Biden unveils additional arms and economic aid; UK bans Russian goods

Biden unveils additional arms and economic aid; UK bans Russian goods
Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal (front left) meets with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin (front right) at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, US, on 21 April 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / MICHAEL REYNOLDS)

President Vladimir Putin said Russia had ‘liberated’ Ukraine’s Mariupol, apart from the massive Azovstal steel plant, which he ordered blockaded. Kyiv has called for urgent talks to save the lives of the fighters and civilians in the city; limited civilian evacuations went ahead on Wednesday and were expected to continue.

The situation in Ukraine’s east and south remains difficult, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his address to the nation on Wednesday night, as Russian forces pushed on with stepped-up ground and air offensives. Moscow claimed it hit 1,001 targets overnight. 

Russia’s central bank governor said further rate cuts are possible. Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven nations say they want to isolate Russia from the global economy for its unprovoked “war of aggression”. 

Key developments

Yellen eyes effort to get Russia to pay for reconstruction 

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen anticipates steps to get Russia to help pay for rebuilding war-ravaged Ukraine, while saying that any move to deploy confiscated Russian assets for that effort would need to be considered carefully.

“The rebuilding costs, ultimately, in Ukraine are going to be enormous,” Yellen said at a press conference in Washington on Thursday. “And certainly looking to Russia – one way or another – to help provide some of what’s necessary for Ukraine to build is something I think we ought to be pursuing.”

Ukraine says it’s premature to say Russia took Mariupol 

Ukraine’s deputy chief of staff, Ihor Zhovkva, said that even though Russia controls major parts of the port city of Mariupol that’s been under siege since March 1, the Ukrainian army is still there.

“Most of them as well as many civilians are blocked at the Azov steel plant,” Zhovkva said in an interview with Bloomberg. Ukraine offered to exchange Russian wounded soldiers for those Mariupol civilians and soldiers who are wounded, he said, adding that “we have not received any answer”.

Poland to extend support for refugees 

Poland will extend state support, initially planned for two months, for families and hotels hosting Ukrainian refugees by another 60 days. The government estimates that 600,000 Ukrainians are still benefiting from the program. The aid, amounting to 40 zloty ($9.38) for each person per day, is expected to cost the state $1.9-billion. Since the start of the war, more than 2.8 million people from Ukraine have arrived in Poland.  

Biden unveils $1.3bn in arms, aid 

President Joe Biden said the US is sending Ukraine another $1.3-billion in arms and economic aid, and that he’ll ask Congress to authorise further assistance as Russia steps up its attacks in the country’s east.

The money adds to $2.4-billion in US aid already authorised for the fiscal year, much of it weaponry. Of the new package, $800-million will go toward arms. “We’re in a critical window now of time where they’re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war,” Biden said.

Read more: Biden unveils another $1.3bn in arms, aid for Ukraine  

UK imposes new tariffs on Russian goods 

The UK will impose import tariffs and bans on more than £1-billion of Russian goods, the British government said in a statement on Thursday. The sanctions will hit items including silver, wood products and high-end items such as caviar. 

Spain doubles arms shipments to Ukraine 

Spain has sent more than 200 tons of weapons and dozens of military vehicles to Ukraine, doubling its arms shipment, according to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Sanchez made the announcement during a joint press conference with Zelensky and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Thursday. Zelensky said he was thankful for the support “at this difficult time” and warned of hard days ahead.




Ukraine, Russia swap another 19 prisoners 

Russia released 19 Ukrainians, including nine civilians, in Thursday’s prisoner swap, said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

Russia’s Lukoil CEO resigns after being sanctioned 

Russia’s second-largest oil producer said Chief Executive Officer Vagit Alekperov will resign, in the latest sign of growing pressure on the nation’s energy industry since the invasion of Ukraine. 

The 71-year-old joins a long list of Russian CEOs who’ve stepped down after being targeted with Western sanctions. The bosses of the country’s biggest petrochemical producer, Sibur Holding, internet company Yandex and e-commerce firm Ozon Group have all resigned in recent months.  

Ukraine seeks retail ‘peace bond’

Ukraine is in talks with the European Union and the US to establish a so-called peace bond for retail investors to help fund war efforts and reconstruction.

Kyiv has held talks with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US, as well as with the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, said a person familiar with the plans. The commission has offered to be the go-between with national authorities that would oversee and approve a sale of the new bonds. 

UK hits Russian military officials with sanctions 

The UK government on Thursday sanctioned Russian generals they said were “committing atrocities on the front-line in Ukraine”, according to a statement. 

The fresh sanction also targeted individuals and businesses supporting the Russian military – 26 new entries in all. The sanctions hit “the generals and defence companies that have blood on their hands,” said UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.  

Ukraine’s spring planting pushes ahead 

Ukraine’s spring sowing campaign is gathering momentum with about 20% of the projected area having been planted, according to the agriculture ministry. 

Ukraine is one of the world’s top producers and exporters of grains and oilseeds, and the war has pushed prices up sharply on the fear of food shortages. 

Even in the eastern and southern regions, where fighting continues or is intensifying, farmers will be able to sow as much as 40% of the planned area in the worst-case scenario, the ministry said. Landmines left behind by retreating Russian forces are a problem for farmers in the north. 

Sweden plans to speed up its Nato analysis 

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said political parties deliberating a potential application for Nato membership may speed up the process, initially planned to conclude by the end of next month. 

The talks should be finalised by May 13, Linde said in an interview with Swedish public radio’s Ekot. “The situation in Ukraine continues to worsen, Finland has submitted its analysis, and there is strong pressure on Sweden to finalise its analysis,” she said.  

Support in Sweden for joining the defence bloc has surged after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 




China energy giants in talks for Shell Russia gas stake 

Key Chinese state-run energy companies are in talks with Shell to buy its stake in a major Russian gas export project, said people with knowledge of the matter.

Cnooc, CNPC and Sinopec Group are in joint discussions with Shell over the company’s 27.5% holding in the Sakhalin-2 liquefied natural gas venture after the European firm said it would exit Russian operations. Discussions are at an early stage and it remains possible no deal will be agreed upon. 

Ukraine demands humanitarian corridor from Azovstal plant  

About 1,000 civilians and 500 wounded soldiers are among those in Mariupol’s giant steel complex – ordered to be sealed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin – and they should be allowed to leave, said Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.  

Putin says contested Mariupol ‘liberated’ 

President Vladimir Putin said Russia has “liberated” the southern city of Mariupol, even as his defence minister said some 2,000 Ukrainian troops remain holed up in a massive steel plant there. 

“Taking control of such an important centre in the south as Mariupol is a success,” Putin told Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in a televised meeting. 

After more than a month of laying siege to the city and facing the prospect of a longer and deadlier standoff, Putin ordered Shoigu to call off the storming of the Azovstal steelworks to save the lives of Russian troops, and instead seal off the area “so that even a fly can’t get through”. He demanded that the remaining Ukrainian troops surrender. 

Capturing Mariupol is key for Russia to reassert control over the Donbas region and linking it by land with the Crimean peninsula. 

Mariupol defenders facing their final stand 

Bank of Russia to consider rate cuts, says governor 

Russia’s central bank will consider deeper monetary easing in the months ahead, Governor Elvira Nabiullina said, after a surprise interest-rate cut earlier in April reversed part of the steep increase delivered after the invasion of Ukraine.

An emergency rate hike in February was needed during the acute stage of the crisis, she said. “As the situation in the financial market stabilises, as inflationary pressure eases, we began to reduce the key rate.”  

Russia’s April surprise rate cut likely the start of more easing

Russia wants results by Victory Day, says UK 

Russia’s Vladimir Putin wants to demonstrate “significant successes” in time for the annual May 9 Victory Day celebrations and parade, the UK said in an intelligence update. 

“This could affect how quickly and forcefully they attempt to conduct operations,” the UK said. For now, Russia is advancing from staging areas in the Donbas towards Kramatorsk. 

“High levels of Russian air activity endure as Russia seeks to provide close air support to its offensive in eastern Ukraine, to suppress and destroy Ukrainian air defence capabilities,” the UK said. In a morning update, Russia’s defence ministry said it hit 1,001 targets overnight. 

Italy should halt Russian gas imports, says energy minister 

Italian Energy Minister Roberto Cingolani, who’s in Africa to seal new energy deals, says gas imports from Russia should be ended. Separately, Rome is ready to refuse new payment terms demanded by Russia for gas if they’re shown to violate sanctions, according to people familiar with the matter. 

“In my opinion, we should soon halt gas imports from Russia, also for ethical reasons,” he said in an interview with La Stampa on Thursday. According to Cingolani, Italy could cut its imports in about 18 months from now.

G7 ministers condemn Russia’s war 

Group of Seven finance ministers and central bankers condemned Russia’s “unjustifiable” war in Ukraine and will work to isolate the country from the global economy, according to a G7 statement after the officials met in Washington. 

“Our sanctions are already having the intended massive impact on the Russian economy,” they said. “The significant long-term hit to the Russian economy will become even clearer over time.”

They are closely coordinating with partners to increase the costs of war for Russia, and are also aware of the “substantial” increases in commodity prices facing the world economy, with “vulnerable groups” feeling the brunt, according to the statement.

Read more: Yellen, ministers leave G20 meeting as Russia envoys speak

Russia exploring cyberattacks, says advisory 

Evolving intelligence indicates the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyberattacks, while some cybercrime groups are looking to aid Moscow, security agencies from the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK said in a joint advisory.

“This activity may occur as a response to the unprecedented economic costs imposed on Russia as well as materiel support provided by the United States and US allies and partners,” the advisory said, adding the cybersecurity agencies behind the joint assessment are urging “critical infrastructure network defenders to prepare for and mitigate potential cyber threats”.

Indonesia defends Putin attending G20 

Indonesia’s ambassador to Australia defended his country’s decision to invite Vladimir Putin to the November Group of 20 meeting in Bali, saying it was important to pursue the group’s economic agenda.

In an interview with Australia’s Nine newspapers, Ambassador Siswo Pramono said Putin was still invited when Australia hosted the event in Brisbane in 2014, despite Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea. Current Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other G20 leaders have said it would not be appropriate for Putin to attend due to the invasion of his neighbour.

Sanctioned Russian banks can’t issue UnionPay cards – RBC 

Russian banks under sanctions won’t be able to issue UnionPay cards because the Chinese payments provider is concerned about the risk of secondary sanctions, RBC reported, citing five sources from major sanctioned banks. Employees at one of them, Sberbank, were told about the decision at a private meeting, RBC reported. 

Russia tests ballistic missile amid Putin praise 

Russia’s Defence Ministry released video of a Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile being test-fired from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in the northern Arkhangelsk region, Tass said. The ministry previously showed videos of the missile in 2018.

“This unique weapon will strengthen the military potential of our armed forces, will reliably guarantee Russia’s security against outside threats and force those who in the heat of frenzied aggressive rhetoric try to menace our country to think again,” Putin said on state TV. DM


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