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WAR IN EUROPE

Ukraine update: Russia says half its foreign reserves are frozen, while President Zelensky warns Ukrainians against collaborating

Ukraine update: Russia says half its foreign reserves are frozen, while President Zelensky warns Ukrainians against collaborating
A woman exits a foreign exchange office in St Petersburg, Russia, on 25 February. EPA-EFE/ANATOLY MALTSEV

Russia admits that it has lost access to almost half its foreign exchange reserves. Meanwhile, Russian forces abducted a second mayor in Ukraine’s southeast, Russian air strikes have shifted further west near Lviv, and President Zelensky warned Ukrainians against collaborating.

President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Ukrainians against collaborating as Russian forces abducted a second mayor southeast of the country in what appears to be part of a plan to install new local puppet administrations.

Russian airstrikes have shifted further west, close to the city of Lviv and Ukraine’s border with Poland, as Moscow warned that convoys of military aid from the west are “legitimate targets”. A strike at a military range and training center about 35km from Poland killed dozens. Fighting continued on the outskirts of Kyiv, where Russian forces may be attempting to encircle the capital. Airstrikes continued on Mykolaiv on the Black Sea, killing several. 

President Zelensky tweeted that he had held talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov. 

More than 2.5 million Ukrainians have fled the country, with a majority crossing over to Poland, and that could climb to 4 million within days. Britain’s government will offer households money to host Ukrainian refugees and expects “tens of thousands” to come.

Russia says half of foreign reserves frozen 

Russia has lost access to almost half of its foreign exchange reserves, according to the country’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov. The US, European Union and UK have imposed sanctions on Russia’s central bank over the Ukraine invasion.

“The total volume of our reserves is about $640-billion and there are about $300-billion in such condition that we can’t use them now,” Siluanov told state television in an interview that aired Sunday. “We see what pressure western countries put on China” to limit our access to reserves in yuan, he added. 

Second mayor in Ukraine’s southeast said to be kidnapped 

The mayor of the town of Dniprorudne in Zaporizhzhia region, Yevhen Maveyev, was kidnapped by Russian forces early on Sunday, according to a Facebook post by the head of the Zaporizhzhia regional administration, Oleksandr Starukh.

EU High Representative Josep Borrell condemned the two abductions in a Twitter post as  yet another attack on democratic institutions in #Ukraine and an attempt to establish illegitimate alternative government structures”.

Czechs ask EU for help in refugee crisis

The Czech Republic asked the European Union for financial and material help as the country’s capacity for accepting Ukrainian refugees is at its limit, said Prime Minister Petr Fiala.

“We have here more than 200,000 refugees and more are to come,” Fiala said. The nation of 10.7 million people asked European authorities to provide mobile humanitarian centres that could accommodate tens of thousands of people. Refugee aid programs should allow the country to tap into EU money, Fiala said.  

Russia looks to install leaders after abducting Melitopol mayor 

Russia is seeking to install a new leader and a “committee of chosen ones” in the southeastern city of Melitopol, after abducting its mayor, Ivan Federov, on Friday.

Local legislator Halyna Danylchenko posted a video saying the committee would take charge. Other local officials, including the city’s current elected council, have refused to collaborate with Russian forces and residents have protested the occupation, chanting “Melitopol is Ukraine”. 

Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba has said separately that Moscow plans a sham “referendum” in the occupied southern city of Kherson in a bid to show that residents want to break away from Ukraine. Western intelligence warned before the war that Moscow would try to install puppet administrations if it invaded.

Anti-war protesters detained across Russia 

About 100 people have been detained on Sunday at anti-war protests in 17 cities around Russia, according to monitoring group OVD-Info. The largest number was in Yekaterinburg, where 24 people were seized by police.

Jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny called on Russians to come out against the war in the main squares of dozens of cities. The protests are considered illegal by Russian authorities, who’ve detained more than 13,000 people nationwide since the attack began. Most of the arrests have taken place in Moscow and St Petersburg, where demonstrations are planned later on Sunday.

Ukraine warns potential collaborators 

Ukraine’s government will criminally prosecute those who collaborate with Russian occupiers by participating with sham local authorities, said President Zelensky’s chief of staff. 

“Any initiatives in the occupied cities in the south of Ukraine, in Kherson, Kakhovka, Henichesk, aimed at holding ‘referendums’, fictitious sessions of local councils, distributing passports, are absolutely useless,” Mykailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter. 

Poland’s Duda rules out nothing from Putin

Vladimir Putin is capable of using any kind of weapons in Ukraine, Polish President Andrzej Duda said when asked if he fears the Russian president would use chemical weapons. 

Duda told the BBC that heeding Ukraine’s pleas for Nato to impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine would lead to direct conflict with Russian forces and likely cause a third world war. 

Poland’s government had initially offered to send fighter jets to Ukraine to help in their defence. Russia said that it would consider such a move a declaration of war, Duda said.  

Poland says close to 1.7 million have crossed border 

A total of 1.675 million people have crossed into Poland from Ukraine since 24 February, including 79,800 on Saturday and another 16,800 early Sunday, border authorities said. President Andrzej Duda said as many as 2.5 million may end up fleeing to Poland, where most refugees are being supported by volunteers. 

“Good night, #Europe,” tweeted the official account of the Parliament of Ukraine about the forced evacuations of Ukrainians.

Russian missiles strike military range near Poland 

Russia is targeting additional sites in far western Ukraine, close to the border of Nato member Poland, in what’s likely to become a new provocation for the US and Nato allies.  

Dozens of missiles hit the Yaroviv military training center in the Lviv region, regional officials said, killing at least 35 people and wounding 134, Lviv region governor Maksym Kozytskyi said on Telegram. The facility is within an hour’s drive of the Polish border. The US has regularly sent military instructors there since 2015 and it’s also hosted Nato drills at times, the Associated Press reported. 

The bombing follows strikes on other targets in western Ukraine a day earlier. Some 10 cruise missiles were directed at airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk, to the north and south of Lviv, respectively, officials said. 

Nato chief rejects ‘absurd’ Russia claims 

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that suffering in Ukraine is likely to get worse in the short term. 

“The coming days are likely to bring even greater hardship,” the Nato chief said. He rejected “absurd claims” by Russia about chemical and biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine, and warned Moscow against attacking Ukraine with weapons of mass destruction “under this web of lies”.

 In Germany, Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht is fleshing out plans to quickly raise the army’s combat readiness. Germany can no longer afford “overambitious dream projects”, she said in an opinion piece for Die Welt. The focus will now be “on proven, mature products that are available on the market”.

Gazprom says transit via Ukraine continues 

Russian natural gas supplies to Europe are continuing, as usual, Tass reported on Sunday, citing Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov. The gas export monopoly is shipping gas via Ukraine and paying transit fees to the country, even after the Russian invasion began over two weeks ago.

Air Serbia to reduce Moscow flights after criticism 

Serbia’s flagship carrier will scale back flights to Moscow, following criticism it ramped up its schedule after other European airlines halted service. 

The Balkan country hasn’t joined international sanctions on Russia, although it backed United Nations resolutions condemning the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. Announcing the move on Sunday, President Aleksandar Vucic cited unspecified “harangues” against Serbia and allegations that Air Serbia was profiting by offering Russia travellers a rare loophole to fly into Western Europe via Belgrade. DM

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