US to propose prisoner swap with Russia; Biden speaks with Xi in tense call

US to propose prisoner swap with Russia; Biden speaks with Xi in tense call
People stand near Russian military vehicles destroyed in fights with the Ukrainian army, displayed in Mykhailivskyi Square on the Day of Ukrainian Statehood, in Kyiv, Ukraine, 28 July 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Roman Pilipey)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he plans to speak with his Russian counterpart about an offer to free two imprisoned Americans, but the Kremlin said no deal has been reached. Although Blinken wouldn’t say so, the US proposal would swap basketball star Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Britain’s grid operator warned of “knock-on impacts” if Russia cuts off gas flows to Europe, even though the nation receives only 6% of its gas imports from Russia, far less than much of Europe. Austria said a Russian gas embargo “isn’t possible”. 

President Joe Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday amid rising US-China tensions. Xi’s declaration of a “no limits” friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine remains a core point of concern for Washington. 

Key developments

On the ground

Russia launched missile strikes on northern Ukraine from neighbouring Belarus and the Black Sea early on Thursday, Oleksiy Hromov, a spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces, said at a briefing. Six Russian Kalibr cruise missiles hit a military base north of Kyiv, while more than 20 rockets struck the Chernihiv region in northern Ukraine, causing some casualties, Hromov said. Fifteen people were wounded in the Kyiv region. Local authorities also reported rocket attacks in Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv in the northeast overnight, and explosions were heard again in the southern port of Mykolaiv and Kropyvnytskyi in the centre of the country. The attacks in northern Ukraine occurred as the nation’s armed forces step up efforts to liberate Russian-held areas in the south. 

Sakhalin-2 LNG buyers told to pay through a Russian bank  

Russia is asking customers of the Sakhalin-2 liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in the country’s far east to make payments through a Russian bank as part of President Vladimir Putin’s decree to create a new company for the project.

Project operator Sakhalin Energy Investment Company has informed LNG buyers of required changes to their agreements, including the move to a Russian bank, according to people with direct knowledge of the information. The terms of the contracts — the currency, volumes, prices and delivery locations — will remain intact, they said. 

The red tape of switching could delay vital deliveries of the fuel just as the world is grappling with fuel shortages and soaring energy prices. Changing to a Russian bank may complicate the process as buyers seek to ensure they aren’t overstepping any sanctions, the people said.

Zelensky repeats call for Russia’s Swift banishment 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for fresh sanctions against Moscow, including disconnecting Russia from the Swift global payments system — a plea he’s made since the Kremlin’s invasion in February.  

In that time, the European Union and the US have cut off Russia’s major banks from the international payments system but several lenders are still able to use it. 

Zelensky and his Lithuanian counterpart, Gitanas Nauseda, spoke after the Baltic nation delivered 10 armoured vehicles and ammunition to Ukraine. Nauseda repeated a call for EU countries to cut their dependence on Russian energy supplies.  

Group says not enough crew to sail stranded ships 

About 450 seafarers are still stuck in Ukraine’s ports, down from 2,000 at the start of the war, and not enough to operate all the vessels that need to leave, according to John Stawpert, manager in the Marine Department at the International Chamber of Shipping.

“We’ll have to find a way to get people on board,” he said in an interview, adding that seafarers need to know “that their safety will be guaranteed”.

The issue with crew is just one of the challenges facing the reopening of ports after Ukraine and Russia reached a deal last week on the safe passage of vessels brokered by the UN and Turkey. Shipowners need to be sure that channels have been demined and also need to find insurance cover, Stawpert said.




Russia fines former state TV journalist $822 for protests 

A Moscow court fined a former state-television employee 50,000 roubles ($822) for publicly criticising the war in Ukraine, including a protest near the Kremlin in which she held a sign blaming Putin for the deaths of children.

Marina Ovsyannikova, who fled Russia earlier this year after being charged for holding up an anti-war poster during a live evening news broadcast and returned this month, called the judgment “absurd” on her Facebook page and said she would appeal.

She was fined for an administrative violation under a Russian law that prohibits defaming the military. Some opposition members have received jail sentences for spreading what’s been called fake news about Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Zelensky says Ukraine ‘will exist’ in Statehood Day video  

“All stages of the history of Ukrainian statehood can be described in one sentence: we existed, exist and will exist,” Volodymyr Zelensky said in an eight-minute video recorded to mark Ukrainian Statehood Day. 

“We do not need fireworks and pomp to show the importance of our own statehood for the Ukrainian people,” Zelensky said in the video, which showed images of Ukrainian historical figures. “Today we defend it with weapons in hands.”

UK warns on knock-on impact if Russia curbs gas 

Britain faces “knock-on impacts” for the country’s energy supplies, such as rocketing prices, if Russia cuts off natural gas flows to Europe, according to National Grid, even though only about 6% of the nation’s gas imports come from Russia. 

The grid operator’s warning is the first time it has openly addressed the threat of Moscow’s decision to throttle fuel supplies. 

UK grid warns energy costs will skyrocket if Russia curbs gas 

Austria says no to a Russian gas embargo 

It’s too early to contemplate new sanctions against Moscow because existing measures need time to work, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Thursday at a press briefing. 

“That the war lasts as long as it does shows the sanctions haven’t worked as quickly as hoped,” the Austrian leader said. A gas embargo “isn’t possible”, he added.

Andriy Kostin appointed as Ukraine’s prosecutor-general 

Zelensky signed a decree on Thursday appointing Andriy Kostin as Ukraine’s new prosecutor-general, a day after the pick was approved by the nation’s Parliament. 

“The most important task of the prosecutor’s office is to bring to justice all Russian war criminals who came to our land and did everything that, unfortunately, we and our children know in detail,” Zelensky said.  

Kostin’s predecessor, Iryna Venediktova, was fired this month after the president accused her team of employing Russia-backed people that undermined Ukraine’s war effort. 




Trader keeps Russian wheat flowing  

An international trader, backed by Canadian pension funds and Glencore, is still exporting large volumes of Russian grain as Moscow wages war in Ukraine. 

Viterra has kept its ranking, behind three Russian traders, as the No 4 exporter of the country’s wheat, corn and barley in the first few weeks of the new season. It has shipped more than 850,000 tonnes of Russian grain since the invasion started on February 24, according to shipping lineup data from Logistic OS.

The presence of Viterra highlights the dilemma facing Western governments as they respond to the invasion. There are no sanctions on Russian grain, which policymakers want to keep flowing to avoid exacerbating a global food crisis.

Russia ‘can afford to cut EU gas’ – economist 

Russia “can afford to cut off gas” to Europe, its main export market, if the current supply crisis drags out, though it would cost about $60-billion in lost revenue, according to Capital Economics.

If flows were halted for 12 months, gas output would fall by about 20%, shaving 0.3% off gross domestic product, economist Liam Peach wrote in a report. A cutoff would trim Russia’s huge current account surplus and reduce tax revenues by less than 1% of GDP, he said. 

Ukrainian power company seeks delay for ESG bonds  

Ukrainian power company Ukrenergo will seek a two-year payment delay and changes to the terms of bonds funding green energy in the wake of disruption from Russia’s invasion, the first time a company has requested the possibility of changing targets set as part of a sustainability-linked instrument. 

The electricity grid operator sold $825-million of the five-year notes in November to help repay debt owed to renewable energy producers. The bonds were guaranteed by the Ukrainian government, while the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was one of the buyers, taking $75-million.

India to restart sunflower oil imports 

India, the world’s biggest edible oil importer, is likely to receive its first shipments of sunflower oil from Ukraine starting in September after a five-month gap, according to the Sunvin Group.

Read more: India to restart Ukraine sunflower oil imports as trade eases

About 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes may arrive as Ukraine is set to open some Black Sea corridors for agricultural exports, said Sandeep Bajoria, chief executive officer of the Mumbai-based broker and trader. The cargoes will likely be loaded at the seaports of Odesa and Chornomorsk, he said.

Germany’s foreign minister urges Nato unity 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called on Nato allies to maintain a united front against Russian aggression ahead of a trip on Friday to Istanbul for talks with her Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

“Cohesion between Nato allies and European partners has never been more important than in these times, when Russia is not only planning to subdue Ukraine as a self-determined country, but is also trying by all means to split our alliance,” Baerbock said in an emailed statement, calling Turkey “an indispensable partner.”

Read more: Turkey renews threat to veto Sweden and Finland’s Nato bids

Turkey has threatened to veto Nato membership for Sweden and Finland unless the two Nordic countries satisfy demands to combat terrorism and extradite Kurdish suspects.

Austrian energy company doesn’t expect Russian gas halt 

Austrian state-owned energy company OMV said it expects Russian natural-gas flows will continue through the heating season after second-quarter earnings beat expectations on the back of surging prices for the fuel. 

“However, the uncertainty regarding future curtailments remains and could result in further losses in case the hedged volume deviates from the actual deliveries,” the company said.

Counteroffensive in Kherson gathers momentum, UK says 

Ukraine’s counteroffensive in Kherson is gaining momentum, the UK’s military intelligence said in a Twitter post, with Kyiv’s forces probably having established a bridgehead south of the Ingulets River. 

Ukraine has used long-range artillery provided by the US and others to damage at least three bridges across the Dnipro River that Russia relies on for resupplies, including Antonivskyi Bridge, the UK said.  

H&M ‘looking for buyer for Russian business’ 

Swedish retailer Hennes & Mauritz is looking for a buyer for its business in Russia, including a portfolio of about 170 store leasing rights in 65 Russian cities, a distribution centre and 30 weeks’ inventory valued at about $210-million, Kommersant newspaper reported.

H&M announced this month that it would start winding down its operations in Russia, having halted all sales in the country in March after Russia’s attack on Ukraine. H&M’s Russian business accounted for about 4% of sales during the most recent financial year. DM


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