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The EU and the Strategy of the Russian Fertilizer Industry

According to New York Times reporter Matt Apuzzo, Russians are centimeters away from pulling a big trick on Europe. In order to seize the opportunity of the EU’s crumbling, triggered in part by the Brexit debacle, Moscow is using the European Union against Europe, and playing the Euro MPs’ ignorance on the matters which they rule upon. In today’s tradition of professional politicians, which has become widespread across governments worldwide, Moscow knows that Euro MP’s lack the technical understanding necessary to vote sensibly on matters at hand, and rely on technical advisers to enlighten their choices. Hence the creation of an “environmental technical advisory group.” Matt Apuzzo explains: “The relationship between cadmium in fertilizer, cadmium in soil and cadmium in the human body is far from clear. Scientists cannot say how much cadmium in fertilizer is too much.” And when the road to the truth is unclear, the expressway to theories is open.

The Russian government is backing the largest Russian phosphate producer (PhosAgro) which created a lobbying think tank in Brussels, to persuade parliamentarians to lower the limits with which cadmium traces in phosphate rock, a common agricultural fertilizer, would be deemed acceptable for importation into Europe. The think tank, named Safer Phosphates, is linked to PhosAgro and, though officially being a multi-business representative, answers only to its main funder. By lowering the technical limit on cadmium traces in phosphates, PhosAgro hopes to eliminate all competitors on the global market, namely China, Morocco, and the United States. Andrey Guryev, one of the oligarchs closest to the Kremlin, sees a multi-billion-dollar opportunity, and Moscow supports it, for the immense negotiation power Russia would obtain with the new law. Politico reporter Giulia Paravicini writes: “The elder Guryev is famously private. Though he served as a Russian senator for 11 years — stepping down in 2013 after the Kremlin introduced anti-corruption laws — he has never given a press interview. His son is more open, in part because of his push to promote ‘pure phosphate.’ In an interview in his office in Moscow, Guryev Jr. played down concerns raised in Brussels that strict limits on cadmium would give Phosagro — and thus the Kremlin — too much leverage in Europe.”

Russians are likely to use their favourite strategy: ruse. Therefore, the Russian strategy is based on influencing MPs with scary words and scenarios and counting on the fact that they have little to no command of the matter at hand. In this case, no reliable scientific study has established any link whatsoever between cadmium traces contained in phosphate and public health disorders.

If the bill is passed, Russia will be the only supplier of phosphate rock for Europe, and lorries will carry millions of tons of fertilizer westward, and then drive billions of euros back to the motherland. Moreover, European farmers would become more dependent on PhosAgro, which will be able to dictate its prices, and of the Russian government which will withhold replenishments if the EU does not comply with its wishes. Be it financial or diplomatic, European farmers will be under great risk of having simply no other option but to ask how high, when the Russians say “jump.” Finally, to make matters even riskier, European farmers would suffer most of the consequences, for the actions of the European Union, and the ensuing Russian retaliations, while having little or no grip on their MPs.

NGO Global House Ross Gray writes: “In their grabs for power and position, professional politicians have done more than let us down; they have perpetuated an unrepresentative and rigged system. They have become the problem!” Given that there is no sign that the trend is about to change, Russia should find many more opportunities to fool disconnected politicians into their tricks.

Few of us who voted for or against Brexit had considered the fertilizer market as a strategic question, or even a dangerously slippery slope yet phosphate is indeed on the European list of critical raw materials.. But with many of the members of Parliament being professional politicians, the governing body of Europe is completely exposed to influence, from within and abroad. With lack of culture on the specific matters which they are meant to handle, EU MPs are bound, no matter how immune to corruption they may be, to be easily tricked by lobby-steered technicians.