sanctions. European companies are now banned from providing transport, handling and trading services, as well as related services such as insurance, finance, brokerage and technical assistance.

The European Commission’s August 29 revision contains an important clarification that can be seen as a violation of the immutable principles of international trade. According to Europe’s top executive authority, operators from EU countries are banned from making payments for Russian goods shipped to Europe, even if the deals were signed before the sanctions were imposed. In reality, since payments are part of contract performance, the Commission is forcing European operators to unilaterally breach contractual obligations towards Russian suppliers.

The commission says the purpose of increasing sanctions levels is to significantly weaken Russia’s economic base by depriving Russia of its main markets for its products and severely curtailing its ability to wage war.

When the sanctions were first imposed in spring 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine, the European Union said they would target the Russian government, companies that produce military products or services, officials who make decisions in the military sphere and the Targeting public figures loyal to the Kremlin, but not the general population of Russia, which Brussels claimed had no direct connection with the conduct of the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine.

Despite these declarations, the subsequent decisions of the European institutions have made ordinary Russian citizens hostage to the sanctions. Countries in the EU have significantly restricted or frozen the issuance of visas to Russians, which has essentially cut off all tourists from the Russian Federation from entering Europe. Bank payment systems Visa and MasterCard stopped serving cards issued in Russia, which was felt by most Russian citizens. Fearing sanctions, many Western companies producing mass-produced goods – household appliances, clothing and food – restricted their activities in Russia, which also affected the interests of large sections of the population.

The sanctions have also hit Europeans in the form of higher energy and food prices and unprecedented inflation. Social tensions are also rising as protest sentiment in many European cities rallies residents in increasingly volatile rallies and people openly express dissatisfaction with the adverse effect of the sanctions.

The European Union has gone even further by extending sanctions to developing countries. The ban on Russian fertilizer transit to third countries has devastated billions of people in Asia, Africa and Latin America in the form of severe fertilizer shortages, declining agriculture and the spread of hunger.

The EU’s new clarifications directly contradict both the numerous public statements made by European politicians and the general principles of the preamble to the seventh sanctions package, which declares global food and energy security to be the EU’s priority. In particular, it notes that none of the measures provided for in the sanctions regulations are aimed at restricting trade in agricultural products, including wheat and fertilizers, between third countries and Russia.

Europe’s latest proclamation grossly violates the Memorandum of Understanding between Russia and the UN Secretariat to encourage the promotion of Russian food and fertilizers to world markets – the so-called “Grain Agreement” signed in Istanbul on July 22. The memorandum was intended to solve the problem of unimpeded supply of Russian food and fertilizers to the world market, as well as remove obstacles in the sphere of finance, insurance and other transit services.

This didn’t happen.

In practice, the Brussels sectoral sanctions on fertilizers have only cemented the impossibility of supplying such products to third countries, involving European economic operators, infrastructure and the EU administrative territory. An additional layer of cynicism about the situation is compounded by the fact that the EU set quotas on fertilizers and subsequently exempted them from sanctions.

Meanwhile, Russia is ready to donate hundreds of thousands of tons of fertilizers stuck in European ports to African countries. When unlocked. The situation in the port of Riga, the capital of Latvia, is paradoxical. A ship belonging to the Russian company Uralchem ​​has been at anchor there since the beginning of March (before the sanctions were imposed). The Latvian authorities have not been able to make a decision regarding this cargo for more than six months and have not allowed the ship to leave port or moor to allow the fertilizers to be unloaded.

The initiative on safe transportation of grain and food from Ukrainian ports, signed on July 22 between the UN, Russia and Turkey, will not be implemented. The document guarantees the safe export of Ukrainian agricultural products from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, which are still under Kiev’s control, with the logistics for the operations under UN jurisdiction. But out of 2 million tons of grain exported, only 3% went to the poorest countries, the rest went to the European Union. To make matters worse, export restrictions on Russian grain and fertilizers have never really been lifted. As a result, Moscow may refuse to participate in the grain deal.

The European Union could expand its sanctions regime to include world trade in the future. Such measures cannot be ruled out under any circumstances. That means the ongoing sanctions war amid Russia’s brutal attempt to revive its empire by forcing Ukraine back into its orbit could quickly turn into a global humanitarian catastrophe.