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UKRAINE UPDATE: 20 MAY 2022

US steps up aid package of weapons; Kremlin intent on conquering Donetsk, Luhansk

President of Finland Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister of Sweden Magdalena Andersson stand beside US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, US, on 19 May 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / MICHAEL REYNOLDS)
By Bloomberg
19 May 2022 0

US President Joe Biden offered his ‘strong support’ for bids by Finland and Sweden to join Nato as he met their leaders in Washington. Nato’s secretary-general said he was hopeful the applications could soon be accepted despite initial opposition from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

US President Joe Biden welcomed congressional passage of $40-billion in aid for Ukraine and announced a new package of weapons he said would be sent “directly to the front lines”.

A top Kremlin official said Russia was intent on taking all of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. China, meanwhile, is in talks to buy cheap Russian oil to replenish its strategic stockpiles just as Europe works toward banning Russian crude. 

Key developments

 Biden welcomes $40bn for aid, offers more weapons 

Biden said the $40-billion Ukraine aid package sent to him by Congress will “allow us to send even more weapons and ammunition to Ukraine, replenish our own stockpile and support US troops stationed on Nato territory”.

The administration also announced it’s sending an additional $100-million in military assistance to Ukraine. Biden said in a statement that it “will provide additional artillery, radars, and other equipment” that “will go directly to the front lines of freedom in Ukraine”.

The latest shipments will bring the total amount of US military assistance provided to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion to $3.9-billion.

Ukraine gets €504m from World Bank 

Ukraine received €504-million in grants from the World Bank, the country’s finance ministry announced.

Funds, which include $500-million from the US and £24-million from the UK, will be used to help cover social, humanitarian and healthcare spending and support for internally displaced people, the ministry said.

Senate sends Biden $40bn Ukraine aid package 

The US Senate passed a Ukraine aid package of more than $40-billion on a bipartisan 86 to 11 vote, sending the measure to Biden for his signature.

The legislation is significantly larger than the $33-billion package Biden requested last month but received overwhelming support. Although some Republicans in both the House and Senate objected to adding to the deficit by sending more money abroad or criticised Biden’s strategy, most backed the Democratic president’s call to rush more aid to Ukraine.

“The message this sends is that the United States is committed, that we are going to stand with any country that is a democracy when there is an autocracy that attempts to overrun it,” Republican Senator Jim Risch of Idaho said. “Ronald Reagan spent eight years bringing down the Soviet Union and freeing the countries in its orbit. We are not going to abandon the effort he made. We are all in.”

Nato’s top brass welcome Sweden and Finland joining 

Nato’s top military brass welcomed Sweden’s and Finland’s applications to join, saying the aspiring members would boost the alliance’s security due to their land mass, modern capabilities and already high level of integration with allies.

Asked how challenging it would be for the alliance to defend the two countries’ large geographic areas, archipelagoes and forests, Nato’s supreme allied commander for Europe, US General Tod Wolters, said: “We look at those attributes as tremendous opportunities to improve our ability to comprehensively deter.” 

With Sweden and Finland in the alliance, they would also be able to share tactics, techniques and procedures in all domains, as allies would with them. “There are unique regional aspects that they have more expertise on than we’ve seen in the past,” he said.

Germany starts heavy artillery training for Ukrainian soldiers  

Training for Ukrainian soldiers on heavy artillery has started in Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a joint press conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the Netherlands on Thursday.

Rutte pledged more military support for Ukraine from Germany and the Netherlands but said there won’t be more shipments of howitzers. There are limits to “what we can do”, Rutte said.

Russian forces to take all of Donetsk, Luhansk – Kremlin 

Russian forces will take Ukrainian territory all the way to the “historical borders” of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and “demilitarise” nearby areas, a top Kremlin official said, reconfirming Moscow’s ambitious war aims there even as its troops struggle to advance against heavy Ukrainian resistance.

Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of the presidential staff, didn’t indicate a time frame for the takeovers in a televised meeting with youth groups. Occupation authorities in the territories held by Russia have suggested they’re likely to seek annexation by Moscow. 

The Kremlin’s public statements on its aims have shifted over the months since the February 24 invasion. President Vladimir Putin said then that Russia didn’t plan to occupy Ukraine. Since then, officials have laid out plans to permanently hold at least the territories occupied by Russian forces in the east and south. Ukraine has refused to cede any land in now-stalled peace talks.

 

 

 

China seen bolstering cyber capabilities as a lesson learnt

Anticipating a potential future showdown over Taiwan, China is learning lessons from the war in Ukraine – including from Russia’s failure so far to make extensive use of cyber warfare, an analyst said in Washington.

In the view from Beijing, the US and allies “are fighting Russia today but might fight China next”, Bonny Lin, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told a House Foreign Affairs panel.

China is taking steps to insulate itself strategically and economically, including making investments in food, energy and raw materials and developing alternatives to interconnected supply-chains and the Swift financial messaging service, she said.

Russia military chief speaks by phone to US general – Interfax  

Russia’s top military officer, Valery Gerasimov, discussed the war in Ukraine by phone with US General Mark Milley, Interfax reported, in the first known direct contact between the top commanders since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.

The Defense Ministry statement cited by Interfax provided no details of the conversation, other than to say that it was placed at the initiative of the US.

Last week, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called for an immediate ceasefire in his first discussion since the invasion with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, the Pentagon said on May 13. Gerasimov, regarded as one of the most powerful advocates of the war in the Russian leadership, hasn’t been seen in public recently.

Ukraine’s maize sowing ‘almost completed’ 

Ukraine’s total area sown with maize fell 29% from a year earlier to about 3.8 million hectares, the Grain Association said.

Global food costs are poised to climb further as drought, floods and heat waves threaten production worldwide just as Russia’s war in Ukraine throttles supply from one of the largest growers.

Biden backs Finnish, Swedish Nato bids as leaders visit 

Biden offered support while meeting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson at the White House, a day after the Nordic countries applied to become members of the defensive alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“They meet every Nato requirement and then some,” Biden told reporters. “This is about the future. It’s about a revived Nato that has the tools and resources, the clarity and conviction to defend our shared values and lead the world.”

Before the meeting, administration officials signalled Biden’s willingness to throw the weight of the bloc’s largest military power behind the two countries’ inclusion, which would reshape Europe’s post-Cold War security landscape. 

New Ukraine aid hints at more to come from G7 

Germany will contribute €1-billion in grants to Ukraine to provide short-term liquidity in a move that heralds more funds from Group of Seven countries. The US will provide $7.5-billion and other countries will also contribute, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said.

That’s just the start: G7 leaders will gather in Elmau, Germany from June 26-28, where a bigger aid package will be decided. Russia’s invasion means Ukraine faces a monthly financial gap of about €5-billion. G7 nations’ priority is to cover the next three months. 

Nato head hopeful on Swedish, Finnish entry bids 

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he hoped the applications of Sweden and Finland to join the alliance can be accepted “within weeks rather than months”, adding that he expected to find ways to address Turkey’s concerns over their accession bids.

Speaking in Copenhagen alongside Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Stoltenberg said Nato was in close contact with Ankara, Stockholm, Helsinki, and other allies, without elaborating. Allies had expressed hope the two countries would become formal invitees to Nato in a matter of weeks before their bids would be ratified in national parliaments.

“We’re addressing the concerns that Turkey has expressed,” Stoltenberg said, calling Turkey “an important ally”. 

Johnson, Zelensky discuss opening Black Sea blockade 

UK Premier Boris Johnson spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by phone, with the two leaders discussing how to deal with the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

“They looked at options to open up critical sea and land supply routes for Ukrainian grain stocks, and committed to direct their teams to work urgently on the next steps,” the British prime minister’s office said in a statement.

 

 

 

Kremlin says occupied regions to decide on annexation 

Any decisions on Russia annexing territory its forces now occupy in Ukraine would depend on the will of the residents there, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, following comments by Russian officials of ambitions to permanently hold the land.

Peskov declined to directly answer a question about whether such ambitions contradict President Vladimir Putin’s statement at the start of the invasion that Russia doesn’t plan to occupy Ukrainian territory.

China in talks to buy Russian oil for strategic reserves 

China is seeking to replenish its strategic crude stockpiles with cheap Russian oil, a sign Beijing is strengthening its energy ties with Moscow just as Europe works toward banning imports due to the war in Ukraine.

The crude would be used to fill China’s strategic petroleum reserves, and talks are being conducted at a government level with little direct involvement from oil companies, said a person with knowledge of the plan. 

UK targets Russian airlines with new sanctions  

The UK says the sanctions on Russian airlines, including Aeroflot, Rossiya Airlines and Ural Airlines, will prevent them from making money from landing slots at major UK airports worth up to £50-million, according to a statement.

Russia says more Ukrainian troops left Mariupol plant  

Another 771 Ukrainian troops “surrendered” at the Azovstal steel plant in the past day, bringing the total since Monday to 1,730, including 80 wounded, said Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov. Those in need of medical care are being treated at hospitals in separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region.  

The Red Cross said it had started to register hundreds of POWs from Azovstal on Tuesday under an agreement between Russia and Ukraine, and that the process continues. Ukraine has said it expects those who held out at Azovstal to be swapped in an eventual prisoner exchange. Russia hasn’t confirmed that any agreement exists, and investigators are threatening to prosecute Ukrainian prisoners.

Why Sweden’s stance on Kurds riles Turkey’s Erdoğan: QuickTake

Japan doubles Ukraine aid to $600m

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on Thursday that Japan would double its aid to Ukraine to $600-million. The increase will be in the form of an extra $300-million in loans via the World Bank, Kishida told reporters, and comes at the request of Kyiv.

Kishida’s announcement comes days before Japan is set to host Biden and other leaders for the regional Quad summit. 

German finance chief optimistic on Ukraine aid  

Finance Minister Christian Lindner said he’s confident that Group of Seven finance chiefs will reach an agreement on additional financial aid for Ukraine.

Russian reprisals are likely to be starting, UK says 

Russia’s model of centralised military command and control is likely to come under strain as officers “increasingly seek to defer key decisions to their superiors”, the UK defence Ministry said in daily intelligence commentary on Twitter. 

Moscow is likely to have disciplined senior commanders considered to have erred in the early weeks of the invasion, the UK said. It claimed that Lieutenant-General Serhiy Kisel had been suspended for Russia’s failure to capture Kharkiv.  

Ukrainians continue to cross back from Poland 

Ukrainians continue to trickle back from Poland, Polish border authorities said on Twitter. On Wednesday, 28,000 people were cleared into Ukraine against 21,500 who entered Poland. 

Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, 3.46 million people crossed into Poland from Ukraine, and those moving the opposite way have reached 1.39 million. In all, 1.85 million Ukrainians have returned to the country, according to latest United Nations figures. The UN says it premature to draw conclusions on definitive trends. 

Russia says one dead in attack near Ukraine border 

At least one person died and others were wounded in an attack on a Russian village along the Ukrainian border, the local governor said in a Telegram post.

Sanctions slow burn gives Putin more time to be defiant  

Thanks to surging prices for its exports of oil and gas, the Kremlin has been able to steady the rouble and limit the impact of Western sanctions on consumers and the war effort. 

Yet signs of strain are spreading, from the shuttered stores of foreign brands that fled to steep plunges in car sales, mortgage applications and many tax collections. Though they won’t say so publicly, Finance Ministry officials have foreseen the biggest economic contraction in a generation this year as sanctions starve companies of key components, technologies and capital.

US confirms new ambassador to Ukraine 

The Senate vote to confirm Bridget Brink as the new top envoy in Kyiv came after the US reopened its embassy in Ukraine’s capital three months after shutting it down.

“Today we are officially resuming operations at the US Embassy in Kyiv,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “The Ukrainian people, with our security assistance, have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unconscionable invasion, and, as a result, the Stars and Stripes are flying over the Embassy once again.” DM

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