UKRAINE UPDATE: 27 MAY 2022
Putin will facilitate grain exports if sanctions are lifted; Russia ‘has occupied 95% of Luhansk’
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he’s willing to facilitate grain and fertiliser exports as global concern mounts about food shortages and rising prices – but only if sanctions on his country are lifted.
Germany’s chancellor said Russia wants to “bomb us back to a time when war was a common political tool”. Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told allies the war “may last a long time” and that they “need to be prepared” to provide ongoing support to Kyiv and to restock equipment.
The Bank of Russia delivered its third interest rate reduction in just over a month, and a bigger one than expected. Russia said it’s opening corridors for shipping from seven Ukrainian ports amid growing international criticism of an unfolding global food crisis triggered by its blockade. Kyiv warned that security issues could still prevent free passage.
- Rare ship-to-ship transfers keep oil moving from Russia to China
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- Russia halts rouble rally with rate cut that tops most forecasts
- Russia says it’s opening sea corridors from Ukraine ports
- Scholz calls for wider alliance against Putin to thwart Russia
- Klitschko boxing heroes warn that returning to Kyiv is dangerous
Putin ties grain exports to the lifting of sanctions
Putin said he’s willing to facilitate grain and fertiliser exports as global concern mounts about food shortages and rising prices – provided that sanctions on his country are lifted.
Putin didn’t specify whether he was referring to Russian exports or those from Ukraine that have been stopped by Moscow’s blockade of ports since its invasion began in late February. The US and its allies would be highly unlikely to agree to remove the extensive sanctions placed on Russia for its actions in Ukraine in response to the Russian leader’s move to link it to the growing food crisis.
Putin’s comments were made in a phone call on Thursday with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, according to a Kremlin statement.
Putin told Draghi that disruptions to global food supplies were exacerbated by the sanctions imposed by the US and its allies, and that Russia is “willing to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the exports of grain and fertilisers on the condition that the West’s politically motivated restrictions are lifted.”
Ukraine says Russia has occupied 95% of Luhansk region
Ukrainian troops in the eastern Luhansk region are coming under constant shelling from the Russians, who have established control over about 95% of the territory, Governor Serhiy Haiday – a Ukrainian official – said on his Telegram channel. Russia had occupied about 90% of Luhansk last week, he said.
There are more than 40,000 civilians in the parts of Luhansk still under Ukrainian control, including nearly 15,000 people in the town of Sievierodonetsk.
The Russians have superior artillery and air power, Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksiy Hromov said at a briefing. The fighting has reached “maximum intensity”, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said at the same briefing.
Google pays fines of 7.7-billion roubles in Russia
Russia collected 7.7-billion roubles ($120-million) in fines from Alphabet’s Google for not removing content deemed illegal, Interfax reported, citing the Federal Bailiff Service database.
Alphabet’s Russian unit said earlier this month that it would file for bankruptcy after its local bank account was frozen, although Google will continue to provide the country with free services like Gmail and YouTube.
Russia has been cracking down on foreign social media and internet companies in what the government calls a campaign to uphold its digital sovereignty that’s sharply escalated since the invasion of Ukraine.
Zelensky warns against trying to appease Russia
Some “rather powerful” global actors mistakenly believe in appeasing Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his video address to the Latvian Parliament.
It is an affront to Ukraine “when they say we have to give up part of our land because this is, allegedly, a required compromise”, Zelensky said.
Russia must learn that an aggressor bears the main cost of war, Zelensky said, urging the EU to adopt a sixth sanctions package that would include an embargo on the purchase of oil and petroleum products.
US official warns of Russian ‘springboard’
The US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) warned that Russia could use any territory it controls in Ukraine to launch future attacks on the country.
“For as long as the Kremlin retains control of parts of Ukraine, it will use these territories as a springboard to launch additional attacks and conquer more terrain – leaving a growing wake of destruction and atrocities,” Michael Carpenter told the OSCE’s permanent council in Vienna on Thursday.
Carpenter urged other OSCE states to “provide Ukraine the support it needs right now to defend itself against Putin’s revanchist delusions”.
European natural gas falls as Russian supplies flow
Gas prices in Europe slid as Russian supplies to the continent stayed mostly stable. Benchmark futures fell as much as 4.4%, after rising in the previous two sessions. While one cross-border point in Ukraine is out of service because of the war, Russian supplies through another transit point and via the Nord Stream link to Germany remain steady.
Germany’s Scholz wants wider effort to isolate Russia
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for a broader effort to isolate Russia and thwart what he called President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to undermine the global order.
“This is an attempt to bomb us back to a time when war was a common political tool, when our continent and the world lacked a stable order of peace,” he said on Thursday in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Scholz’s plea comes as the European Union struggles to maintain a united front in talks over further sanctions against Moscow, and many emerging powers in Asia, Africa and South America show little readiness to punish or even criticise Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Pakistan considers gas import deal with Russia, others
Pakistan said it is considering signing a liquefied natural gas purchase agreement with countries including Russia as it seeks to secure supply and ease a crippling shortage.
The government “will go for the most favourable deal”, the Ministry of Energy said in a statement to Bloomberg News. Pakistan is mulling over a government-to-government contract to import the power plant and industrial fuel, according to the statement.
Ukrainians with positive views of Russia plunge to 2%
Just 2% of Ukrainians have a positive impression of Russia following the invasion that’s heading toward its 100th day, compared with a pre-war level of 34%, according to a survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology. Of the 92% who reported feeling negative toward Russia, most characterised their impressions of the invasion as “rage, indignation, hatred and disgust”.
Russia makes third rate cut in just over a month
The Bank of Russia lowered its benchmark to 11% from 14% on Thursday at an extraordinary meeting announced only a day earlier.
Encouraged by a faster-than-expected slowdown in inflation aftershocks to demand, the decision also shows the central bank’s determination to get in the way of the rouble’s blistering ascent. It added to two rate cuts of three percentage points each in April, reversing most of an emergency monetary tightening after the invasion of Ukraine three months ago.
After nine points of easing since April, the central bank said it still “holds open the prospect” of more cuts at meetings ahead.
Ukrainians crossing back from Poland approach 1.6 million
Some 1.58 million Ukrainians have crossed the border from Poland since February 24, Polish border authorities said, compared with 3.61 million who’ve left Ukraine for Poland. On Wednesday, 26,600 people were cleared to enter Ukraine from Poland and 21,700 departed.
Overall, 2.1 million Ukrainians entered the country from the start of the war through May 24, according to United Nations figures – versus the 6.6 million who’ve fled and millions more displaced within the country. The cross-border movement can be “pendular”, the UN said.
Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, has warned that the 1.5 million people who’ve returned to the capital since Russian troops were driven out of the area are doing so at their own risk.
Russia’s offer to unblock seaports is ‘blatant bullying’
Russia’s offer to unblock Ukraine’s seaports to resume a maritime shipping in the Black Sea after international pressure over famine fears is “blatant bullying of the civilised world”, a Ukrainian trade official said.
“It’s clear that the resumption of a maritime shipping in the Black Sea depends on confidence in security,” Ukraine’s Deputy Economy Minister Taras Kachka told Bloomberg News in a text message. “Without guarantees from third countries, trade won’t work just being based on trust to Russia’s statements.”
Ukraine wants guarantees that safe passage wouldn’t allow Russian forces to enter the harbour and attack Odesa, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Wednesday.
Prepare for long war, says Nato’s Stoltenberg
“This war may last a long time and we need to be prepared,” Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with Greece’s Capital.gr, calling on allies to be prepared to provide support for a long time and to be restocked.
He also said the aim remains a fast procedure for the accession of Finland and Sweden, and it’s attempting to iron out issues between Turkey, Sweden and Finland. Stoltenberg spoke on Thursday with Turkey’s foreign minister.
Commenting on rising tensions between Nato members Greece and Turkey, Stoltenberg said the alliance is ready to use a tension de-escalation mechanism set up a year ago. He also said Nato’s next strategic concept should include China, even if the country isn’t considered an adversary.
Oligarch’s megayacht reappears in Mediterranean
A $150-million ultra-luxurious yacht tied to Russia’s second-richest citizen, Leonid Mikhelson, who is facing sanctions, reappeared after nearly two weeks without broadcasting its location. Its final destination is unclear.
The 85m Pacific, which can accommodate two helicopters, was cruising past Malta in the Mediterranean Sea after reappearing near the Canary Islands on May 20, when its location transponder was turned on again, vessel data compiled by Bloomberg News show.
Russia says it’s opening sea corridors
Humanitarian maritime corridors from Black Sea and Sea of Azov ports including Odesa will operate from 8am to 7pm daily, Mikhail Mizintsev, a Defence Ministry official said according to an emailed statement. But shipments may not begin moving quickly because Ukraine would have to remove its mines after seeking assurances of protection from Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
The head of the UN’s World Food Programme, David Beasley, said on Monday that Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports, preventing shipments of grain from the country, is a “declaration of war” on global food security.
The interruption of Ukraine’s agricultural cycle risks a multi-year global food crisis, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said at Davos, yet “the problem is that you cannot trust Russia even if they sign papers guaranteeing safe passage”.
Russia poses broader risks, Ukraine’s Kuleba warns Davos
Kuleba said if the issue of security guarantees for Ukraine isn’t resolved in one way or another, “there will always be a risk of war in Europe as long as Russia remains Russia”.
He said Ukraine needs security guarantees and that while its continued aspiration to join Nato “did not fly”, it needs “something now”. Kuleba said his country is upset that a sixth round of European Union sanctions against Russia is “hanging in the air” because of Hungary’s resistance to an embargo on Russian oil purchases.
War crimes advisory group created to aid Ukraine
The EU, UK and US announced the creation of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory (ACA) group that 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 if Russia commits
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. “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 will contract by 8% this year under pressure from Western sanctions imposed over his attack on Ukraine.
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, although one was using a crutch.
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 to fast-track citizenship in occupied Ukraine
Putin signed a decree on offering fast-track citizenship to residents of two occupied southern Ukrainian regions – Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Ukraine condemned the move, with the Foreign Ministry saying that “illegal” distribution of Russian passports violates its sovereignty, territorial integrity and international laws.
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.
Mined ports, red tape stopping Ukraine grain
Resuming Ukrainian grain 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.” DM