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UKRAINE UPDATE: 25 MARCH 2022

President Biden calls for Russia to be removed from G20

President Biden calls for Russia to be removed from G20
US President Joe Biden is welcomed by European leaders at the start of the European Council Summit in Brussels, Belgium, on 24 March 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / OLIVIER HOSLET)

Germany and Italy were among countries that said any effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin to charge in roubles for gas would be a violation of their contracts. President Joe Biden called for removing Russia from the G20.

Group of Seven leaders warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against deploying biological, chemical or nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Earlier on Thursday, Nato agreed to double the number of battle groups protecting its eastern border and prepare for Russia to potentially use such weapons in Ukraine. 

The heightened military readiness underscores the intense pressure on US President Joe Biden and other leaders gathered in Brussels for meetings of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato), the European Union and the Group of Seven leading economies. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky scolded Nato leaders for not responding to his plea for a no-fly zone over Ukraine and asked for more weapons for his military to fight off Russia’s invasion. He also called on G7 leaders to tighten sanctions on Russia.  

Key developments

Baltic leaders meet with Zelensky in Kyiv 

The speakers of the Lithuanian, Estonian and Latvian parliaments visited Kyiv on Thursday to meet with Zelensky.

“The Ukrainian nation trusts your countries and Poland the most,” Zelensky told them in his office in the capital city. He said Russian troops deliberately attack civilians and ruin civilian infrastructure as they try to besiege cities, creating humanitarian catastrophes.

Zelensky said Ukraine needs air defence systems, jets, armoured vehicles and protection for civilians. He also asked the leaders to tighten sanctions against Russia and Belarus by imposing a trade embargo and to cut off all Russian banks from the international banking system.

Biden warns against Putin’s attempts to break up Nato 

Biden urged Nato and the European Union to maintain total unanimity in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The single most important thing that we have to do in the West is be united,” Biden said on Thursday in Brussels at the Europa building, where he was due to meet with European Council President Charles Michel.

Putin wants to break up Nato, Biden told reporters. “Not a joke, I’m being deadly earnest. I believe that’s been his intention since the very, very beginning,” he said.

EU leaders to agree on modest tightening of sanctions 

Leaders of the European Union are expected to back a modest tightening of earlier sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, but refrain from imposing major new measures, as countries remain divided on whether to tackle energy supplies.

Under pressure from the US and with Biden in Brussels as their guest, the leaders are likely to approve sanctioning more Russian tycoons and the closing of some loopholes as early as Thursday night, according to EU diplomats who declined to be named on a confidential issue. But they are expected to avoid a major cut-off of oil and gas purchases despite a push from several countries, the diplomats said.

Biden says to expect ‘real’ food shortages 

Biden said that the world will experience food shortages as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and production increases were a subject of discussions at a Group of Seven meeting on Thursday.

“It’s going to be real,” Biden said of food shortages at a news conference in Brussels. Ukraine and Russia are both major producers of wheat, in particular, and Kyiv’s government has already warned that the country’s planting and harvest has been severely disrupted by the war.

Biden said he’s also urging all nations including those in Europe to drop trade restrictions that could restrict exports of food.

Biden backs removing Russia from G20 

Biden said he told China’s President Xi Jinping of “significant jeopardy” to his nation’s economy if he backed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Yes, Russia should be removed from the G20,” Biden said in a news conference after meetings with allies in Brussels.

Read more: Indonesia inviting Putin to G20 despite pressure to exclude him

Putin plans to attend the Group of 20 summit hosted by Indonesia later this year, Russia’s envoy to the Southeast Asian country said, brushing off talk of excluding him due to the war in Ukraine. 

Scholz, Draghi reject roubles for Russian gas 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Premier Mario Draghi and their counterparts in other EU nations told Russia to honour payments for energy exports in the currency stated in the contract, usually US dollars or euros.

Gas prices surged more than 30% after Putin on Wednesday ordered the Russian central bank to develop a mechanism to force some countries to make rouble payments for natural gas within a week.

“Most agreements and most treaties are absolutely precise about the currency in which the payment has to be done,” Scholz said at a news conference after chairing talks with G-7 counterparts. “And this is how it is today and we will follow the situation and the development.”

Draghi said any request for payment in roubles would be “a contract violation, and contracts are considered violated if Russia will implement this condition”.

Austria rejects embargo on Russian gas, oil  

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said his nation won’t agree to an embargo on Russian gas or oil deliveries, telling reporters in Brussels that to sanction Russian energy would be “unrealistic” not only for Austria but other EU members such as Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. The EU should instead coordinate and focus on loopholes in the current “massive” sanctions package.

UN General Assembly condemns Russia’s invasion 

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Ukraine while blaming Russia for the humanitarian crisis there. The resolution received 140 votes in favour, five votes against, and 38 abstentions.

The vote followed a failed Russian effort at the UN Security Council on Wednesday to pass a resolution on Ukraine that urged humanitarian aid to the country without mentioning Russia’s invasion. Only China joined Russia in voting for that resolution, as 13 countries abstained.

Latvian president calls for cutting off Russian energy imports  

In principle there is a clear decision we should “cut off” Russian oil and gas deliveries, Latvian President Egils Levits said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “We should pay for our freedom and our independence.”

Paying in dollars or euros is better than “paying in blood”, Levits said. Latvia, which gets most of its natural gas from Russia, has gas reserves and can buy LNG to replace Russian gas, he said.

Zelensky calls on G7 to back more Russia sanctions  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked G7 nations to strengthen sanctions on Russia. Speaking in a video address to the group, he also called for more weapons deliveries to his nation and urged the group to participate in creation of new security guarantees for Ukraine.

Finnish premier says anything can be expected of Russia 

Asked about the potential that Russia might use chemical weapons, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin said there’s reason to be concerned.

“Russia has, through its actions, shown it is capable of anything and that it follows no international rules that it has previously committed to, so yes, anything can be expected of Russia,” said Marin, whose home country of 5.5 million people has the EU’s longest border with Russia. “We need to have a discussion on how we would react in such a case.”

Leaders are “united in the willingness to tighten sanctions, and especially to look for all the loopholes, which currently weaken the impact of sanctions,” she said. “We want to ensure they really work.”

Latvian premier says energy sanctions are a serious option 

Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said EU leaders should look at imposing temporary restrictive measures on Russian energy products.

“I will argue again tonight that we have to look at serious energy sanctions as well because this is the main source of income for the Russian government,” Karins told reporters in Brussels before a meeting with his EU counterparts. “I think the most logical place to move forward is oil and coal.”

Pentagon says other nations free to send aircraft  

The Biden administration has no objection to other nations sending aircraft to Ukraine even as it continues to believe that Russia would see a US transfer of planes as an escalatory move, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

“One thing is for sure: The United States has not put a veto on other nations who may want to provide aircraft to the Ukrainian armed forces,” Kirby said on Bloomberg Television from the Nato summit in Brussels. “President Zelensky says he wants them and individual nations can make those sovereign decisions.”

In an appearance on Fox News, Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley had been spurned in efforts to communicate directly with their Russian counterparts to convey concerns about the Ukraine invasion.

US sanctions Russian legislators, defence sector 

The US announced a new package of sanctions on Russian elites, legislators and defence companies. The full blocking sanctions affect more than 400 individuals and entities, including the Duma, Russia’s lower house of Parliament, and 328 of its members, more than a dozen Russian elites and 48 Russian defence companies.

The sanctions will hit Herman Gref, the head of Russia’s Sberbank and adviser to President Vladimir Putin; Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko, his companies and members; as well as 17 board members of the Russian financial institution Sovcombank. Among the defence companies being sanctioned are Russian Helicopters, Tactical Missiles Corporation, High Precision Systems, NPK Tekhmash OAO and Kronshtadt, the White House said. 

US to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing invasion 

The US will welcome up to 100,000 people fleeing Russian violence in Ukraine, using a variety of legal pathways to allow them to enter the country, a senior Biden administration official said.

Some of those allowed into the country will come as refugees, but the US will permit others to seek parole status or immigrant or non-immigrant visas, the official said, without defining a timeline for the arrivals. The official suggested people fleeing the conflict could come to the US over the course of several years.

Nato leaders urge China not to help Russia 

The leaders of Nato’s 30 member states issued a statement after their summit in Brussels that called on all countries, including China, “to abstain from supporting Russia’s war effort in any way, and to refrain from any action that helps Russia circumvent sanctions”.

They urged China “to cease amplifying the Kremlin’s false narratives, in particular on the war and on Nato, and to promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict”.

Nato extends Jens Stoltenberg’s term for one year 

Nato leaders extended the term of Jens Stoltenberg for another year as the alliance’s secretary-general, leading the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Leaders meeting at Nato headquarters in Brussels agreed that he should remain in the job, even though he had been selected to head Norway’s central bank.

US, Nato prepare for potential Russian nuclear incident 

A senior US official said Washington is working with allies on preparation and deterrence postures over Russian weapons of mass destruction, as well as on potential medical and other countermeasures to help Ukraine.

The US warnings show growing concern that Putin will lash out with his military suffering heavy losses. Biden, speaking at the White House Wednesday, said there’s “a real threat” that Russia will use chemical weapons.

The world’s leading economic powers will warn Putin against using chemical or nuclear weapons in Ukraine in a draft statement the G7 planned to issue on Thursday. The leaders also planned to say that they will continue to impose “severe consequences” on Russia by fully implementing the sanctions that countries have already imposed and stand ready to apply additional measures. 

Russian defence minister reports on operation at Putin meeting  

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin and other top officials on the Ukraine “operation” in a video conference, the Kremlin said.

Shoigu was shown on a video screen in front of Putin in his first public appearance in nearly two weeks, though there was no way to confirm when it took place. Earlier on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Shoigu was too busy to do media events. State television also showed what it said was video from the meeting, but didn’t include any sound.

Separately, the Defence Ministry said a top commander from the Eastern Military District had visited troops near the front lines about 30km from Kyiv. Ukraine has reported killing a number of senior Russian commanders in the month-long war but Moscow hasn’t confirmed that.

Zelensky raps Nato over weapons, warns Russia’s neighbours 

Zelensky criticised Nato for not responding to his call to give or sell Ukraine 1% of its tanks and aircraft. Speaking at the alliance’s summit on Thursday, he also decried Nato’s refusal to impose a no-fly zone, even as Russia has attacked Ukrainian cities with more than 1,000 missiles and hundreds of airstrikes.

“On February 24, I addressed you with a perfectly clear, logical request to help close our skies. In any format. Protect our people from Russian bombs and missiles. We did not hear a clear answer,” Zelensky told the summit. “And you see the consequences today – how many people were killed, how many peaceful cities were destroyed.”

Zelensky also said he believed Russia won’t stop in Ukraine and may eventually move against Nato’s Baltic members and Poland. In an earlier address to Sweden’s Parliament, he said all of Russia’s neighbours are in danger, pointing to growing Russia interest in Sweden’s Baltic Sea island of Gotland. 

German energy group says gas supply about to deteriorate 

Germany’s BDEW energy industry group said it sees “concrete and serious indications” that the country’s natural gas-supply situation is about to deteriorate and urged the government to issue the first level of warning in its emergency plan. 

The BDEW, which represents Germany’s main gas and electricity suppliers, said it can’t rule out disruptions after Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded payment in roubles. 

German economy chief says energy sanctions could be game-changer  

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck opened the door to at least discussing energy sanctions on Russia in a speech to the Bundestag on Thursday. 

Habeck, from the German Greens, said that sanctions on Russian gas, oil and coal would be a potential “game changer” for the war but cautioned that Berlin isn’t yet in a position to take such action. That admission, he said, was “bitter”. 

UK sanctions Alfa-Bank and several billionaires  

The UK said it has sanctioned 65 more individuals and entities in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including Alfa-Bank and the diamond mining company Alrosa.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also sanctioned Eugene Shvidler, a billionaire oil businessman with close business links to Roman Abramovich and Oleg Tinkov, founder of Tinkoff Bank. Herman Gref, chief executive officer of Sberbank, the largest Russian bank and an adviser of Putin, was also listed.

More than half of Ukraine’s children displaced, UN says 

A month of war has displaced 4.3 million Ukrainian children, more than half the country’s child population, according to the United Nations global relief organisation Unicef.

The agency says 1.8 million children have crossed into neighbouring countries as refugees while another 2.5 million have moved within Ukraine. 

Seventh journalist killed in Ukraine 

A journalist filming damage in Kyiv’s Podil district was killed on Wednesday along with a civilian during a rocket strike on a shopping centre, according to the Insider, the investigative website she worked for. 

Oksana Baulina left Russia after the previous organisation she worked for, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, was listed as an extremist group by Moscow. Her death brings the number of journalists reported to have been killed since Russia’s invasion began to seven, according to the Press Emblem Campaign group. Dozens of others have been injured.

Nato chief warns Russia against chemical attack 

The head of Nato warned Russia that any attack with chemical weapons would have far-reaching consequences. 

“Any use of chemical weapons would fundamentally change the nature of the conflict, it would be a blatant violation of international law and it will have widespread and severe consequences,” Jens Stoltenberg told reporters as he arrived for the Nato summit in Brussels.

The risk of contamination would mean “a catastrophe for the people of Ukraine but of course the risk is also that we can see the spread of the chemical agents in Nato territory”. Slovenian Premier Janez Jansa said member states would “consider some acts” as a direct attack on Nato countries. He didn’t elaborate. 

Ukraine says it has destroyed Russian navy ship 

Ukraine destroyed the Russian amphibious landing ship Orsk, docked in the Russian-controlled port of Berdyansk, it said on Facebook and Twitter. There was no immediate comment from Russia on the claim. 

Ukraine urges EU not to pay Russia in roubles 

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on EU countries to make a “wise and responsible” choice when it comes to paying Russia in roubles for gas and oil, as Putin demanded on Wednesday.  

Russia will turn to reserves, conscripts, mercenaries – UK 

Given its “thousands of casualties” in the past month, Russia is likely now looking to mobilise reservists and conscripts, as well as leaning on private military companies and foreign mercenaries, the UK defence ministry said in a daily assessment. 

“It is unclear how these groups will integrate into the Russian ground forces in Ukraine, and the impact this will have on combat effectiveness,” the ministry said. DM

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