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UKRAINE UPDATE: 17 MARCH 2022

Energy utility says millions of people without power as Russian strikes continue

People fleeing Ukraine arrive at the Moldova-Ukraine border near Palanca Village, Moldova, on 17 March 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / DUMITRU DORU)
By Bloomberg
17 Mar 2022 0

US President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping will speak about Russia on Friday after Biden branded Russian President Vladimir Putin a ‘war criminal’ and offered $800m more in arms to Ukraine. A Kremlin spokesperson said a report of major progress in talks with Ukraine was ‘wrong’ but that discussions would continue on Thursday.

Ukraine’s biggest utility said 1.3 million people were without power, and the military said Russian strikes continued on infrastructure and on densely populated residential areas, even as the Kremlin’s forces remain bogged down. Russia said its troops were advancing in the Luhansk region in the east. Fighting continues close to Kyiv.  

Key developments

Germany suggests air corridors for refugees 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called for an air corridor by Western allies for Ukrainian refugees, especially in Moldova. “We now need a common solidarity air bridge within Europe, but also over the Atlantic,” Baerbock said after a meeting with Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg in Berlin.

She also announced that Germany would send more troops to strengthen Nato’s eastern flank but didn’t offer any details.

Mariupol city council says situation is critical 

More than 350,000 people continue to hide in shelters and basements as Mariupol is under siege for a 16th day, with an average of 50 to 100 bombs falling on the city each day, according to the city council of the southern Ukrainian town. About 80% of residential buildings are damaged, and 30% are beyond repair.

Nearly 30,000 people managed to escape by private cars, the council said.

Ex-US defence chief says it’s a proxy war with Russia 

The US is fighting a proxy war with Russia “whether we say so or not” and should “provide as much military aid” as possible to Ukrainian fighters, the former secretary of defense Leon Panetta said on Thursday on Bloomberg Television’s Balance of Power with David Westin.

“Diplomacy is going nowhere unless we have leverage,” said Panetta, who also served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. “The way you get leverage is by, frankly, going in and killing Russians.”

Panetta didn’t specify what types of military aid the US should give Ukraine but said the only way to persuade Putin “that he should take some kind of an off-ramp is to continue to beat him on the battlefield”.

JPMorgan processed Russia bond payments, sent to Citigroup 

JPMorgan Chase has processed funds that were earmarked for interest payments due on dollar bonds held by the Russian government and sent the money on to Citigroup, according to people familiar with the matter.

JPMorgan was the correspondent bank Russia used to send the payment to Citigroup, which is acting as payment agent on the bonds, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing a private matter. JPMorgan sent the money to Citigroup after it sought and received the required approvals from US authorities on Wednesday, one of the people said.

Representatives for JPMorgan and Citigroup declined to comment. Russia’s ability to make payments to bondholders on its debt is being closely watched by markets around the world.

Slovakia offers air defence system to Ukraine 

Slovakia is willing to provide its S-300 air defence system to Ukraine if the Nato country receives an appropriate replacement or an air defence capability “guaranteed for a certain period of time”, Slovakia’s minister of defence, Jaroslav Nad, said at a press conference with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Slovakia relies on the Russian-made S-300 for its own air defence, so without a replacement there would be a “security gap”, Nad said. The Nato country is in discussion with the US and the alliance, Austin said without providing further details.

Slovakia is one of three Nato countries that have the Russian-made air defence system. The other two are Bulgaria and Greece. Ukraine already has about 100 of these systems.

Russian grain exports flowing at slower pace 

Russian grain exports are moving at a slower pace than a year ago as the war in Ukraine enters its fourth week.

AgFlow, a Geneva-based crop data company, estimates about 73 vessels carrying wheat and other staples departed Russia in the first two weeks of March, versus 220 during the same period of 2021. Another ship-tracking platform, Sea/ by Maritech, estimated crop tonnage from the nation’s ports in the week to March 12 fell by half from the preceding seven days.

The International Grains Council on Thursday cut its forecast for Ukraine’s 2021-22 grain exports to 47.8 million tonnes from 62.8 million estimated in February, before Russia’s invasion.

Russians kill 21 near Kharkiv in shelling attack 

Russian forces killed 21 people and wounded 25 by shelling the town of Merefa, west of Kharkiv, early on Thursday, the Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office said. The attack destroyed a cultural club and the town’s school, it said.

Energy utility says 1.3 million Ukrainians are without power  

Ukrainian utility DTEK Energy Chief Executive Maxim Timchenko said 1.3 million people are disconnected from the power grid, many of them in the besieged city of Mariupol, as well as the capital, Kyiv. The company is diverting coal generation to its power stations in the west of the country and switching some units to run on gas. 

DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private power utility, says it’s producing 45,000 tonnes of coal per day, roughly half of demand, and has boosted gas supplies. Timchenko welcomed a deal between the EU and Ukraine yesterday to link energy supplies and said that in the long run, Ukraine could become an exporter to the EU. 

Russia extends US basketball star Griner’s detention 

A Moscow court extended the detention of US Olympic basketball star Brittney Griner until May 19 on charges of smuggling cannabis oil, the Tass news service reported. Greiner, the 31-year-old star centre for the Phoenix Mercury, was arrested at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow in February. She was there to play for the Russian league’s team UMMC Ekaterinburg. 

Turkey: Russia doesn’t object to it guaranteeing peace deal  

Russia didn’t object to Ukraine’s suggestion that Turkey be a security guarantor in any deal to end the war, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in televised comments during a visit to Ukraine.

Russia widens its net to muzzle free speech  

A social media influencer known on Instagram as Belonika is one of the first people to run afoul of Russian legislation that makes criticism of the war in Ukraine punishable by as many as 15 years in jail. 

Veronika Belotserkovskaya until recently mostly posted pictures of her glitzy lifestyle, but when Russia invaded Ukraine her posts turned political, often searing in their opposition to the war and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. 

Russia’s Investigative Committee said the posts “discredited” government authorities and Russia’s armed forces. She’s not in Russia, though, and the country may seek to put her on international wanted lists, the committee said.   

UN Security Council holds another emergency meeting 

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday held another emergency meeting on Russia’s war on Ukraine, this time at the request of the US 

While the council has little power to influence Russia’s actions, the meetings have served as a venue to underscore international criticism of Moscow. 

Biden to speak with Xi Jinping on Friday 

President Joe Biden will speak with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Friday, as the US leader looks to shore up global pressure on Russia to halt its war in Ukraine. 

It will be the pair’s first call since November and follows a meeting in Rome on Monday between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi. 

“The two leaders will discuss managing the competition between our two countries, as well as Russia’s war against Ukraine and other issues of mutual concern,” the White House said.  

Kremlin denies major progress made in talks  

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a Financial Times report of substantial progress in talks with Ukraine was “wrong” but that the discussions would continue on Thursday. He blamed Kyiv for dragging its feet on negotiations, saying Ukraine’s government was “in no rush.” Ukraine dismissed the Financial Times report on Wednesday, saying significant issues remained.  

Peskov also said that President Joe Biden’s characterisation of Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal” was “unforgivable.”

Russia not acting like it wants to settle, says Pentagon aide 

Russia continues to “hammer” cities like Kharkiv and Cherniyiv with bombardments and rocket systems, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

“For all the talk about wanting to find a diplomatic path forward, we haven’t seen them act on that,” Kirby said. “What you’re seeing by the Russians on the ground is a full-on commitment to military operations.” 

Kirby said Ukrainian forces have essentially stalled Russia’s advance and are using weapons received from allies in an effective way.

Russian invasion is ‘new wall’, Zelensky tells Germans 

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was erecting a “new wall” in Europe, a reference to the Berlin Wall that symbolised post-World War 2 division. Speaking to German lawmakers, Zelensky beseeched Chancellor Olaf Scholz to abandon the country’s traditional commercial interests with Russia and “tear down this wall” – evoking President Ronald Reagan’s iconic 1987 speech at the Berlin Wall, directed to the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

“Give Germany the leadership role you deserve,” Zelensky told the lower House in a video address from Kyiv, saying the much more distant US had become “closer to us than you”. He lamented Germany’s long-standing support for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a direct link with Russia, as a “sad” legacy – and said that continued energy imports from Russia were financing the Kremlin’s military goals.  

Rouble gains for a sixth day; European stocks up 

Russia’s Finance Ministry said it had sent the order for a $117-million coupon payment on its Eurobonds to the foreign correspondent bank on March 14. The rouble gained for a sixth day in Moscow trading. 

Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank considers exit from Russia 

Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International said it was considering all options for the future of its Russian subsidiary, including a carefully managed exit from the market.

Raiffeisen, the largest foreign-owned retail bank in Russia, is continuing operations in all countries for now and is complying with international sanctions law, it said. 

China affirms its friendship with Ukraine 

China’s foreign ministry endorsed earlier remarks by its envoy to Ukraine, seen as some of Beijing’s most supportive comments yet to the war-torn country.

On Monday, Ambassador Fan Xianrong told the governor of the western city of Lviv that China was a “friendly country for the Ukrainian people” and would “never attack Ukraine”, according to a summary posted on the Lviv government’s website. 

He went on to profess China’s “respect” for the state and praise the strength and unity of the Ukrainian people. Asked on Thursday about Fan’s comments, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said “China surely supports these remarks by our ambassador in Ukraine.”

UK says Russia ‘stalled on all fronts’ 

As the invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth week, the attack “has largely stalled on all fronts,” according to a UK defence intelligence assessment. “Russian forces have made minimal progress on land, sea or air in recent days and they continue to suffer heavy losses.”  

Find out more about the UK government’s response here

US House moves to revoke Russia’s trade status 

US legislators are close to an agreement for legislation to revoke normal trade relations with Russia, the latest move in a series of congressional efforts to hobble the Russian economy in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Removing Russia’s “most-favoured nation” trade status would enable the US to impose higher tariffs on Russian goods, and take other actions. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the vote would take place on Thursday. Revoking the status, which in the US requires legislation, would put Russia in the same category as other states viewed by Washington as pariahs including North Korea and Cuba. DM

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