Zelensky says Russia abusing UN veto powers; US and allies to announce new sanctions

Zelensky says Russia abusing UN veto powers; US and allies to announce new sanctions
A street in Bucha with destroyed Russian military machinery in Ukraine on 5 April 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / SERGEY DOLZHENKO)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the United Nations to do more to stop Moscow’s aggression in his homeland, saying Russia was abusing its veto powers at the Security Council to block efforts towards peace.

Russia is likely to continue a push in eastern and southern Ukraine as it aims to capture the entire Donbas region, Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said, confirming what he described as a significant shift of invading forces away from the capital, Kyiv. Stoltenberg also said Nato would assist the UN and International Criminal Court in investigating potential war crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will visit Kyiv this week in a show of support for Ukraine. It comes as the European Union proposes a ban on coal imports from Russia as a direct response to the reports of apparent war crimes. 

Key developments

US, allies to slap Russia with harsh new sanctions 

The US, European Union and G7 countries will announce a new round of sanctions on Russia to punish the Kremlin for atrocities in Ukraine, including a ban on all new investments in the country, according to a US official with direct knowledge of the matter.

The governments will also increase sanctions on financial institutions and state-owned enterprises in Russia, as well as sanctioning unspecified Russian officials and their family members, the official said. 

The official asked not to be identified ahead of an announcement on Wednesday on the new sanctions.

Finland boosts defence spending with focus on weapons, planes 

The five-party government of Russia’s neighbour Finland agreed to add more than €2-billion in defence spending. The one-time boost is about a 70% increase from the regular 2022 military budget.

The outlays include €1.74-billion on materials such as weapons, and €163-million on surveillance aircraft for the border guard, Finance Minister Annika Saarikko said at a press conference in Helsinki. Any unavoidable defence, border security and cybersecurity needs will be met even if that spending isn’t mapped out in the budget framework, she said.

Germany signals movement on coal imports 

Economy Minister Robert Habeck said the EU should agree on “sharp sanctions” against Russia given the events in Bucha and that Berlin is open to discussing a proposal by the European Commission to include coal imports.

 “You know that we are gradually reducing coal imports from Russia. In this respect, the requirement has always been that we can be free of Russian coal in autumn,” he told reporters in Berlin.

The comments signal a shift in Berlin’s stance on including energy imports in sanction packages. German officials had warned against hitting coal, oil and gas, arguing it could hurt European countries more than Russia due to the high dependency on energy imports. Habeck would not be drawn on whether Berlin might now be open to a gas embargo.

Zelensky aide says talks to move forward despite Bucha events 

Direct negotiations between Russia and Ukraine must press forward despite alleged war crimes committed against civilians in the northern town of Bucha “because we want peace,” Ihor Zhovkva, Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. Kyiv has repeatedly requested a direct meeting between Zelensky and Putin but Zhovkva now said that “will be difficult”.

Zelensky tells UN to strip Russian veto, reform, or ‘disband itself’

The United Nations should remove Russia’s veto power to block action halting the Kremlin’s assault against Ukraine, or overhaul its system to ensure peace, Zelensky told the body in New York. Otherwise, the UN Security Council should “disband itself”.

“Either remove Russia as the aggressor and the source of the war from blocking decisions regarding its own aggression – its own war – and then do all that’s possible to renew peace,” Zelensky told the chamber by video link. “Or show how one can truly reform itself.”

Russia, which has veto power as one of five permanent members of the Security Council, blocked an attempt by the 15-member body in February to strongly condemn its invasion of Ukraine and call on Moscow to withdraw its troops. 

UN says ‘credible allegations’ Russia uses cluster munitions  

The US deputy secretary-general for political affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, told the Security Council there was evidence Russian forces used cluster munitions in populated areas of Ukraine at least 24 times. Ukraine has also accused Russia of using cluster munitions, including overnight. DiCarlo added the UN is also investigating allegations that Ukrainian forces have used such weapons.

US considers permanent bases in eastern Europe 

The head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said the US is considering the possibility of establishing permanent, forward-deployed bases in eastern Europe to help bolster Nato. The facilities would be staffed by rotating forces, as opposed to having a permanent troop presence, he said.

Testifying to a House committee, Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said anti-armour and anti-aircraft weaponry has been the most effective at helping Ukraine’s military. In addition, drones and secure tactical radios supplied to Ukraine’s forces over several years have aided that effort, they said.

Milley called Russia’s nuclear rhetoric – including putting its nuclear forces on a higher alert – “very provocative”, adding “we are entering a world that is becoming more unstable”.

Germany ready to back halt to Russian coal imports 

Germany, which has resisted efforts to embargo Russian energy because of the collateral damage it could cause, is ready to consider phasing out Russian coal imports and is in talks with the EU about the timing, according to a German official with knowledge of the discussions.

“The European Union will completely phase out fossil energy dependence on Russia, starting with coal, then oil and then gas,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in Berlin. Germany has limited natural resources of its own and is heavily dependent on Russian energy imports. 

EU mulls over sanctioning Putin’s daughters 

It would be part of a sanctions package the EU is considering this week, according to people familiar with the matter. Targeting Putin’s daughters, Katerina and Maria, is largely a symbolic move since it’s unclear they have significant assets outside of Russia, but it’s designed to get the president’s attention.

The proposed list, which still needs to be approved by European governments and could change before that happens, includes dozens of other individuals, including political figures, tycoons and their family members, and several propagandists.

Kremlin condemns Biden ‘insults’ aimed at Putin 

A Kremlin spokesman said the continuation of what he called personal insults directed at Vladimir Putin by Joe Biden is “unacceptable and we consider it unworthy of the president of the United States”.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov was speaking to reporters on a conference call and responding to a question about Biden labelling the Russian leader a war criminal. Peskov reiterated the Kremlin’s denial that Russian troops were responsible for war crimes against Ukrainian civilians, calling the evidence a “well-staged, tragic show”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters before travelling to Europe for a Nato meeting that the reports of atrocities at Bucha “are more than credible”. He added: “The evidence is there for the world to see.”

Russian embassy in Dublin appeals for help 

Russia’s embassy in Dublin asked the Irish government for help after it ran short of heating and hot water and its fuel provider refused to deliver diesel, according to the Irish Mirror.

The embassy said other providers “refused to cooperate” and asked the foreign affairs ministry to intervene “into this clearly discriminatory case”, the newspaper reported, citing a letter dated March 22. Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment and a spokesperson for the Russian ambassador said they couldn’t comment on communications with third parties.

EU to propose ban on Russian coal 

The EU is planning to propose a mandatory phaseout on coal imports from Russia in a direct response to reports that Russian forces committed apparent war crimes in Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter. Stocks in Europe erased gains and US equity futures turned lower. Coal futures in Europe jumped to a three-week high. 

Read more: EU to propose banning Russian coal imports after atrocities

The action on coal would be added to a package of steps aimed at strengthening existing measures and correcting loopholes that were already set to be debated this week by EU ambassadors. The details of the ban and the timing of the coal phaseout are still under discussion, the people said. The European Commission is also expected to propose banning most Russian trucks and ships from entering the bloc.

The EU isn’t planning to sanction oil or gas for now, amid deep divisions over how to approach Russia’s energy sector.

European nations expel Russian diplomats 

Italy has expelled 30 Russian diplomats for national security reasons, according to Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio.

The move mirrors similar announcements made by Germany, France and several other EU countries, which in recent days expelled Russian diplomats with suspected links to spy agencies in response to the killing of civilians in the town of Bucha. Moscow denies its forces killed civilians in Bucha or other towns.

Denmark expelled 15 Russian diplomats on Tuesday and Sweden three. Norway is considering a similar move and is in dialogue with other countries, news agency NTB reported, citing Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store.

Slovenia requires Russia to reduce the number of diplomats and administrative personnel in the Russian embassy by 33 to eight, its foreign ministry said.

Von der Leyen to meet Zelensky in Kyiv  

Von der Leyen will visit Ukraine’s capital this week to meet Zelensky. She will travel with European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell ahead of a fund-raising event she plans to host in Warsaw on Saturday to raise money for Ukraine. It’s the most high-profile visit by Western officials to Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24. 

Ukraine seeks Turkish help in Mariupol 

Ukraine has asked Turkey to help it evacuate the dead and wounded from the besieged port of Mariupol, Zelensky told local reporters on Tuesday. 

“We were looking for a middleman who will be accepted by the occupants,” Zelensky said. Turkey is ready to help transport casualties by ship from the port of Berdyansk, which is also occupied by Russian troops, as the fighting makes it impossible to approach Mariupol, he said. Ukraine was waiting for Putin’s response to the plan. 

Zelensky said there was no plan to retake the Donbas by force as this would cost too many Ukrainian lives.

Russian business activity contracts 

Russia’s private sector suffered “substantial declines” in activity last month as the impact of sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine and the plunge in the rouble triggered the sharpest drop in operating conditions since the Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020, according to S&P Global.

The Russia Composite PMI index fell to 37.7 in March from 50.8 in the previous month, S&P said in a survey published on Tuesday, with both services and manufacturing companies reporting sharp declines. 

Russia business activity falls into contraction as sanctions hit

Russia still pressing further in Ukraine’s east 

Russia is still focusing its military efforts in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the Ukrainian General Staff said in its morning update, targeting the northeastern city of Kharkiv which is under nonstop artillery fire. Russian troops are also hitting industrial infrastructure across multiple towns and have taken control of one village.

The eastern port city of Mariupol is still being heavily shelled. That city has been under siege for weeks with humanitarian groups struggling to deliver aid and civilians unable to leave. There were air raids on Mykolayiv and loud explosions this morning in the Kherson region on the Black Sea. DM 


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