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Russia’s Putin talks wheat, fertiliser and logistics in Kazakhstan

Russian President Vladimir Putin called for the development of wheat and fertiliser cargo transport routes in Asia during a visit to Kazakhstan on Thursday, as Moscow seeks to forge new export routes due to Western sanctions.

Chairing a conference on agricultural cooperation with Kazakh President Kassym-JomartTokayev, Putin said Russia would have about 60 million metric tons of wheat available for exports from this year’s strong crop.

“We are confident, certainly, that we will retain the No.1 spot globally in terms of exports of this important commodity, wheat,” Putin said.

He called for further development of shipping routes to large Asian markets such as China and India.

Western sanctions on Russian banks and companies have made it more difficult for Russian exporters to ship grains and arrange payments, although the sanctions do not specifically target such commodities.

Moscow has also reportedly asked exporters to adopt a minimum wheat export price in order to protect farmers’ income, though the functioning of the semi-official scheme is unclear.

Kazakhstan, in turn, is seeking to become a logistics hub for Russian commodities bound for China and Iran, officials say. The country already operates a railroad link between Russia and China and has a railroad connection with Iran along the Caspian.

Thursday’s visit was Putin’s third known trip abroad since the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant in March for the Russian leader on war crime charges, something the Kremlin strongly rejects.

Kazakhstan, like China and Kyrgyzstan, the two other countries Putin has visited recently, is not a signatory to the ICC.

The ICC, which accused Putin of illegally deporting children from Ukraine, obliges the court’s 123 member states to arrest Putin and transfer him to The Hague for trial if he sets foot on their territory.

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Kazakhstan’s Tokayev, a career diplomat, has carefully maintained neutrality in the Russia-West stand-off, and welcomed Putin just a week after hosting French President Emmanuel Macron. A United States delegation led by a senior State Department official visited Astana this week.

Kazakhstan has already taken advantage of the abundance of Russian natural gas which Europe has largely stopped buying. Together with Uzbekistan, it has started buying it for domestic needs while preparing to ramp up its own gas exports to China.

Some officials say it could adopt a similar strategy of “sanctions” arbitrage with wheat and other Russian exports.

After Thursday’s talks, Putin and Tokayev said the volume of Russian gas supplies, currently agreed at 3 billion cubic metres a year each to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, could increase.

They also discussed Russian oil shipments to China, the potential construction of new pipelines, projects to build power plants in Kazakhstan, security cooperation and other issues, the two leaders said.
Source: Reuters (Reporting by Tamara Vaal, Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Gareth Jones)

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