28/09/2022 Banderas de la Unión Europea (Archivo) POLITICA NICOLAS MAETERLINCK / BELGA PRESS / CONTACTOPHOTO

The European Union has approved this Friday exemptions from sanctions on the maritime transport of fertilizers and food that seek to facilitate transactions of Russian agricultural products, fertilizers and fertilizers to third countries and that, in practice, will benefit Russian oligarchs.

Following the decision reached this Thursday at the summit of EU leaders for the ninth round of sanctions against Russia in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine, the bloc will allow access to frozen financial resources of owners of key companies in the fertilizer sector. or food, facilitating the efforts of the port authorities that now found themselves in the trouble of processing transactions that could break European sanctions.

Successive rounds of European sanctions against Russia have never affected sectors such as the trade in Russian fertilizers or agricultural products, but now the 27, driven by six member states with port interests, explicitly indicate in the sanctions the exemptions for individuals with important businesses in the sector to facilitate the management of commercial transactions. In this way, it is allowed to unfreeze certain economic resources “necessary” for the purchase, import or transport of agricultural and food products, including wheat and fertilizers.

To ensure that this measure does not become a hole used by the Russian oligarchs to circumvent the sanctions, only those individuals who have a relevant business in the sector before being sanctioned will be able to benefit from the exemptions, diplomatic sources have explained.

COUNTERING THE RUSSIAN NARRATIVE

In Brussels they do not know how to offer an estimate of how many people the measure will benefit, but they insist that it will be a handful of people who control the sector, so it will facilitate the majority of transactions. In principle, oligarchs such as Moshe Kantor, a shareholder in one of the largest fertilizer manufacturers in Russia, and linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and different leaders of the fertilizer company EuroChem such as Vladimir Rashevski and Andrei Melnichenko may benefit from the measure.

“It does not mean that 100 percent of the transports are going to be done easily, but most of them can be better managed,” these sources explain, indicating that the aim is to give legal security and room for maneuver to the national authorities to apply the sanctions.

In addition to a practical dimension and support for third countries, relaxing a very specific aspect of the sanctions seeks to counter the Russian narrative that European sanctions cause a lack of food security in countries in Africa and the Middle East, a recurring criticism of the EU in their encounters with third countries.

The sources consulted acknowledge that in “some way” the sanctions affected the transport of Russian food and fertilizers, but the impact was “limited” and was due to bureaucratic procedures in European ports. “If we had not done anything, that narrative would have been fed, now we show that the Russian narrative is absolute nonsense,” he concluded.

The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Spain and France considered the current legal situation to contribute to criticism that sanctions actually hamper trade in food and fertilizer. For this reason, in the framework of the negotiations for the ninth round of sanctions, they asked to introduce these exemptions.

They urgently demanded an exemption for agricultural products, including fertilizers subject to restrictive sectoral measures, establishing that asset freezing measures should not be applied to funds or economic resources that are strictly necessary for the purchase, sale, import, export or transport of food and agricultural products from or through Russia or Ukraine”, according to the proposal to which Europa Press has had access.

This position was opposed by Poland and Lithuania, which managed, however, to have the measure studied on a case-by-case basis and be in the hands of the national authorities of each Member State. The exception is without prejudice to other restrictive measures imposed on Russia and other countries and the respective national security concerns of member states, diplomatic sources said.

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