BRUSSELS — The trade group Safer Phosphates would seem to have a pitch-perfect message for an environmentally conscious European Union. It advocates cleaner soil and healthier food, with a website showing pristine fields of wheat. It is also supporting legislation that would place tighter regulations on fertilizer.
But the group is not run by environmentalists. Its driving force is a Russian fertilizer giant that has ties to the Kremlin. And the environmental legislation it is backing would reset regulations in a way that could help the company, PhosAgro, push aside rivals and give it greater influence over the European food supply.
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 company cornering a key part of the European agricultural market has raised sharp concerns. Russia already wields tremendous clout as the European Union’s dominant provider of natural gas and as a growing source of nuclear fuel.
After 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.