US missile systems will require three weeks of training; Hungary hinders sixth sanctions package

US missile systems will require three weeks of training; Hungary hinders sixth sanctions package
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Jens Stoltenberg hold a joint press conference in the Benjamin Franklin room of the State Department on 1 June 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images)

The European Union is trying to approve a sixth sanctions package targeting Russia for its invasion of Ukraine but the debate is ongoing as Hungary is asking for additional changes. The measures include a partial Russian oil ban and removing Russia’s biggest bank from the Swift international payments system after striking a compromise with Hungary.

Biden administration officials are divided over how much further the US can push sanctions against Russia without sparking global economic instability and fracturing transatlantic unity. And new US-provided missile systems will require three weeks of training. 

The European bloc is also working to coordinate a ban on providing the insurance services needed to ship Russian oil anywhere in the world with some Group of Seven members, according to people familiar with the matter, a move that could hit Moscow’s ability to finance its war.

Russian troops had seized more than two-thirds of the city of Sievierodonetsk in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region. 

Key developments

US missile systems will require three weeks of training  

The US will send four Himars missile systems in an initial shipment of advanced weaponry to Ukraine as the country’s forces defend their territory, according to a senior Pentagon official.

The system, which can fire missiles as far as 80km away, will take three weeks of training to operate and an additional two weeks of training to maintain, said Colin Kahl, the under secretary of defence for policy. Training will be conducted at an undisclosed location outside of Ukraine before the systems are brought to the front lines, Kahl said.

The missiles are part of a package of weaponry the White House announced on Tuesday.

Ukrainian officials all the way up to President Zelensky assured the US that the systems would be used for the defence of Ukrainian territory, including ground seized by Russian troops, but would not be used to fire upon territory in Russia.

Denmark set to join EU defence pact 

Danish voters are poised to approve joining the European Union’s defence pact in a move that would strengthen the country’s ties with the bloc after Russia invaded Ukraine, according to exit polls.

Nearly 70% of Danes backed removing an opt-out on EU military cooperation, public broadcaster DR said shortly after voting ended on Wednesday. 

Nato to convene meeting with Turkish, Finnish, Swedish officials 

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said he would convene a meeting with senior officials from Sweden, Finland and Turkey in Brussels in the coming days to address Ankara’s concerns over the Nordic countries’ application to join the alliance. Stoltenberg said he intends to sort out the issues before a summit in Madrid in late June.

“I’m confident we’ll find a way forward, I’m confident because all allies agree Nato enlargement has been a great success,” he said at a news conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, DC. 

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, meanwhile, pushed back against Turkey’s objections, saying his nation already fulfils the bloc’s conditions regarding the fight against terrorism. 

Russia fails to meet bond obligations, triggering swaps payout 

Russia was judged to have breached the terms on a bond payment by a derivatives panel, triggering an insurance payout potentially worth billions of dollars. 

The Credit Derivatives Determinations Committee said a “failure-to-pay” event occurred on credit-default swaps because Russia didn’t include $1.9-million of additional interest in a late bond payment made at the start of last month.

EU sanctions debate held up again by Hungary 

Hungary frustrated EU ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday afternoon with more demands that are holding up approval of the bloc’s sixth sanctions package against Russia, which includes a partial oil ban, according to officials familiar with the closed-door talks.

Budapest demanded that Patriarch Kirill, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church and has been a vocal supporter of Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine, be removed from a proposed list of sanctioned individuals, said the officials. Kirill’s name was not raised by leaders at a summit earlier this week, one official said.

Hungary also raised minor technical issues linked to the oil ban. The timing for approval of the package by the ambassadors is unclear, the officials said.

Poland eases rules for grain transit from Ukraine 

The Polish Agriculture Ministry temporarily suspended veterinary inspections of Ukrainian grain shipped through Poland to other countries as of May 31, Ukrainian railway company Ukrzaliznytsya said.

The simplified rules apply to both road and railway shipments of grain, enabling Ukraine to boost its exports, Valerii Tkachov, the company’s commercial department deputy director, said on Facebook. Ukraine has been looking for alternative routes to export its grain as its key ports remain blockaded by Russian forces.




Europe seeks G7 coordination on Russian oil insurance ban 

The EU is working to coordinate a ban on providing the insurance services needed to ship Russian oil anywhere in the world with some G7 members, according to people familiar with the matter, in a move that could further hit Moscow’s ability to finance its war in Ukraine. 

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, is in talks with the UK as part of the effort, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are private.  

A joint push to target insurers of Russian oil shipments could dramatically impair Moscow’s ability to finance President Vladimir Putin’s war. That’s because 95% of the world’s tanker liability coverage is arranged through a London-based insurance organisation called the International Group of P&I Clubs that has to heed European law.

Kremlin doesn’t trust Kyiv on US missile assurances 

The Kremlin isn’t convinced by Ukraine’s assurances that it won’t use longer-range rockets supplied by the US to strike Russian territory, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The new weapons deliveries “are pouring fuel on the fire” and the Kremlin views them negatively, he told a conference call.

The US announced this week that it will send multiple-launch rocket systems to help Ukrainian forces fight back against Moscow’s advances in the east but wants to ensure that they won’t be against Russian territory. The missiles would allow Ukraine to strike locations as far as 80km away, a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity. That’s well beyond the current distance from Ukraine’s front lines in Donbas to the Russian border now.

EU set to approve sanctions on oil, banks, insurance 

The bloc’s ambassadors are expected to approve the EU’s sixth set of sanctions after a weekslong delay over objections from Hungary. The final compromise targets Russia’s seaborne oil but spares pipeline crude to satisfy Viktor Orban’s demands.

The penalties include a ban on insurance related to shipping oil to third countries, which will take effect six months after the formal adoption of the measures. The suite of actions would also see Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank, cut off from the Swift international payments system. 

Once approved by ambassadors, the final package will need to be formally adopted by their capitals and could change before that happens.

Germany to supply guided missiles  

Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany will supply Ukraine with an unspecified number of Iris-T guided missiles amid persistent criticism that the government in Berlin is dragging its feet on sending heavy weaponry.

“In the coming weeks we will continue to deliver weapons,” Scholz said in an address to the lower house of parliament. He described the Iris-T, which is manufactured by Ueberlingen, Germany-based Diehl Defence, as “the most modern air-defence system that Germany has” and said it’s capable of protecting major cities from attack. He didn’t provide details on the number of missiles or the timing of the delivery.

Scholz touts latest Ukraine arms delivery as criticism persists

Russian troops take control of 70% of Sievierodonetsk 

Russian forces have seized 70% of Sievierodonetsk, the city where Ukraine had moved the administration of its eastern Luhansk region after Russian-backed separatists seized some of the territory in 2014 and 2015, regional Governor Serhiy Haidai said.

Street fighting continues in the city following the withdrawal of part of Ukraine’s forces, with some remaining in defence, Haidai said. The evacuation of civilians from Sievierodonetsk had been suspended and it was impossible to deliver humanitarian aid to the city. While Russian troops control most of the Luhansk region, another large city, Lysychansk, “is completely under Ukraine’s control”, according to Haidai.

Slovakia says deal to provide Ukraine with howitzers is close  

Slovakia and Ukraine are finishing the details of a commercial contract under which Slovakia will provide Ukraine with 155mm howitzers, Slovak President Zuzana Caputova said in a press conference after returning from meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.

The arrangement entails a commercial contract between Ukraine and a Slovak arms producer rather than a donation like the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system Bratislava has provided Ukraine.




Russia’s Lavrov hails Opec+ cooperation on visit to Saudi Arabia 

Russia said Saudi Arabia hailed their oil-market cooperation in the Opec+ alliance as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited the kingdom for talks with Gulf officials.

The trip comes as Moscow faces growing pressure from the US and its allies over its invasion of Ukraine. Oil-exporting Gulf nations have maintained ties with Moscow and haven’t joined in the sanctions imposed by the US and its allies. 

Lavrov and his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, “praised the level of cooperation in the Opec+ format”, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement. “They noted the stabilising effect that tight coordination between Russia and Saudi Arabia in this strategically important area has on the global hydrocarbon market.”  

Russia holds drills with ballistic missiles 

Russia’s strategic rocket forces were holding drills with Yars ballistic missiles on mobile launchers in the Ivanovo region to the northeast of Moscow, Interfax reported, citing the Defence Ministry. The RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile can carry up to three nuclear warheads and has a range of about 10,500km, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies Missile Threat project.

In April, Russia said it test-fired a new ICBM, in a move Putin indicated at the time would give the US and its allies something to think about. The Russian leader has warned that any intervention by other countries in the conflict would trigger “consequences you have never seen”.

Read more: Russia test-fires nuclear-capable ICBM in warning to US allies

Oil edges higher as investors assess Opec+ 

Oil rose above $115 a barrel as investors assessed the future of Opec+ unity, with ministers from the group preparing for a routine meeting on Thursday to discuss its supply policy for July.

West Texas Intermediate closed lower on Tuesday after the Wall Street Journal reported that Opec members were exploring the idea of suspending Russia from its oil-production deal. Financial sanctions are undercutting Moscow’s ability to pump more.

Biden says US to give more advanced rocket systems  

In his guest essay for The New York Times titled “What America Will and Will Not Do in Ukraine,” Biden said that along with the rockets, the US would keep a supply flowing of advanced weaponry including Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger antiaircraft missiles, powerful artillery and unmanned aerial vehicles. 

“America’s goal is straightforward: We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression,” Biden wrote. The package of weapons includes missiles that will allow Ukraine to strike locations as far as 80km away, a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Biden added that while he disagrees with Putin and is outraged by his actions, “the United States will not try to bring about his ouster in Moscow”. DM


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