Grain at the Center of the Global Geopolitical Dispute

Yoselina Guevara López
Turkish President Erdogan informed this November 2 that at 12 Moscow time, grain exports from Ukraine through the humanitarian sea corridor were resumed. The restoration of naval transit was possible thanks to the intervention of the Turkish Minister of Defense, Hulusi Akar, who contacted his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, to urge him to comply with the “purely humanitarian effort”. Following the Ukrainian air and sea drone attack on the base in Sevastopol (Crimea), Moscow had announced on Saturday, October 29, the “indefinite” suspension of the grain agreement signed in July 2022 thanks to the mediation of Turkey and the United Nations, which expires on November 19, 2022.

Erdogan’s diplomatic victory

The return to the agreement on grain export from Ukrainian ports continues to have President Erdogan in the limelight, with the leader not only winning a new diplomatic victory at the delicate and increasingly narrow negotiating table between Kiev and Moscow but also the gratitude of the United States, Ukraine, Russia all the way to Africa. This is an issue that should not be underestimated, because in this phase of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict in which everything seems to be heading towards a paralysis of negotiations, at least in public, the only leader who is recognized by all parties not only as an interlocutor, but also as a mediator, is precisely President Erdogan, who has earned this position surprisingly above any other leader.

This positioning on the world scene of the first leader of Turkey and his government team can be seen, for example, through the communications he received on November 2. From Kiev, President Zelensky said that he had “thanked President Erdogan for his active participation in the preservation of the grain agreement, for his firm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. For his part, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken again spoke with his counterpart, Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu, to thank him for “his country’s efforts to ensure the resumption of the Black Sea Wheat Initiative, encouraging Russia’s return and reminding Moscow of the importance of continuing to adhere to UN-mediated agreements and its commitments to support global food security.” Sudan’s Amir Mahmoud Abdulla, coordinator of the Black Sea Wheat Initiative, wrote via the social network Twitter that he was “grateful for the Turkish facilitation.” From the Russian Federation in addition to the praise that President Vladimir Putin dedicated to the Anatolian head of state during the past week, this Russian willingness to resume the wheat agreement can already be considered a certificate of esteem towards the Turks.

Combat-free grain corridor

It should be noted that the Russian Federation agreed to retrace its steps, but on condition that Ukraine guarantees that “it will not use the grain corridor for combat operations”. On the other hand, whatever happens, little changes for the Kremlin, the agreement expires on November 19, 2022. If Kiev does not respect the security clauses inherent in the Istanbul agreement, Moscow will simply not renew it. In the eyes of the countries most exposed to food shortages, the blame would fall on Kiev and Western governments that support or orchestrate naval attacks through the space reserved for the safe transit of merchant ships; as in the case of the United Kingdom, openly accused by Russia of being part of the attack on Sevastopol.

Likewise, it is no coincidence that President Putin himself has recently denounced the hoarding and “predatory” bias in favor of the West in the food issue. After the signing of the Istanbul agreement, of the 455 ships that left Ukrainian ports loaded with grain (9.3 million tons), up to 350 went to Western countries (6.1 million tons, 66% of the total); only 11 ships (0.36 million tons, 4%) went to African nations, despite the fact that these were indicated as priority destinations at the signing of the agreement.

Moscow and Ankara joint geopolitical interests

This “goodwill” and “purely humanitarian effort” can also be read in geopolitical terms in a more objective way. Russia and Turkey share an interest in exporting Ukrainian wheat to countries in Africa and the Middle East, where Moscow and Ankara’s influence is growing and dependence on Eurasian grain is constant. It is no coincidence that President Erdogan has revealed that “mainly the corridor will work for deliveries to poor African countries, especially the Djibouti Republic, Somalia and Sudan”.
In this sense the African continent is a very important arena; this has been confirmed, albeit in different ways, by the leaders of both countries, Erdogan and Putin. The Russian president had stated, during a telephone call with his Turkish counterpart, that Russia was “ready to supply Africa with significant quantities of grain and fertilizers free of charge”. This point had already been developed by some members of the Moscow executive, who had stressed that the Federation would find a way to respect the commitments undertaken with states not only in the Middle East, but also in Africa, implying that it was always very willing to fully comply with partners from other continents.

In the communications of Ankara and Moscow in defense of sending grain to the African continent hides one of the perhaps decisive factors for understanding part of the relationship between Russia and Turkey not only in the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict and the Black Sea, but also in Africa itself. There, where the old European colonialism has gradually left its mark by abandoning the territory, except for the military presence in certain regions, the two old empires, the Turkish and the Russian, have tightened the accelerator of insertion in Africa precisely to wrest advantageous positions to the detriment of the Western ones. One of the elements in which both Moscow and Ankara have decided to invest is that of propaganda, and it is no coincidence that both forces bordering the Black Sea speak of selling cereals and fertilizers to African countries. Which in the end is a choice dictated not so much by philanthropy as by precise geopolitical rules, both powers want to dominate the continental political scene and in this Africa remains a continent rich in resources and a point of strength in the world configuration.

Yoselina Guevara López: social communicator, political analyst, columnist in different international media, whose work has been translated into English, Italian, Greek and Swedish. Winner of the Simón Bolívar 2022 National Journalism Award (Venezuela), special mention Opinion; Aníbal Nazoa 2021 National Journalism Award (Venezuela); I Comandante Feliciano 2022 Historical Memory Contest (El Salvador) Third place.