Fertilizer might not seem an obvious source of geopolitical tension, but with Moscow working openly and covertly to widen its sphere of power, the prospect of a politically connected Russian firm cornering a key part of the European agricultural market has raised sharp concerns, the New York Times reports.
Russia already wields tremendous clout as the European Union’s dominant provider of natural gas and as a growing source of nuclear fuel. But fertilizer giant Phosagro has, through a trade group called Safer Phosphates, advocated tighter regulations on fertilizer which would reset regulations in a way that could help the company push aside rival firms and give it greater influence over the European food supply, the report says.
Following years of lobbying, European officials could move forward on new regulations as early as this week, when representatives of the three governing bodies of the European Union meet in Strasbourg, France. A debate that was supposed to be about environmental standards is now overshadowed by questions of whether the lines between Russian private business and the Kremlin’s political agenda are blurred beyond distinction.
“This is what Russia has created. Not every Russian company is the long arm of the Kremlin, but the suspicion is there,” said Stefan Meister, a Russia specialist at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. “The Russians have done everything to create distrust in their businesses.”
PhosAgro, a publicly traded company, dismissed any notion of Russian government involvement in its efforts.
“This is utter nonsense,” the company’s chairman, Sven Ombudstvedt, said in a written statement. “PhosAgro is acting as any business would and should — with the potential to benefit a wide range of stakeholders, from food consumers to farmers to the company’s own shareholders.”
Russia has used environmental concerns to advance its interests. In Romania and Bulgaria, officials have accused Moscow of secretly financing protests against domestic fracking, which threatens the Russian natural gas industry.