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UKRAINE UPDATE: 15 MARCH 2022

Almost five million displaced by war, says UN, while US raises concerns over China’s support of Russia

Police stand in front of a residential apartment block hit by Russian shelling on 14 March 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo: Chris McGrath / Getty Images)
By Bloomberg
15 Mar 2022 0

Russia’s war against Ukraine has displaced almost five million people both inside and outside the country, according to the UN. The US national security adviser is in talks with China’s top diplomat, while the Biden administration asks for Beijing’s help to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to cease hostilities.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan began talks on Monday with China’s top diplomat, the first of their kind since Russia’s invasion. The discussions in Rome come as the Biden administration seeks to enlist Beijing’s help in exerting influence on President Vladimir Putin to end the war, and White House officials discuss a possible trip to Europe by President Joe Biden.

A fourth day of talks between Ukrainian and Russian negotiators paused so each side could take stock. Russia may also suspend grain exports starting on Tuesday, the Interfax news service reported, driving wheat prices higher.

Key developments

US raises concerns over China’s support of Russia

China could do more than most nations to help bring an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters after the meeting between senior US and Chinese officials.

The US raised concerns about China’s support of Russia during the Rome meeting. “We have seen the relationship between the PRC and Russia grow closer” over the course of “many years”, Price said.

World Bank announces $200m in Ukraine financing

The World Bank will provide $200-million in Ukraine financing to support essential social services, in addition to the $723-million mobilised for Ukraine last week. That’s part of the $3-billion package the group previously announced it is preparing for Ukraine over the coming months.

EU set to add luxury goods, steel, iron to sanctions

The European Union is set to approve banning the sale to Russia of luxury goods valued at more than €300 as well as the purchase of many Russian steel and iron products as part of a fourth round of sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine, according to a draft obtained by Bloomberg.

EU diplomats on Monday teed up the stricter measures after several days of closed-door debate. They could be formally adopted as early as Tuesday morning.

The bloc is banning the sale of luxury cars, boats and planes valued at more than €50,000, which would apply to models from several European car brands, including Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Ferrari and Porsche. It also covers motorcycles worth more than €5,000, as well as parts and accessories. Many European carmakers have already voluntarily suspended sales to Russia.

Germany plans to buy F-35s, Eurofighters

Germany will purchase Lockheed Martin F-35 warplanes as well as 15 Eurofighters as it upgrades its military in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said.

The goal is to replace its ageing fleet of Tornado fighters by 2030, Lambrecht said on Monday at a press conference. She didn’t say how many of the $100-million-plus F-35s Germany planned to purchase.

Germany has announced a €100-billion spending spree to modernise its armed forces, spurred by the threat to stability posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia used cruise missiles to hit target near Poland, says US

Russia used air-launched cruise missiles from Russian territory — not the skies over Ukraine — in the attack on a military training centre in western Ukraine close to the Polish border, a senior defence official told reporters on Monday.

Overall, Russia has conducted more than 900 strikes on Ukraine since the war began, according to the defence official. Even so, most of Russia’s advances in Ukraine remain stalled, largely because of Ukrainian resistance, the official said.

White House considers Biden trip to Europe

The White House is discussing having US President Joe Biden visit unspecified destinations in Europe while Russia’s war in Ukraine is ongoing, according to people familiar with the matter.

Biden and his administration have sought to reassure Nato allies on the alliance’s eastern front that they have US backing as Putin presses his invasion of Ukraine. A presidential visit would reinforce that message, though the timing of the possible trip wasn’t immediately clear.

Russia mulls over criminal penalties for firms complying with sanctions

Russia’s ruling party will propose legal changes to make it a crime for local companies to comply with US and European sanctions and refuse to do business with those hit by the limits, a top official said.

The proposal would include criminal penalties for top executives of companies that follow the western restrictions, Andrey Turchak, United Russia party secretary, said in a website statement. “This is practically complicity in worsening the economic situation,” he said.

A senior senator said the upper house of parliament would support the plan, Tass reported.

Almost five million displaced by Russian invasion – UN chief

At least 1.9 million people have been driven from their homes inside Ukraine by Russia’s invasion, with the country’s neighbours taking in more than 2.8 million refugees in the past two weeks, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters on Monday. Hundreds of thousands more are without water and electricity, he said.

The UN will allocate a further $40-million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to ramp up vital assistance to reach the most vulnerable. “Ukraine is on fire. The country is being decimated before the eyes of the world. The impact on civilians is reaching terrifying proportions,” Guterres said.

The conflict is sowing instability around the world, particularly in developing countries struggling to recover from the pandemic that now face “record inflation, rising interest rates and looming debt burdens,” he said. “Now their breadbasket is being bombed.”

Russian energy ban wouldn’t have desired effect – Germany

Shutting down energy imports from Russia might not work as a last-resort tool to stop Russia’s invasion, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner told reporters in Brussels ahead of a meeting of euro-area finance ministers.

“All options are on the table, but we have to seriously consider which means put pressure on Putin and which means could harm ourselves more,” he said in response to a question on whether Germany would consider a two-week halt in imports. “From my perspective, a ban would not have the effect on the current situation in Ukraine as we all would hope.”

Evacuation of civilians from Mariupol starts

More than 160 cars and other vehicles left the besieged Sea of Azov port city of Mariupol under a ceasefire agreement in Ukraine’s east, reaching Berdyansk and moving toward the Ukrainian-government held city of Zaporizhzhia, the Mariupol city council said.

A humanitarian aid column for Mariupol, which was stuck in Berdyansk for two days, is also moving toward the city, which is suffering from a lack of water, electricity and food. Ukrainian authorities say that more than 2,000 people have been killed in Mariupol by Russian shelling and air strikes since the start of the war.

Russia may halt grain exports on 15 March – IFX

Russia may temporarily ban the export of wheat, rye, barley and corn to Eurasian Economic Union countries from 15 March to 30 June, Interfax reports, citing the Agriculture Ministry. Russia is past its seasonal peak for wheat sales, but still had about eight million tons left to ship, the FAO estimated this month.

Russia and Ukraine account for about a quarter of the global wheat trade and shipments from both countries have largely dried up after the invasion.

Zelensky to address US Congress

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is to deliver a virtual address to the US Congress on Wednesday. Only senators and House members will attend the 9am speech, according to a letter to lawmakers from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Zelensky briefed several US lawmakers virtually earlier this month, but his remarks weren’t livestreamed. Lawmakers in both parties have been pushing for the Biden administration to do more for Ukraine.

Oil retreats with focus on Ukraine-Russia talks

Oil declined, with futures falling about 6% to trade near $103 a barrel. For those watching supply, talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators showed some signs of becoming more substantive, On the demand side, China placed 17.5 million people in the tech hub Shenzhen under lockdown for at least a week amid a surge in Covid-19 infections, and told people in Jilin province not to travel.

US pares gains as Chinese stocks plunge

Contracts on the S&P 500 pared gains, while those on the Nasdaq 100 dropped as panic selling of Chinese tech stocks dented sentiment. Chinese stocks listed in Hong Kong had their worst day since the global financial crisis amid concerns over Beijing’s close relationship with Russia.

The rout follows a report citing US officials that Russia has asked China for military assistance for its war in Ukraine. Even after China denied the report, traders worry that any potential overture by Beijing toward Vladimir Putin could bring a global backlash against Chinese firms, even sanctions. Meanwhile, a drop in crude oil dragged shares of energy companies lower in US pre-market trading.

EU’s Borrell says ‘barbaric’ Russia is targeting civilians

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned “barbaric aggression” by President Vladimir Putin against Ukraine and said Russia’s army was carrying out air, missile and artillery strikes against civilians, including against food warehouses, hospitals and schools.

The UN has reported more than 1,600 civilian casualties since Russia’s invasion began, although it said the figures are probably “considerably higher” in government-controlled areas amid intense fighting in recent days. The Kremlin has denied targeting civilians.

Russia says it didn’t ask for Chinese help

Russia hasn’t asked China for military assistance in what it calls a “special operation” in Ukraine and has all the resources it needs to complete the mission as planned, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday.

“Russia has the independent capacity to continue the operation,” Peskov told a conference call. “As we said, it’s going according to plan and will be completed in full.”

Rejecting assertions by US and European officials that the campaign is proceeding more slowly than Moscow expected, Peskov said it will be completed on schedule. He declined to comment on when the war is expected to end.

Singapore imposes targeted sanctions on Russia

Singapore’s central bank unveiled details of targeted financial measures against Russia, part of the city-state’s broader package of unilateral sanctions induced by the war in Ukraine.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore said the measures apply to all financial institutions in the island republic, including banks, finance companies, insurers, capital market intermediaries, securities exchanges and payment service providers.

Israel says it won’t be a route to bypass sanctions

Israel won’t be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and other nations, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Monday.

“There is no justification for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and there is no justification for attacks on a civilian population,” Lapid said after meeting Slovak Foreign and European Affairs Minister Ivan Korcok in Bratislava.

EU holds off rule of law plan on Ukraine

The European Union (EU) will likely hold off on immediately triggering its powerful new rule of law mechanism that allows the bloc to withhold budget payments to countries accused of democratic backsliding, particularly Poland and Hungary.

The punitive measures would be risky given the legal hurdles required to use the powers and at a time when member states are struggling to deal with higher energy costs, the prospect of further economic fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and an influx of refugees, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Instagram now blocked in Russia

Instagram is now fully blocked in Russia, according to GlobalCheck, a service that studies internet restrictions in former Soviet states.

Russian prosecutors last week asked a court to declare Meta Platforms an “extremist” organisation and ban its operations after Facebook temporarily relaxed its policies so that Ukrainian users could post threats of violence against the Russian military.

Russia has already blocked Twitter and Facebook in recent weeks. Many Russian Instagram users — including small businesses, influencers and opposition figures — posted goodbye messages over the weekend and asked their followers to move to Telegram. The decision will cut 80 million people in Russia off from the platform, its head Adam Mosseri said.

China rejects report Russia sought help

China rejected on Monday reports that Russia had sought its military assistance for the invasion of Ukraine, dismissing the accusations as US “disinformation”.

“The top priority now is that all parties should exercise restraint to de-escalate and cool down the situation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said. “We should promote a diplomatic settlement rather than further escalating the tension.”

Beijing has sought to present itself as neutral in the war. Still, Zhao repeated Russian claims that the US is operating biolabs in Ukraine, despite the UN Security Council saying Friday it was “not aware” of any such biological weapons programmes, underscoring its support for Moscow in countering US narratives. DM

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