Mazepin is also the owner of Russian fertilizer giant Uralchem.
The oligarch briefed Putin on Uralchem’s efforts to transport some of the 262,000 tons of fertilizer frozen in European ports to African countries for free. Europeans no longer want the fertilizer but their sanctions are also blocking its transport so the Russians are working with the UN to unfreeze it for charity.
Mazepin also reminded Putin that the July deal to lift the Russian naval blockade of Ukraine for grain ships included language that signatories will support the export of Russian ammonia, but that this export remains impossible.
Uralchem would normally export ammonia — a component in fertilizer — via a pipeline to Odessa port. But since the war, Ukraine has closed the pipeline citing US sanctions on suspected Uralchem owners Dmitry Mazepin and Arkady Rotenberg.
The grain deal extension that was just signed this month also includes some of this aspirational ammonia language, but again to no effect.
Putin assured Mazepin that Russia will be working to try to get the UN and Ukraine to reopen the export pipeline. (Something Zelensky has said is possible only if Russia agrees to a POW exchange on the basis of “all for all”.)
There are different angles that Putin’s interest in ammonia and fertilizer exports could be seen from.
1. An idealist might say that getting fertilizer out to the hungry world was important and that this was precisely the noble and humanist pursuit that a Russian leader should be associated with.
2. A cynic might say that in the middle of a bloody war that he was sending regular Ivans from Sverdlovsk to fight and die in, it was in poor taste of Putin to make the monetary losses for a fertilizer oligarch a big concern of his.
3. A realist might say that whether laudable or deplorable, all this ammonia business was small-fry and the last thing a war leader should be spending his time on. This is supposedly an “existential” war against “satanism” that Putin has already sacrificed 25,000 Russian lives to. One in which the path to victory seems very uncertain and that the West has unloaded so many weapons into that it is starting to run out of things to send. So why isn’t Putin spending his every waking minute visiting every last foundry, steel mill, and defense plant in the country, ringing their ears to increase production and twisting the arms of moneymen to give them everything they need, regardless of the cost? (Instead Moscow doesn’t even want to pay for the mobilization but is instead pushing the cost onto the regions.)
At the same time as Putin was hosting Mazepin to discuss the humanitarian subjects of fertilizer for Africans and profits for oligarchs, Russia’s richest prison gang, Wagner PMC was sending a “message” to Euro parliament. The “message” turned out to be a red-stained hammer implying that it was the hammer used in the murder of Yury Nuzhin.
Putin is at least partly singing onto fertilizer giveaways and talking about them for PR reasons. So I wonder why Prigozhin is allowed to run around spoiling this.
Regardless of whether Putin should be spending energy on the opening up of an ammonium pipeline through Ukraine, Prigozhin certainly shouldn’t feel himself free to send a murder weapon to Euro parliament while that is happening. And how is it going to reflect on Russia’s image? Certainly not in a way that any normal Russians can welcome, I can tell you that. The Russian mainstream reaction on Yaplakal forums is heavily negative as you might expect.
Arguably there might be a utility to keeping a dog like Prigozhin with his career-criminal world outlook around. I would argue against it, but maybe there is such a reason. But there is absolutely no reason not to leash such a dog, but to allow him to run around to the point of now even interfering with foreign policy.
We can talk about all the ways the Russian state was eroded in the 1990s during Yeltsin, but even Yeltsin didn’t find himself with a part of his foreign policy outsourced to an ex-convict oligarch.