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Zelensky speaks to US Congress; Biden promises more weapons

Zelensky speaks to US Congress; Biden promises more weapons
A handout satellite image made available by Maxar Technologies shows a coloured infrared view of fires burning near Fontanna street, Eastern Mariupol, Ukraine, 14 March 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Maxar Technologies handout)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday delivered an emotional address to the US Congress, appealing for help from Americans to fend off the Russian invasion even as talks between the adversaries appeared to make some progress. President Joe Biden spoke at the White House hours later, promising more weapons for Ukraine.

A Kremlin spokesman said that a neutral Ukraine with its own army could be a possible compromise in the current crisis, while Kyiv said it needed firm security guarantees in any outcome. The two sides were scheduled for another round of talks on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Moscow pressed the US to stop weapons deliveries to Kyiv, Interfax reported.

Russian forces continue to strike infrastructure targets while the overall military situation is largely unchanged, Ukraine said. Russia’s Defence Ministry said its forces are advancing through urban areas in the Luhansk region town of Sievierodonetsk.

Nato defence ministers are in Brussels to discuss ways to reinforce the alliance’s eastern members and prevent spillover from the war in Ukraine, a risk illustrated by recent crashes of drones. President Joe Biden will travel to Europe for Nato and European Union summits next week.

Key developments

Russia sticks with plans for Urals crude 

Russia plans little change to loadings of Urals crude from its Baltic and Black Sea ports in early April, even as many of its key customers are shunning the country’s oil amid the war in Ukraine, according to a loading programme seen by Bloomberg.

It’s not clear, though, whether the shipments will all find buyers, so actual loadings may be different. Although most governments haven’t targeted Russian oil as part of their sanctions to isolate Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, many buyers — particularly those in Europe — are staying away from Russian barrels.

Russia’s full April loading programme for the Urals is due later this month.

Netherlands plans to increase defence spending 

The Netherlands is looking to increase defence spending further after Germany announced plans for beefing up spending in line with Nato targets, Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren said in an interview with Bloomberg News. A decision could come this spring, she said.

Ollongren said the Netherlands had already increased spending by about 25% with the new government at the start of the year to bring the country in line with the European Union average. But those plans were drafted before the war in Ukraine broke out.

In addition to what’s already been decided, she said, her country is “now looking into how we can make plans that have to be ambitious, and also realistic, of increasing even more,” Ollongren said. The Netherlands has for years fallen short of Nato’s target for members to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence.

Biden pledges anti-aircraft systems, drones for Ukraine 

US President Joe Biden detailed plans for $800-million in new assistance, including drones, to be distributed to Ukraine in a speech from the White House, just hours after Zelensky appealed for more help in an emotional virtual address to the US Congress.

“The American people are answering President Zelensky’s call for more help, more weapons to Ukraine to defend itself, more tools to fight Russia aggression,” Biden said.

The aid will involve direct transfers of equipment from the Pentagon to the Ukrainian military and includes 800 anti-aircraft systems, Biden said. The package also includes 9,000 shoulder-mounted missiles for Ukraine to attack Russian armoured vehicles, 7,000 small arms, pilotless aircraft and 20 million rounds of ammunition.

Theatre serving as shelter bombed in Mariupol 

A bomb hit the city theatre in besieged Mariupol, where hundreds of people have been sheltering, according to the city council. It said the central part of the building was ruined and debris blocked the entrance to the bomb shelter inside.

Rockets hit a convoy of civilians who were trying to evacuate from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia, according to the Defence Ministry, which said there were a number of deaths and those injured included children.

Latvia in talks with allies over missile defence 

Latvia has been “heard and together with our allies, we have started working” on getting an anti-missile defence system, Defence Minister Artis Pabriks said in a tweet. Nato members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have long called for air defence systems and a bigger presence of Nato soldiers since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

International court orders Russia to suspend hostilities 

The International Court of Justice in the Hague ordered Russia to suspend military operations in Ukraine. It’s the first international court to weigh in on the crisis, but is unlikely to have any real-world impact. The panel of judges voted 13-2 in favour of the order, with the two dissenting judges coming from Russia and China.

“The court is acutely aware of the extent of the human tragedy that is taking place in Ukraine and is deeply concerned about continuing loss of life and human suffering,” the court said in the ruling. “The court is profoundly concerned about the use of force by the Russian Federation in Ukraine, which raises very serious issues of international law.”

Nato chief urges Russia to negotiate ‘in good faith’ 

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance has seen no evidence on the ground that Russia is genuine in its approach to the peace talks.

“On the ground, we don’t see any sign, and that is the reason why we also call on Russia to engage in these talks in good faith,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels after a meeting of Nato defence ministers.

WHO has verified 43 attacks on healthcare facilities 

The World Health Organization said it has verified 43 attacks on healthcare facilities in Ukraine since the invasion began, driving the global rate of such attacks to a record so far this year.

“Healthcare is becoming a target,” said Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, adding that clinic attacks are making it more difficult to send staff to shore up Ukraine’s “teetering” medical system. “This is the most basic of human rights and it has been directly denied to people.”

Nearby rocket strikes blew out windows and damaged walls at Ohmatdyt children’s hospital in Kyiv on Wednesday, according to the hospital’s Facebook page. The hospital said no one was wounded in the attack.

Nato keeps up supply of weapons into Kyiv 

Nato allies are maintaining a constant flow of weapons into the Ukrainian capital because Russian forces have not succeeded in completely encircling the city, according to two senior Nato military officials.

The visit of three EU leaders on Tuesday is a sign that routes into Kyiv remain open and, as a result, that arms shipments can continue, they said. Old Soviet equipment can be more useful than more modern kit because it doesn’t require additional training, the officials added, and open-source video shows that the Ukrainian fighters are having some success.

Markets rally on optimism of diplomatic resolution 

European stocks rallied on Wednesday, as tentative signs of optimism in the talks between Russia and Ukraine revived global risk appetite ahead of a crucial Federal Reserve meeting. Treasuries and the dollar fell, while crude oil whipsawed.

The Stoxx 600 Europe Index advanced by 3.4% as of 2.40pm in London, extending its gains after the Financial Times reported that Ukraine and Russia had made “significant progress” on a tentative 15-point peace plan. The main European equities benchmark was less than 1% away from erasing almost all of its losses since the start of the war.

Jake Sullivan warns Russia on chemical attack, demands ceasefire 

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told his Russian counterpart that the US was committed to Ukraine’s defence and warned the Kremlin against using chemical or biological weapons. Sullivan told General Nikolai Patrushev that if Russia is serious about a diplomatic path, it should stop attacking Ukrainian cities and towns, National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said.

“Mr Sullivan clearly laid out the United States’ commitment to continue imposing costs on Russia, to support the defence of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to reinforce Nato’s eastern flank, in continued full coordination with our allies and partners,” Horne said.

Patrushev told Sullivan that the US should stop supplying Kyiv with weapons, according to Interfax.

Ukraine starts trial connection to European electricity grid 

Ukraine has linked its electricity grid to Europe on a trial basis to help increase independence from Russia. Work to connect the systems had been under way since 2017, but was accelerated after the war began.

The link won’t enable the trade of electricity, but will help Ukraine keep its electricity system stable, homes warm and lights on, according to the European Commission. It’s “a historic milestone for the EU-Ukraine relationship — in this area, Ukraine is now part of Europe,” said Kadri Simson, EU energy commissioner for energy.

Zelensky tells Biden to be leader of world 

During his address to the US Congress, Zelensky played a graphic video of the destruction in Ukraine that ended with the words: “Close the sky over Ukraine.”

Zelensky also asked lawmakers to sanction “all politicians in the Russian Federation” who do not cut ties with those backing the invasion of Ukraine and stressed that “all American companies must leave Russia”.

The Ukrainian leader, who at first spoke through an interpreter and then later switched to English, closed with a direct appeal to Biden, saying, “And, in the end, to sum it up, today it’s not enough to be the leader of the nation.”

Zelensky makes plea to US Congress 

Zelensky made a dramatic appeal to the US Congress, urging lawmakers to remember the attack on Pearl Harbour and the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington as it weighs more aid to the war-torn country.

“Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” Zelensky said following a standing ovation from legislators.

Zelensky continued his calls for a no-fly zone over his country, his biggest request that US and European countries have so far resisted. “If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative,” Zelensky said, stressing that the country needs more air defence systems like the Russian S-300.

Blinken says Russian withdrawal needs to be ‘irreversible’ 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said any diplomatic solution to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would have to include assurances that a pullback by Moscow would be “in effect, irreversible”.

The US wants to make sure “this can’t happen again, that Russia won’t pick up and do exactly what it’s doing in a year or two years or three years”, Blinken told NPR in an interview, adding that he didn’t see any sign Moscow was ready to back down from its military attack.

Switzerland expands sanctions list to mirror EU’s 

Switzerland added more than 200 individuals and entities to its sanctions list, bringing it in line with the EU. As of midday local time on Wednesday, assets of those in question will be frozen and reported to the economy ministry.

The Swiss Federal Council earlier adopted the EU’s extended sanctions from 2 March and 9 March 9 in full against Belarus, prohibiting the export of all dual-use goods and widening import bans to wood products and products made of rubber, iron and steel, and cement, among other goods.

Kremlin says neutral Ukraine with army is option 

The idea of Ukraine becoming a neutral country, but retaining its own armed forces “could be viewed as a certain kind of compromise”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday, hinting at possible progress in peace negotiations.

Peskov declined to provide details beyond confirming that the idea of Swedish- or Austrian-style neutrality is under discussion in the talks under way with Ukraine. Mykhaylo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, said that any solution will need to give Kyiv “a really powerful pool of allies with clearly outlined security guarantees”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has confirmed that Russia’s demands for Ukraine’s neutrality in the future are under serious discussion, according to the state-owned Tass news agency, but Russia’s demands are broader. The talks with Ukraine aren’t going easily, he said, but there are hopes to reach a compromise.

Amid the conversations about Ukraine’s potential neutrality status, Ukraine has continued to call for EU membership and pleaded with Nato to send weapons and enforce a no-fly zone.

Zelensky, meanwhile, told the Ukrainian people in a video address that Russia’s positions are starting to sound more realistic. “Efforts are still needed, we still have to fight and work — everyone in their place,” Zelensky said. “In particular, our representatives, our delegation in negotiations with the Russian Federation. It is difficult, but important, because any war ends in an agreement. Meetings continue.”

Dutch ready to ban use of shell companies with Russia ties 

The Netherlands is pushing for a European Union-wide effort to clamp down on the use of shell companies by wealthy Russians and businesses, and the Dutch government is ready to impose its own restrictions if the bloc doesn’t act.

The Dutch government wants to restrict the use of trust offices that provide services to set up letterbox companies in the country because not doing so would mean “leaving a backdoor open” in sanctions against Russia, according to Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag.

World’s biggest reinsurer to halt activity in Russia 

Reinsurance provider Munich Re will not renew existing contracts in Russia and Belarus, and new business has been suspended, it said in a statement. The company will only make exceptions to this rule — sanctions regulations permitting — if the suspension negatively affects people or businesses in need of protection.

Ukraine accuses Russia of violating ceasefires 

Russian forces have been violating ceasefire agreements during evacuation efforts through humanitarian corridors, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in a video statement.

“Occupiers began to fire on columns of buses, fire on residential areas and points where people gathered for evacuation,” she said. Vereshchuk added that Russian troops captured a hospital in Mariupol and were firing outward from the building. There was no immediate response from Russia.

Ukraine’s war losses put at $565bn

Ukraine’s direct losses from the Russian war were estimated at $565-billion, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said at a meeting with the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic in Kyiv.

“This money will be needed to restore our state, both at the expense of Russia and with funds from our partners,” he said. “We will work to achieve the arrest of money and assets of Russia abroad. We trust that our partners will join this large-scale plan.”

Shmyhal also called for a new package of sanctions to cancel all issued foreign visas for Russian citizens as he outlined a set of far-reaching steps countries have said they’re not ready to take. He also said Ukraine’s allies should recognise Russia as a sponsor of terrorism, embargo all Russian goods and close all ports for Russian ships and sailors.

Singapore calls on China to use ‘enormous influence’ on Russia 

Singapore’s top diplomat said he hopes China will use its “enormous influence” on Russia to help end the war, warning that Beijing’s decisions in the coming days and weeks could determine the future path of the global economy.

“The big issue now is what decisions and actions China takes,” Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said in an interview with Haslinda Amin to be broadcast at the upcoming Bloomberg Live’s Asean Business Summit. “If you get a deepening of the bifurcation of the global economy, of supply chains, of technology, this will be a very, very different world.”

Singapore last month became the first Southeast Asian nation to say it was imposing unilateral sanctions on Russia.

UK’s Johnson in Gulf seeking help with energy crisis 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson began a visit to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia where he will try to persuade the UK’s Gulf allies to step up oil production and ease pressure on energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He’ll meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi before travelling to Riyadh to see Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The war in and the sanctions on Russia have roiled energy markets and put pressure on Opec members to raise output.

Russian court websites defaced 

At least eight websites of arbitration courts in Russia’s Far East were defaced by hackers who used the portals to post anti-war statements calling President Vladimir Putin a terrorist, the Regnum news service reported.

The websites now appear to have been taken down, but the profanity-laced messages, which also appeared to have been posted to the Moscow Arbitration Court’s website, were briefly visible in search engine results for some pages.

Zelensky calls European leaders in Kyiv ‘courageous’ 

Zelensky praised the leaders of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic as “courageous” in a video released by his office, after they travelled to Kyiv by train for talks. DM


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