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Macron presses Putin for humanitarian corridor; Moscow says it will reduce military operations

Macron presses Putin for humanitarian corridor; Moscow says it will reduce military operations
Ditchinku Nikulayf, 64, inspects his damaged house in the aftermath of a Russian airstrike in the village of Ulica Szkolna, Kyiv Oblast, 29 March 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Atef Safadi)

Ukraine and Russia failed to clinch a ceasefire in talks that ended in Istanbul on Tuesday, with Moscow saying it will reduce military operations in areas where its forces are being pushed back and Kyiv calling for security guarantees from European Union and Nato members.

A Ukrainian negotiator said his country is seeking guarantees for territory that doesn’t include Russian-controlled areas and that Kyiv is willing to discuss the status of occupied Crimea. Russia indicated a meeting was possible between President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

Russia’s delegation left Istanbul, and no date or time was set for any potential future talks, according to a person close to the Moscow delegation. European nations expelled more Russian diplomats from their capitals, even as stocks rose and oil fell on optimism for progress in the negotiations.

Key developments

Macron demands Mariupol evacuations in call with Putin

French President Emmanuel Macron had a phone conversation with Putin on Tuesday in which he demanded a truce in the besieged city of Mariupol to allow for the evacuation of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian aid, an Elysee official said. Putin said he would respond to the French demands but no timeline was set, the French official added.

The French leader also reiterated a previous rejection by European nations that Russian gas purchases be paid for in roubles, according to the person. Macron will report on his conversation with Putin to Ukraine’s Zelensky in the near future, the official said.

According to the Kremlin, Putin told Macron that Ukrainian fighters should surrender to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Mariupol.




US weighs $500m more in aid for Ukraine 

The US government is considering providing Ukraine with an additional $500-million in aid and is pushing European allies to match the contribution, according to people familiar with recent discussions. The Ukrainians could use the money to shore up government services or for humanitarian aid or military purposes, one of the people said.

Officials in the governments of several Nato allies, including the US and UK, are sceptical of recent Russian announcements that it will scale back its assault on Kyiv and have urged increased support to Ukraine, the people said.

Luxembourg freezes €2.5bn in sanctions crackdown 

Luxembourg has frozen assets worth €2.5-billion so far as it enforces EU sanctions targeting Russia, Finance Minister Yuriko Backes told lawmakers. The Finance Ministry, which works with Luxembourg’s financial markets regulator, said last week that it had received about 100 notifications of assets or financial resources that have been frozen.

Poland to ban Russian coal imports 

Poland’s government plans to ban coal deliveries from Russia and look instead for supplies from countries including Australia, Colombia and the US, Environment Minister Anna Moskwa said.

The country, which has been importing about eight million tonnes of Russian coal annually, has been calling on the European Union to ban energy exports from Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. The government will present a plan on Wednesday to cut supplies of Russian oil and gas, Moskwa said.

European countries expel more Russian diplomats 

The Netherlands announced it was expelling 17 Russian intelligence officers, and Belgium said it would oust 21 for spying. North Macedonia also declared five diplomats personae non gratae for breaching diplomatic conventions. The Czech Republic, which forced out scores of Russians from the embassy in Prague last year, said on Tuesday it was telling one more to leave.

Since last month’s invasion, European Union members have expelled Russian diplomats, including the three Baltic nations, which expelled 10 people; Bulgaria, which expelled 10 more; and Poland, which ordered 45 to leave. Police in Slovakia expelled three Russian diplomats after they detained four people suspected of spying for Moscow. Germany is also considering expelling suspected spies, an official said on Tuesday.

Ukraine needs fast help to rebuild farming, World Bank says  

Ukraine will need fast help from other countries to get the fertiliser and seeds needed to restore its farming output and crucial exports to the rest of the world once Russia’s invasion is over, according to the head of the World Bank.

Ukraine would be helped by fertiliser from western Europe to replace imports of that key agricultural input from Belarus that have been cut off, David Malpass, president of the Washington-based development lender, told Bloomberg Television.

Denmark offers to send 800 troops to Baltics 

Denmark is offering to increase its military deployment in the three Baltic countries by sending 800 more troops under Nato command.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Denmark already has 200 troops and several F-16s in the Baltic countries as well as a warship in the area. Denmark is waiting for an official request from Nato before sending the troops.

US hasn’t seen signs Russia is serious in talks 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US is focusing on Moscow’s actions, not its words, as peace talks with Ukrainian negotiators in Istanbul ended with a Russian pledge to reduce some of its military operations.

“There is what Russia says and there is what Russia does; we’re focused on the latter,” Blinken told reporters in Morocco. “We have not seen signs of real seriousness” from Russia toward de-escalating its war, he said.

Ukraine-Russian talks end in Turkey with no ceasefire 

The first round of face-to-face talks between Russia and Ukraine in more than three weeks failed to agree on a ceasefire, but offered a potential pathway to a meeting between Putin and Zelensky to resolve the war.

Ukraine’s negotiators said that they were seeking security guarantees for areas outside Russian-controlled Crimea and separatist-held territories. Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said that Kyiv had offered to discuss the status of Crimea, which was seized by Russia in 2014 and has been occupied since.

Russia responded with an announcement that it was cutting military activity near Kyiv and the city of Chernihiv, where Ukrainian officials say they are driving Russian forces back through counterattacks. Russian chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said Ukraine had presented a clear position that would be escalated promptly to Putin for a response.




Germany considers expelling suspected Russian operatives 

Germany is considering expelling several suspected Russian operatives, following similar action from other European Union nations that have ousted diplomats from Moscow in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.

Germany historically has had many Russian spies operating on its territory, according to people familiar with Berlin’s discussions. One official, who asked not to be identified discussing intelligence matters, said there were dozens of Russian agents in Germany. A German government spokesperson said he was not aware of any such plans.

Stocks jump on optimism for Ukraine-Russia talks 

Futures on the S&P 500 rose 0.9% following a round of negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow that led to a Russian pledge to cut some military operations. The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 2%.

West Texas Intermediate erased earlier gains to trade down as much as 7.1%, below $100. The rouble climbed past 83 per dollar, approaching levels seen before Russia invaded Ukraine. The currency led gains among emerging markets for a second-straight day.

Russia offers to buy back 2022 Eurobonds in roubles 

Russia’s Finance Ministry offered to buy back $2-billion in dollar-denominated Eurobonds that come due next week, but says it will pay for the repurchased notes in roubles.

The offer comes as Russia has to date avoided a default since the war started, even as credit-rating companies warn one could be imminent. Local capital controls would mean that any investors who receive roubles for their obligations would not be able to convert them into dollars.

Russia is heading for deep recession, IMF says 

Russia is going to be in a deep recession this year, Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, told a forum in Dubai.

The IMF has previously said Russia will default on its debt obligations as the nation suffers a deep recession caused by sanctions in response to its invasion.




Russia makes latest coupon payment on sovereign bonds 

Russia has transferred a $102-million coupon payment on bonds due in 2035 to the National Settlement Depository (NSD) in Moscow, as the government continues to service its foreign debts even after the invasion of Ukraine severed ties with the global financial system.

From the NSD, the funds are due to be distributed to investors. While the US Treasury has made a carve-out in its sanctions on Russia that allows bond payments to go ahead, the foreign banks involved in the transfers are cautious of falling foul of the sweeping penalties on Russian banks and businessmen. Restrictions imposed by the main international settlement systems have also contributed to payment delays for holders of Russia’s sovereign and corporate debt.

By transferring the cash, the Finance Ministry said Russia has performed its obligations under the 2035 bond “in full,” according to its statement on Tuesday.

Nato allies are split on whether they should talk to Putin 

With the war now in its second month, a series of dilemmas is coming into sharp focus over which conditions could be deemed acceptable by Ukraine for any accord, especially on the security guarantees alliance members might be able to offer Kyiv.

There are also divergences over what further weapons to send Ukraine, and on the question of whether talking to Putin is helpful, according to people familiar with discussions that have taken place in the past week between leaders on both sides of the Atlantic and documents seen by Bloomberg.

France and Germany are of the view that a ceasefire should be achieved quickly and then the withdrawal of Russian troops. But other Nato members believe the dialogue that Paris and Berlin are pursuing with the Kremlin is counterproductive and could play into Putin’s hands, according to one of the documents.

Space Station in spotlight over Russia’s war in Ukraine 

With the US and allies imposing sanctions on Russia, will Moscow retaliate by dooming the International Space Station? No one knows, but the possibility is real.

“I think this is the biggest threat to the international partnership in its history,” says Ron Garan, a former Nasa astronaut who spent five months aboard the station in 2011.

Space Station faces dire future after Russia’s Ukraine invasion

What’s at risk is the largest and most complex international project yet, a $100-billion testament to human ingenuity and cross-border cooperation. The 490-ton assemblage has been inhabited continuously for 21 years, a record in manned spaceflight, and at any given time more than 100 scientific experiments are under way. DM


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