The European Union plans to ease some sanctions on Russia by unfreezing funds belonging to top Russian banks to allow the shipment of more grain and fertilizer, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing a draft EU document.
EU diplomats are expected to agree to the amended sanctions on Wednesday. The draft says that the money could be released “after having determined that such funds or economic resources are necessary for the purchase, import or transport of agricultural and food products, including wheat and fertilizers.”
The EU’s plan comes after African leaders said Western sanctions have had a negative impact on trade. “We no longer have access to grain from Russia and especially fertilizer,” Macky Sall, the president of Senegal and chair of the African Union, said in June.
An EU official told Reuters that the bloc still plans to expand sanctions on Russia. Under the plan, the EU will freeze the assets of Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, with the exception of funds needed for food trade.
The EU also plans to help facilitate the export of food from Russian ports, which sanctions have hindered despite exemptions. US sanctions also technically have exemptions for food and fertilizer shipments, but the measures discourage shipping firms, banks, and insurance companies from doing business with Russia altogether.
Bloomberg reported in June that the US was quietly encouraging companies to purchase and ship more Russian fertilizer. The report said Biden administration officials were surprised by the caution companies were taking over the sanctions.
But history has shown that no matter what exemptions there are, sanctions still cause shortages of humanitarian goods. For example, US sanctions on Iran technically have exemptions for medical goods but still have caused medicine shortages in the country.