UKRAINE UPDATE: 26 MAY 2022
US, UK and EU create atrocity crimes advisory group; Putin fast-tracks Russian citizenship in occupied territories
Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a fast-tracked citizenship process for people in areas of southern Ukraine occupied by his forces, drawing condemnation from Kyiv.
The European Union (EU), UK and US announced the creation of a group to support efforts by Ukraine’s “war crimes units” to investigate and provide accountability for atrocity crimes. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Kremlin should pull back its troops to their positions before the February 24 invasion to show it’s ready to resume talks.
The Bank of Russia moved up its next interest-rate meeting by more than two weeks to Thursday. Moscow may make foreign debt payments in local currency after the US Treasury Department let a waiver expire, pushing Russia closer to a default.
- Mined ports, Polish red tape among issues stopping Ukraine grain
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- Russia edges closer to default as US says key waiver will expire
- Russia set to step up actions to tame rampant rouble rally
- Klitschko boxing heroes warn that returning to Kyiv is dangerous
- Oil’s most-prized barrels soar as Europe switches out Russia
War crimes advisory group created to aid Ukraine
The EU, UK and US announced the creation of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory (ACA) group, which will aim to ensure “efficient coordination of their respective support to accountability efforts on the ground,” according to a joint statement.
“The overarching mission of the ACA is to support the War Crimes Units of the Office of the Prosecutor-General of Ukraine in its investigation and prosecution of conflict-related crimes,” according to the statement.
Dutch may join naval escorts but want Russia to commit
The Netherlands would consider joining an alliance to send warships to escort grain supplies stuck in Ukrainian ports but would need assurances from Russia and, ideally, involvement by Turkey, according to the Dutch defence minister.
“If there is any way to make it happen, and if the Netherlands were asked to play a part, of course I would be very happy to be part of such an alliance,” Dutch defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren told Bloomberg on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “But we’re not there yet, unfortunately.”
Putin says economy doing better than some expected
Russia’s economy is doing better than some forecasters expected, Putin told officials, although he added this year remains “not easy”.
“Our economy’s trend is significantly better than some experts forecast,” he told a televised Kremlin meeting, saying inflation this year won’t exceed 15%. He didn’t mention the government’s prediction that output would contract by 8% this year under pressure from Western sanctions imposed over his attack on Ukraine.
Putin also touted the strength of the rouble, which this week hit the highest level against the dollar since 2018, prompting the government to ease capital controls imposed after the invasion.
Putin visits military hospital for first time during war
Putin met doctors and wounded soldiers at a Moscow military hospital in his first such visit since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine three months ago. The wounded soldiers he met were dressed in matching pyjamas and had no visible injuries in photographs on the Kremlin website and broadcast on state TV.
Russia hasn’t announced casualty figures since March 25, when it said 1,351 soldiers died and 3,825 were wounded in fighting in Ukraine. The UK Defence Ministry estimated this week that about as many Russians have been killed as in the Soviet Union’s nine-year war in Afghanistan, when about 15,000 soldiers died.
Russia offers fast-track citizenship in occupied Ukraine
Putin signed a decree on Wednesday offering fast-track citizenship to residents of two occupied southern Ukrainian regions – Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
Russia offered a similar path to citizenship in the breakaway eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which about 860,000 people received before the February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Russia is moving to annex the Ukrainian territory it controls, according to occupation authorities and people in Moscow familiar with the matter.
Ukraine condemned the move, with the Foreign Ministry saying that “illegal” distribution of Russian passports violates its sovereignty, territorial integrity and international laws. “Forced passportisation of Ukrainians in Kherson and Zaporizhia is another evidence of the criminal goal of Russia’s war against Ukraine,” it said.
Mined ports, red tape stopping Ukraine grain
Resuming Ukrainian gain shipments will be time consuming given challenges that include mine-clearing in Black Sea ports and the need for cooperation from the very country that kicked off the war, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said.
“It could take weeks, not months, but if there will be no will of the Russians to open this window, it will be impossible,” Nauseda said in an interview on Wednesday.
“The Russians could use this instrument as yet another leverage to destabilise the situation in the world. They are highly interested to do as much harm as possible.”
Another option, Nauseda said, was to reroute Ukrainian grain through other ports in the region by rail, though that channel would be daunting. An “experimental train” sent from Ukraine via Poland to the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda took three weeks, he said.
Ukraine seeks more rocket launchers
Ukraine needs multiple rocket launch systems as soon as possible, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Delay will worsen an “extremely bad” situation in Donbas and prevent Ukraine from liberating the region around Kherson in the south, he said.
“We cannot allow Russia to stay in Kherson because if they do, they will have a strategic position to pose a threat to central Ukraine but also to southwestern Ukraine in the direction of Odesa, and they will keep stealing our grain.”
Military spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said that, while Russia had achieved some “tactical successes” in different areas, they were the result of Ukrainian manoeuvring and shouldn’t be mistaken for a retreat by Kyiv’s forces.
Moldova frets at being left behind as Ukraine vies for EU entry
With all eyes on Ukraine as it strives to mount the first rung of the process to join the European Union, neighbour Moldova worries that its own push to join the bloc may be forgotten.
Pressing the message that Moldovans were ready to anchor themselves to a European future, Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita said her country was pushing ahead with strengthening its institutions and bolstering the rule of law, key requirements to be considered an EU candidate.
“The time is now,” she said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “The people of Moldova have voted massively for European integration a while before the war even started.”
Russia welcomes tribunal for Azovstal defenders
Russia said it backs the establishment of a tribunal by its separatist allies to try Ukrainian defenders for war crimes after they surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant.
“We welcome the start of this process,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at her weekly briefing on Wednesday.
Russia said that 2,439 Ukrainian fighters surrendered last week at the final bastion of resistance in the port city of Mariupol. Moscow has said it is willing to consider swapping the detainees for captured Russians only after they are tried and convicted, a stance that may complicate Kyiv’s hopes of freeing its soldiers.
Citigroup improves Russian 2022 economic forecast
Citigroup’s chief Russia economist revised the outlook for the country’s economic decline to 5.5% in 2022 from 9.6% previously due to recent data suggesting improved consumer strength and net-export performance.
“The original financial shock had weighed on sentiment, but the robust policy response by authorities supported a faster-than-anticipated return to normalcy,” Ivan Tchakarov wrote in a note.
Big tech lobbies EU to send Ukraine telecom gear
A Tech lobby group that includes companies such as Amazon.com and Microsoft are urging the European Commission to do more to boost donations of telecom and data centre equipment to Ukraine to replace infrastructure destroyed by the war.
Russia has targeted key communications infrastructure in Ukraine since the opening days of the invasion, when missiles struck TV towers and data centres around the country.
Belarus exports could drop 30% this year from war
Belarusian export revenue is poised to decline by 30% this year, or by $14-billion, after the war led to foreign sanctions and a loss of access to Ukraine’s market, state-owned news agency Belta reported, citing First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Snopkov.
The country’s GDP declined by 2.1% over the first four months of the year due to sanctions, Snopkov said. Belarus, which was already heavily sanctioned before the war, came under increased pressure as its authorities allowed the country to be used as a staging area for the invasion.
Lebedev steps down from UK news board
Former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev stepped down from the board of a UK newspaper business that his son owns days after he was sanctioned by Canada, filings show.
The move underscores a tightening focus on his family amid the war in Ukraine that has become politically awkward for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson appointed Lebedev’s son Evgeny to the UK’s upper chamber of Parliament as a lord in 2020.
Russia, Iran tighten trade ties
Russia said it is strengthening trade with Iran, boosting the economies of both nations as they contend with heavy US sanctions.
“We’re on track to raise trade, economic, logistics, investment, financial, banking cooperation, despite the unprecedented pressure that Russia is experiencing,” Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said at a meeting with businesses in Tehran, Interfax reported. Trade between Russia and Iran rose by more than 10% in the first quarter, he said.
Russia may make foreign debt payments in roubles
Russia plans to make foreign debt payments in roubles after the US Treasury Department let a key sanctions waiver that could force the country into default expire, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said, citing Russia’s experience in requiring rouble payments for gas shipments.
“First of all, we have all the necessary monetary resources for payments,” Volodin wrote on his Telegram channel. “Secondly, we will pay in roubles.”
Russian cruise missiles strike Ukraine’s east
Cruise missiles hit industrial cities in Ukraine’s east as Russia intensified an offensive near Zaporizhzhia. The strikes killed one person and destroyed more than 60 houses in the city of more than 700,000 on the Dnipro river, the region’s administration said on Facebook.
Three missiles damaged a factory in the steel-making hub Kryvyi Rih, Dnipro region governor Valentyn Reznichenko said on Telegram. Russian missiles also fell on residential areas in Kramatorsk north of Russia-controlled Donetsk, a local official said.
Russia may allow corridor for grain shipments
Russia is ready for a dialogue to resolve the situation with blocked grain freighters in Ukraine, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko said, Interfax reported. He reiterated Russia’s claim that Kyiv is to blame for the problem because it mined its ports.
Moscow has effectively blockaded Ukrainian ports, leaving the government in Kyiv struggling to get grain shipments out and sending prices to near-record highs.
Bank of Russia reschedules rate meeting amid rouble rally
Russia’s central bank moved its next interest-rate decision to Thursday, after government officials suggested further monetary easing may be needed to help stem the rouble’s surge to its highest since 2018.
The Bank of Russia has lowered the key rate twice since an emergency rate hike to 17% in the days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The benchmark rate now stands at 14% and the next scheduled meeting wasn’t until June 10. The Economy Ministry said earlier this week that the rouble’s strengthening was nearing a peak.
Ukraine seeks return of all of its territories, Zelensky says
Ukraine will fight until it returns all of its territory, Zelensky said via video link at a breakfast organised by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation in Davos.
Talks with Russia have stalled and Kyiv doesn’t see prospects for diplomacy until the Kremlin pulls its troops back to positions held before the invasion, according to Zelensky. Putin doesn’t “realise to the very end what is happening, he lives in his informational world”, the Ukrainian leader said.
West should back full victory for Ukraine, Kuleba says
Kuleba said his nation’s efforts to withstand the Russian invasion were to credit for a “reinvigorated” West on the world stage, and it should in turn fully back Ukraine’s desire to achieve a complete victory.
“We need the West primarily to finally accept the idea that the ultimate goal of this war should be the victory of Ukraine,” Kuleba said at the Victor Pinchuk Foundation breakfast. The government in Kyiv has previously expressed concern that some allies would prefer it to agree to cede some territory.
Ukraine sees no will of Nato to help with naval escorts
Kuleba said he saw no desire from Nato now to help secure safe passage of grains through the Black Sea, a crucial move as the world worries about food shortages and rising prices.
“I would wholeheartedly welcome the decision but I just don’t see the stamina and the bravery to take all the risks associated with this operation,” he said.
The interruption of Ukraine’s agricultural cycle risks a multi-year global food crisis, Kuleba said, “but in the end, the problem is that you cannot trust Russia even if they sign papers guaranteeing safe passage.”
Russia and China air drill rankles neighbours
Japan’s top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno condemned a joint exercise held by Chinese and Russian war planes as a “heightened provocation”. The countries conducted a military drill on Tuesday as US President Joe Biden finished an Asia trip, sending bombers and other aircraft south of the Korean Peninsula and over waters between Japan and South Korea, Seoul said, as it criticised the move.
China said its joint strategic air patrol with Russia didn’t target any third party and had nothing to do with the current international and regional situations, according to a statement from the defence ministry. DM