He pointed out that the bloc had eased curbs to let in Russian fertilizers to Europe, but was unwilling to do the same for developing countries outside the continent.

“Using the opportunity, I ask UN Under-Secretary-General (for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary) DiCarlo to … demand from the European Commission that they remove discriminatory restrictions against developing countries,” Putin said.


Putin claims that the EU removed restrictions on Russian fertilizers for European countries, but not developing countries outside the EU. What does the EU seek to achieve by not lifting the threat of sanctions against developing countries should they choose to import Russian fertilizers?

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    Also on skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/53821/… Although nobody answered there. It's not too clear the basis of the why Q is even true though. But even Putin didn't claim there was a "threat of sanctions against developing countries should they choose to import Russian fertilizers" as you phrase it. Sep 27, 2022 at 7:32
  • Would you mind altering threat of sanctions against developing countries ? That seems to be riling up lots of argumentation precisely concerning these terms in the question. Seems to me that this is more a case of a regulation forbidding transit through, and logistical services from, entities within the EU. Not a threat to developing nations buying Russian fertilizers. What does the EU achieve by restricting the flow of fertilizers through the EU, or services from EU providers concerning fertilizers, to developing countries? might cover it. Sep 27, 2022 at 15:28
  • You can edit it, I don't think it's wrong, but I don't mind people editing the question if they feel it can improve the question.
    – Sayaman
    Sep 27, 2022 at 16:10
  • Aww, you know, I'll let it be for now. Changing the Q would seem to fit the actual facts better. But others have already answered the Q on that basis and it would be a substantial change which would seem calculated to make my answer look better. Sep 27, 2022 at 16:37

2 Answers 2


It may be reversed by now (your article was dated Sept 16th).

And indeed, the UN expressed concerns on Sept 14th.

None of this answer is intended to support Putin's claims in their entirety, only to note that there were legitimate causes for concerns about EU regulations at some point. If there was any truth to any issue, be assured Putin has likely stretched it quite a bit in his pronouncements to maximize Russia's victimhood.

No, there wasn't a "threat of sanctions to developing countries", as stated in the closing end of the question and much nit-picked about in comments and answers. That's an, IMHO, slightly misleading phrasing and now unfortunately part of the question and its answers. However, the EU regulations, at a time, did contravene the stated EU goal of not impeding Russian fertilizer access to third parties (developing countries being most exposed to food insecurity). So, on the whole the question addresses a real concern, not merely one of Putin's numerous manufactured grievances.

I did not expect that to be that case when I started out answering this question, but even minimal research shows there was a problem, which the EU has now corrected.

What's the current situation?

EU U-turns on global transfer restrictions of Russian coal, fertilisers and other goods | Perspectives | Reed Smith LLP

On September 19, 2022, the EU published new FAQs which reverse the controversial expansion of restrictions imposed on certain coal, fertilizer and other Russian-origin goods on August 10, 2022. These FAQs clarify that restrictions on certain fertilizer and coal products (among others) do not include a ban on their transfer to third countries, and associated insurance and brokering arrangements.

But it seems to have indeed been a problem before, after a relatively recent update, first on Aug 10th, then Aug 29th:

On August 10, however, Brussels further tightened the sanctions by extending the ban to include European operators’ activities related to the transit of Russian fertilizers that were destined for third countries through the bloc’s administrative borders.

The European Commission on August 29 published an updated text of clarifications on the application of sanctions for fertilizers produced or exported from Russia, including potassium chloride, as well as complex fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Brussels’ new position now makes it impossible to supply Russian fertilizers to third countries, including Africa, that use European operators and infrastructure, along with the EU’s territory.

The reason cited was:

The Commission says the purpose of the increasing amount of sanctions is to significantly weaken Russia’s economic base by depriving it of its most important markets for its products and greatly limiting its ability to wage war.

The reasons for the reversal on Sept 19 are mentioned by a marine insurer, Skuld, based in Oslo, which provides the full text of some the actual EU communications:

However, the Union is committed to avoiding that its sanctions impact food and energy security of third countries around the globe, in particular of the least developed ones. In light of this commitment, which is clearly stated in recitals 11 and 12 of Council Regulation 2022/1269, the transfer to third countries of certain goods listed in Annex XXI and XXII should be allowed "to combat food and energy insecurity around the world" and "in order to avoid any potential negative consequences therefor" in third countries. This applies to the transfer to third countries, as well as financing or financial assistance related to such transfer, carried out by EU operators or via the EU territory (including in transit) of the following goods:

Good call on asking this question. Not impressed with the EU's sloppiness - I'll assume incompetence rather than malice - in endangering poor countries' food security, even if overall reason for sanctions is entirely correct. And the original position may not have been much of what the USA, for one, was intending. Bloomberg, June 13:

(note that this concern predates the EU being more restrictive)

The EU and the US have built exemptions into their restrictions on doing business with Russia to allow trade in fertilizer, of which Moscow is a key global supplier. But many shippers, banks and insurers have been staying away from the trade out of fear they could inadvertently fall afoul of the rules. Russian fertilizer exports are down 24% this year. US officials, surprised by the extent of the caution, are in the seemingly paradoxical position of looking for ways to boost them.

In trying to manage global opinion to counteract Russia, it is critical that countries do not starve because of an European war. Russia needs to be allowed to export grain and fertilizer and it needs to be put in a position where it has to allow Ukrainian grain and fertilizer. Primarily to poor countries in both cases. Any failure needs to be kept clearly attributable to Putin and his regime. Not miscommunication by Brussels directives.

It just doesn't look the way some like to claim, seen from other parts of the world (Business Insider Africa for example). Is this totally representative of the facts? Maybe, maybe not. But if enough countries believe it, watch out for the next UN roll call...

However, this did not happen. In practice, the EU's sectoral sanctions on fertilizers have only cemented the impossibility of supplying such products to third countries involving economic operators, infrastructure or EU territory. Additional cynicism of the whole situation is given by the fact that the EU has set quotas on fertilizers in its interests, and removed them from the sanctions.

Forbes, Sept 19

Russia accounts for roughly 10 % of global production and 20% of international fertilizer trade. A United Nations deal in early September to unblock shipments of Ukrainian and Russian fertilizer and grain at Black Sea ports was the biggest breakthrough in the war so far. Russia’s government said that the deal was not enough. It does little to remove restrictions and bottlenecks deeper along the supply chain.

There are no direct bans on Russian fertilizer, but there are indirect sanctions – such as sanctions on individual company owners, business executives at these companies, finance, machinery, spare parts, and the logistical sanctions on shipments via the sea and the rail through the Baltic States.

Russia had retaliated against Europe in March for sanctions by temporarily halting fertilizer exports. They changed their tune when it became clear that clients in other countries that may be buyers of that fertilizer via Europe would be in big trouble –in Africa, for instance.

BNN, Aug 15

The European Union jolted insurers and shippers by clarifying that a ban on EU entities servicing exports of Russian coal and some fertilizers applies to shipments anywhere in the world.

On close reading, at least some of the answers to a recent similar question are not that good looking for Europe, at least when you see the volumes bound for least-developed countries at the time.

Last, for all the insistence on legalistic arguments about "threats to developing countries", which is just a small part of this question, consider that shippers and insurers might have been more concerned about their own butts, remembering for example the Huawei affair: it would not be good, nor should it be good, to fall afoul of actual sanctions busting.

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    I don't understand how the EU has any power to stop developing countries buying goods from Russia? Aren't they free to do whatever they like? Sep 27, 2022 at 6:26
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    This is a bad answer because it gives the appearance that the basis of the OP's claim is true "threat of sanctions against developing countries", but that is a lot less clear in the quote you've given. Sep 27, 2022 at 7:54
  • @Fizz Given that the EU had to change its regulations because, well, yes, they did apparently pose problems. If you think so, then why not look up the actual facts and disprove the OP? Which is exactly what I set to do. Now, I am not saying the sanction regime was as horrible as Putin claimed, but there were apparently problems requiring an update. Sep 27, 2022 at 7:59
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    @PiotrGolacki apparently it had to do with stopping EU activities facilitating shipments to 3rd party countries, as linked in the NewEurope article (a publication which mediabiasfactcheck gives a high credibility rating): On August 10, however, Brussels further tightened the sanctions by extending the ban to include European operators’ activities related to the transit of Russian fertilizers that were destined for third countries through the bloc’s administrative borders. Keeping in mind Russia's geographic location vis a vis Europe, one can see that causing problems in many cases. Sep 27, 2022 at 8:01
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    @PiotrGolacki It doesn't. There are and were no rules concerning a shipment from Russia directly to say Egypt. What the EU did block was a shipment from Russia to for example the Netherlands with final destination Egypt, possibly with some further processing or reloading in the Netherlands.
    – quarague
    Sep 27, 2022 at 9:57

I've not seen of a "threat of sanctions against developing countries should they choose to import Russian fertilizers" as you phrase it. Even Putin didn't seem to claim that; "discriminatory restrictions", as he put it, is more vague than that.

What is publicly known is that the EU had for a while a ban on both importing and transferring "certain fertilizers" from Russia, irrespective of their final destination. As Bloomberg reported on August 15.

“The prohibition relating to coal and to certain fertilizers refers both to the “purchase” and the “transfer” of these goods, irrespective of final destination,” Arianna Podesta, a European Commission spokeswoman, told Bloomberg in an email. Those sanctions extend to financing and insurance by EU companies, irrespective of the origin of the company performing the transfer, she said.

There was (and there is) no EU sanction [that I know of] against the destination country if, say, Madagascar imports Russian fertilizer using a Russian ship that sails outside of EU waters. But of course, Russia has limited abilities to ship its own stuff (directly) like that.

The prohibition on EU insurers is slightly broader as it may have affected a Russian (or non-EU) vessel not sailing though EU waters at all, but of course nothing prevented Russia from insuring their own ships. There were debates that the insurance ban would do little other than make EU insurers lose some market share. In fact, apparently not even the UK cooperated with the shipping insurance ban [at least on oil], so that would have made it a lot less effective than the EU directives made it appear (given Lloyd's + IUA's market share.)

But of course, the ideal of letting poor countries imports all food and fertilizer they need (from wherever and however they can get it) was in conflict with those provisions.

And yeah, even the ban on transfers (through the EU) and against insurance on some shipments was lifted since then. In fact, in September, the EU apparently even lifted the restrictions on transferring Russian coal, cement and what not. There are in fact arguments now the other way around, that the sanctions have been weakened too much.

“None of the sanctions adopted by the EU in view of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine target the trade in agricultural and food products, including wheat and fertilizer, between third countries and Russia,” [Commission Spokesman Daniel] Ferrie said. The full import ban on coal into the EU remains in place, he said.

But [Poland and the Baltic nations] said they were left confused by the proposals and pointed out that the new text contained references to wood, some cement products and coal, the people said. Diplomats have asked the commission to further explain the proposed move, fearing it could go beyond the earlier food security commitments and effectively be watering down sanctions on those Russian commodities.

There are also shipments that belong to (companies of) sanctioned oligarchs which are stuck because they were either in transit through the EU or had the EU as destination. I'm not sure if there's been a resolution for those yet. (Putin spoke of 300,000 tons of Russian fertilizers stuck in the EU. 55,000 tons of those appear to be on that one ship anchored outside of Riga since March. Another 80,000 tons were stuck in Muuga, in the neighboring Estonia. The latter is also due to the owners being specifically sanctioned.)

OTOH as one commenter notes:

the differences between European, US and UK sanctions and the lack of clarity about what to do if there was a US-designated entity somewhere in the chain will almost certainly curb any appetite for business.

Remember how that worked out for Iran, after Trump's unilateral sanctions? So, Putin will probably still be able to complain about "discriminatory restrictions" being applied by EU entities.

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    Well, if there was no problem why was the Sept 19th clarification needed? Returning the DV, pretending that the West never makes any mistakes dealing with Russia's ongoing mess does nothing for our credibility. Sep 27, 2022 at 8:33
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: I never claimed there were "no problems" with the sanctions. I explained in my answer how the sanctions on transfer were in conflict with other humanitarian goals. And remember the big bruhaha with the Canadian ban on shipping that Siemens gas turbine (directly) to Russia? Etc. Sep 27, 2022 at 8:40
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I find it hart to consider you an objectively acting party anymore. Almost every sentence of yours seems to be trying to frame and mislead in some way
    – Hobbamok
    Sep 27, 2022 at 12:40
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    @Hobbamok That implies you know why you are calling me a liar. Please write up your own answer then. Sep 27, 2022 at 15:24

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