Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin has just discovered the limits of his power

Russia’s decision to block grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports follows pressure from emerging economies and shows Vladimir Putin cannot bend the South to his will, a think tank has said.

In a marked reversal, the Kremlin said it would join the grain export corridor after threatening to abandon the UN-brokered deal, following a drone attack on its warships in the port of Sevastopol in Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, October 31, 2022. Russia has dropped a block on grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports following pressure from emerging economies, think tank Oxford Economics said.

But Oxford Economics published an assessment saying Moscow acted after pressure from emerging economies that “trumped Russia’s efforts to weaken Ukraine’s economy”.

Russia had suspended the deal on Saturday, rekindling fears about world hunger and high food prices that had been exacerbated by Moscow’s blockade of ports in previous months.

However, the UK think tank said Turkey, which along with Russia and the UN was a guarantor of the deal, is likely to have stepped in as a powerful player in part because Russia depends of the Turkish capital of Ankara to circumvent the sanctions. .

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an ally of Putin and did not impose sanctions on Russia for his invasion. He said on Wednesday that he had discussed with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky sending grain to African countries.

As both a geopolitical and economic beneficiary, Turkey “would therefore not want to see it fall apart”, the think tank said. This showed that it was “much more difficult” for Russia to reimpose a blockade “without seriously damaging its reputation with the ‘collective South’, compared to the confusion of the early days of the war”.

Evghenia Sleptsova, senior economist at Oxford Economics, said Newsweek that the suddenness of the reversal suggested that international pressure had been more persuasive than Russia’s motivation to weaken Ukraine.

She said the influence of Turkey and the Global South “must have been at work here” as the “key broker of the deal”. The country had not joined Western sanctions and served “as a key re-export hub helping Russia evade sanctions”.

The ASL TIA ship with grain
Departing from Ukrainian ports a day before Russia announced it was temporarily suspending the Grain Corridor Agreement, the ASL vessel TIA sailed through the Bosphorus on Wednesday afternoon November 2, 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey. The Oxford Economics think tank said Russia bowed to pressure from emerging economies to return to the deal.
Cemal Yurts/Getty Images

From the start of his full-scale invasion, Putin pushed the narrative that the world was moving away from the dominance of the EU, US and its allies. But his vision of a world order pivoting to the Global South could be undermined if Russia were to block his food supply.

“We don’t know exactly which developing countries have expressed concern this time around,” Sleptsova said, “but when the deal was reached in July, pressure was reported on Russia from countries in Africa and Middle Eastern countries.”

Russia’s U-turn came after a convoy of ships transported a record amount of grain in defiance of warnings from Moscow that it would be dangerous without its participation.

Geopolitical strategist Alp Sevimlisoy said Newsweek that the Turkish leadership had “stressed that they would use military might and their global influence to continue the expeditions with or without Russian participation” and “if necessary, would use force to safeguard and protect the uninterrupted flows”.

“Turkish leaders have now turned the grain deal into a national security issue with global implications that the Turkish Armed Forces and President Erdo─čan vehemently defend,” Sevimlisoy said.

In his evening speech, Zelensky said Wednesday that Moscow’s reversal of the grain deal showed “the failure of Russian aggression.”

Meanwhile, the Oxford Economics assessment said the grain deal would likely be renewed after the November 19 deadline, although Moscow could still use bargaining tactics to remove obstacles to its own grain exports. grain and fertilizer.

It could also “trigger ship traffic jams in Istanbul”, putting further pressure on food prices.

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