By Polina Devitt
MOSCOW (Reuters) - A global grain forum hosted by Russia next month, the first of its kind in seven years, looks set to be snubbed by Western agriculture ministers as tensions rise over the Syria crisis.
Three weeks before the World Grain Forum, to be hosted by the Agriculture Ministry in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on November 18-19, its public program looks dominated by local officials and analysts.
The timing could not be worse. Western power are threatening new sanctions against Moscow - already punished for its role in the Ukraine crisis - over Russian air strikes in Syria.
Russia's agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev might have been hoping for a rare chance to see his EU counterparts at the forum as he is banned from entering the bloc.
Few, if any, of them look likely to attend.
German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt, for example, will visit Russia in November but will not attend the forum, a spokesman for the German Ministry said. Germany will be represented by specialist experts.
"Because of the tight appointment calendar of a minister it is naturally the case that not every invitation can be accepted and not every conference can be visited personally," the spokesman for the ministry said.
The first World Grain Forum was held in Russia in 2009 on the initiative of then President Dmitry Medvedev, now Russia's Prime Minister, after he tabled the idea at a summit of leaders from the Group of Eight (G8), which has since become the G7 after Moscow was excluded.
Speakers at that event included government ministers or officials from Germany, Brazil, Japan, China and Ukraine as well as a leading official from the EU's executive body, the European Commission.
The provisional list of speakers this time includes professors from universities in the United States and Britain.
"It is a pure matter of policy and sanctions. Most major countries will be represented at the forum, but by experts (rather than government ministers and top officials). Business is also coming," said an industry source.
Organizers say they expect to see official delegations from over 50 countries and the agriculture ministry told Reuters it hopes more countries would confirm their participation in the coming weeks.
It did not provide the list of delegates but said that business and official representatives of more than 25 countries had already confirmed they would attend.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; additional reporting by Michael Hogan in Hamburg; editing by Nigel Hunt and William Hardy)