Last week (July 24–30), the Russia-Africa Summit was held. Moscow tried to bribe African countries with free grain, but this strategy failed. South Africa and the African Union, which unites 55 countries of the continent, called on Russia to resume the "grain deal".

Kyiv is looking for alternative logistics routes for the export of Ukrainian grain to global markets, and is trying to unblock the opportunity to sell their own agricultural products in the EU⁠internal market.

Russia is deepening cooperation with Iran and is looking for new allies who can help them supply weapons in the face of sanctions pressure.

Russia-Africa Summit: despite all efforts, Russia is losing its influence on the African continent

Against the background of gradual international isolation and loss of influence, the Russian Federation is trying to strengthen its position at the cost of the Global South, such as African countries. To do this, the Kremlin, for example, systematically delegated the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry on a tour of African countries to promote Russian narratives, including about the war in Ukraine.

In the fight against the "collective West", the Russian Federation tampers with the topics of colonialism and apartheid that are sensitive for African countries. The Russia-Africa Summit on July 27–28 was another illustration of the Kremlin's game — Vladimir Putin tried to present Africa as a key partner in the "new system of a multipolar world order".

"Today, Russia and African countries jointly advocate the creation of a fair multipolar world order based on the principles of sovereign equality of states, non-interference in their internal affairs, and respect for the right of peoples to determine their own destiny," Putin expressed at the summit the already established Russian narratives that refer to the sanctions policy of the West and pseudo-referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine.

At the same time, the summit demonstrated a partial decline in Russian influence in the region. Out of 54 African countries, only 17 states sent delegations headed by heads of state, and 10 governments delegated prime ministers. Another 5 countries withdrew altogether, while others were represented by second-ranking officials.

By way of contrast, no country rejected the invitation at the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019, whereas 45 states sent delegations with presidents and prime ministers. As expected, the Russian side blamed the West for this. Thus, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov talked about the unprecedented pressure of the United States, France and other countries through diplomatic missions to prevent the active participation of African countries in the forum.

However, African countries have their own vision of global security and economic situation, which has nothing to do with Russian manipulative statements. In parallel with the Kremlin summit, the presidents of Liberia and Equatorial Guinea received the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, and supported the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, as well as the peace formula of Volodymyr Zelensky.

At the same time, the visions of the countries at the summit on food security in the world went completely against Russian plans. Vladimir Putin expected that he would be able to bribe African countries with Russian grain. Thus, the dictator mentioned about the writing off the $23 billion in debts, as well as his readiness to supply weapons and grain to the continent, free of charge.

On the eve of the summit, Putin even shared an article where he downplayed Ukraine's role in global food security and justified Russia's withdrawal from the Black Sea Initiative. Thus, the Russian dictator tried to mitigate the damage caused to Russia's positions in Africa and his own reputation, while Russian troops impede free navigation in the Black Sea and destroy tens of thousands of tons of Ukrainian grain that could enter the markets of African countries.

During the summit, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, said that African leaders “did not come here to ask for any 'gifts' for the African continent.” At the same time, the President of South African Republic highlighted the need to restore the grain deal and make the Black Sea open to world markets. Moreover, the African Union of 55 countries also supported the re-launch of the initiative. The current head of the Union of African countries,  President of the Comoros, Azali Assoumani, said that Russia's readiness to help free of charge is important, but it is not enough.

A similar opinion was expressed in the West, because allowing Russia to supply grain to Africa free of charge is not the right way out of the crisis. In addition, the US State Department believes that at the moment the promises of the President of the Russian Federation regarding free grain are just words, not actions.

At the summit, Russia also tried to justify the war and show their peace-loving. However, the position of  Africa overwhelmed the Kremlin: according to the leaders of the continent's states, the war in Ukraine has a negative impact on the world economy and directly on African countries. Such statements contradict the Kremlin's disinformation, which blames the coronavirus pandemic and the actions of Western countries for the food crisis.

In addition, traditionally, the Russian dictator accused the West and Ukraine of refusing a peaceful settlement of the war, not demonstrating readiness for concessions on his part. Instead, Putin once again demanded that Ukraine reconcile with territorial losses and establish a neutral status. At the same time, Putin is not ready to support the African peace plan at the ceasefire point, because, according to the dictator, the Ukrainian army is currently advancing. Moreover, he stressed that he was ready for a direct clash with NATO.

However, it is easiest for the Kremlin to cease fire by taking their troops to Russian territory. The Office of the President of Ukraine once again reminded the Kremlin that the way to negotiations is through the withdrawal of troops, a change in the political elite, the recognition of war crimes and the extradition of the initiators of the war to the tribunal.

In general, it is not surprising that African countries are nervous about Russia's invasive and sometimes mental actions, because, according to British intelligence, the consequences of the war in Ukraine could worsen the food situation in Africa for at least the next two years. In the end, food blackmail, the "settlement" of the war in Ukraine and the use of Africa to confront the West will only distance Russia from the global South, increasingly weakening the position of the aggressor in international politics.

Ukraine is looking for alternative ways to export grain and wants to re-enter the EU internal markets

After Russia withdrew from the "grain initiative" and shelled Ukrainian ports, Kyiv, together with its allies, began to search for alternative logistics routes using all types of transport for the export of Ukrainian grain to world markets.

Greece and Bulgaria are discussing the possibility of grain transit from Ukraine by rail. The idea is for Bulgarian trains to load grain on Ukraine's border with Romania and then transport it through Romanian and Bulgarian territory to Greece.

Another option was proposed by Lithuania. They called on the European Commission to strengthen the grain export route from Ukraine through the Baltic states. Vilnius is convinced that this route can become a "viable and long-term alternative" for grain exports from Ukraine. Slovakia also offered their assistance.

In addition, the Ukrainian Grain Association appealed to the European Commission with a proposal to increase exports by "solidarity routes" by 1-1.5million tons per month. This is proposed to be done through the ports of the Baltic countries (Klaipeda and others), Germany (Rostock, Hamburg), the Netherlands (Rotterdam), Croatia (Rijeka), Italy (Trieste), and Slovenia (Koper) with subsequent shipment to the ports of third countries. The Association also asks the EU to introduce subsidies to compensate European carriers for additional logistics costs for transit transportation and partial compensation of port costs for Ukrainian grain.

Another alternative and potentially the most effective option is the transit of Ukrainian grain along the Danube to Romanian ports located on the Black Sea coast. This option is supported by the fact that Romania has increased the capacity of the port in Constanța and restored closed rail links with Ukraine, and is also working to attract much-needed pilots to navigate ships through the Sulina Canal to Ukrainian ports on the Danube.

According to Romanian Foreign Minister, Luminica Odobescu, Bucharest “is in close contact with Ukraine to determine the best options for increasing and accelerating grain transit.” She added that although the security situation is difficult, Romania is determined to continue to help Ukraine.

At the same time, Ukraine is looking for compromises to unblock the possibility of exporting grain and other agricultural products to the markets of individual EU member states. This is happening against the background of the intentions of Poland and other countries to close the border for grain from Ukraine after September 15, when the European Commission's moratorium on imports of Ukrainian grain expires. In Kyiv, such actions were called unacceptable and playing into Putin's hands.

In addition to Poland, such an initiative was supported by Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria, which currently accept Ukrainian grain only in transit. Five countries jointly asked the EU to extend the ban on imports of Ukrainian grain after September 15. They explain their actions by the fact that Ukrainian grain will negatively affect their domestic markets and create significant competition for their agricultural products.

A⁠propos, as a result of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and its blockade of Ukrainian ports, Ukrainian grain and other agricultural goods could not be delivered to their destination since the end of February 2022. That is why the European Commission has developed an action plan "The Way of Solidarity" in order to resume and simplify the export of Ukrainian grain within the territory of the EU member states as much as possible.

Thus, since April 2022, through the "solidarity routes", Ukraine has exported more than 41 million tons of grain and oilseeds. According to the estimates of the European Commission, in this way, 60% of grain has been exported from Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale war, while only  40% has been exported by sea. This is confirmed by UN data, according to which the "grain agreement" allowed Ukraine to export 32.9 million tons of agricultural products.

However, in the spring of 2023, the above-mentioned five EU member states unilaterally imposed a temporary ban on the imports of Ukrainian agricultural products in the interests of local farmers who complained about the negative impact of relatively cheap Ukrainian grain on their domestic markets. To address the situation, the European Commission has introduced measures to restrict trade in Ukrainian agricultural products such as wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower seeds in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia until 15 September 2023. In addition, Brussels has allocated multimillion compensations to the farmers of these countries.

The search for weapons and partners, the production of shaheds and supplies from China: how Russia is trying not to lose the war

The Russian Federation continues to actively engage new partners and seek alternative sources of arms supplies in the context of international sanctions imposed against it. One of the key cooperation tracks is with the Islamic Republic of Iran which has become an important military support for Russia.

Thus, the United States State Department is convinced that the partnership between Iran and Russia in the military sphere is deepening. During a briefing in Washington, Deputy State Department Spokesman Vedanta said: “Iran remains Russia's main military backbone. Russia received hundreds of one-time strike UAVs from Iran, as well as equipment for the production of drones. ”

In addition, last week, United States military intelligence reported that the emergence of a Shahed plant would have a negative impact on the war in Ukraine. The analysis also says that the construction will be completed at the beginning of next year and will provide the Russian Federation with a much larger stock of kamikaze drones.

However, Iran is not the only supplier of military goods to Russia. Last week, Politico, based on an analysis of customs office data, reported that China had been increasing its trade with Russia over the past year, in particular by increasing the sale of dual-use goods that the Russian Federation cannot receive due to sanctions. According to the publication, this year Russia imported more than $100 million worth of drones from China. Here, it is critical that the Chinese company DJI specializing in the manufacture of drones said that it had severed all ties with Russia. At the same time, Politico managed to find a contract of a Chinese company for the supply of DJI drones for October 2022.

The analysis also says that China has increased exports of ceramics used to make bulletproof vests. Summing up, the publication noted that the increase in trade in such goods emphasizes the imperfection and vulnerability of sanctions against Russia, because such goods fall under the blurred concept of dual-use goods.

In addition to the clandestine supply of dual-use goods, China is also transferring technology to Russia for the war with Ukraine. This is stated in the report of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The text reads: “Customs data show that Chinese state defense companies send navigation equipment, anti-radar technologies and fighter parts to Russian state defense companies under sanctions.”

The report also states, “The intelligence community lacks information to assess whether Beijing deliberately obstructs U.S. government inspections in China of the destination of exported goods.”

In addition, on July 25–27, a Russian delegation led by the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, Sergei Shoigu, visited the DPRK. According to the Russian edition of Ria Novosti and the Russian Defense Ministry, the visit "will contribute to strengthening Russian-North Korean military ties and will be an important stage in the development of cooperation between the two countries."

During the visit, Shoigu met and held talks with the head of the North Korean military department, Kang Sun-nam. Thus, the website of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation states that during the conversation, Shoigu emphasized the interaction between the two countries, which was strengthened in the post-war period, as well as measures that allegedly contributed to the preservation of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. In addition, he stressed: "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is an important partner of Russia, with which we are connected by a common border and a rich history of cooperation."

It is not known about other details of the conversation between the military leaders of the two countries, because officially the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation visited the DPRK to "celebrate" the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. It is logical to assume that Shoigu could discuss the supply of Soviet weapons to Russia. The American authorities have repeatedly noted that the Kremlin is turning to other countries, including North Korea, to support the war in Ukraine.

Also last week, the State Duma of the Russian Federation adopted several bills on military service. We are talking about raising the conscription age to 30 years, banning travel abroad for those who received summonses, and increasing the size of fines for failure to appear at the military enlistment office.

According to the chairman of the Duma Defense Committee Andriy Kartapolov, such changes are due to the fact that "the demographic situation is serious, it affects the amount of mobilization resource, and in order for us not to sag, we need this kind of version"

When it comes to the fine for failure to appear at the military registration and enlistment office, initially its amount was planned to be set at 50 thousand rubles, but the final version of the law states 30 thousand rubles.

The Kremlin is increasingly tightening the screws and is ready to put a lot of manpower to seize Ukraine. However, the situation at the front and in the international arena indicates the opposite. The leaders of the Russian Federation should prepare for the inevitable changes in power institutions with mandatory prosecution of those who started the war.