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UKRAINE UPDATE: 24 AUGUST 2022

Zelensky vows to take back Crimea; US warns of intensified Russian attacks

Zelensky vows to take back Crimea; US warns of intensified Russian attacks
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the media after the summit of the Crimea Platform in Kyiv, Ukraine, 23 August 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Roman Pilipey)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reinforced a pledge to drive Russian occupiers from the peninsula it annexed in 2014 as the nation braced for a tense Independence Day celebration on Wednesday after six months of war.

US diplomats warned that Russia is preparing intensified attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days. US citizens should leave the country, the US embassy in Kyiv said. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier warned the Kremlin may attempt a “particularly cruel” assault. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the car bomb that killed Darya Dugina, the daughter of a political ally, a “dastardly crime.” The comments came after Russia’s Federal Security Service accused Ukrainian special services of orchestrating the attack on Saturday. Ukraine has denied any role in the killing. 

Key developments 

On the ground

Russian troops focused intense operations around Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s General Staff said on Facebook. Parts of the northern Chernihiv and northeastern Sumy regions, as well as areas in the south of the country were also targeted, according to the statement. Russia shelled Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, on Tuesday morning, the regional governor, Oleh Synyehubov, said on Telegram, adding that there were no casualties. The city of Dnipro was also hit on Tuesday afternoon, with rocket fragments hitting private houses, Dnipro Mayor Boris Filatov wrote on Facebook. 

Estonia rejects Russian accusations after car-bomb murder  

Estonian officials rejected Russian accusations that the Baltic nation played a role in a high-profile murder of Dugina, saying the Kremlin was retaliating against a staunch opponent of its war in Ukraine. 

Moscow’s Federal Security Service, without providing evidence, said the assassin fled across the border into Estonia after the car-bomb killing of Dugina. Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu called the charges baseless, saying the “aggressive rhetoric” was a way to intensify pressure on his country. A ministry spokesman, Mihkel Tamm, placed the accusations in the context of Reinsalu’s call for a blanket European Union ban on Russian travel visas. 

Ukraine seeks to raise up to $16bn by year-end 

Ukraine expects to raise between $12-billion and $16-billion by the end of the year after receiving more than $14-billion in financing from foreign allies already in 2022, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said during a government meeting in Kyiv.

The Ukrainian state budget has spent almost one trillion hryvnia ($27-billion) since Russia began its invasion on February 24, with more than 40% of expenses used to cover military needs, such as paying salaries to servicemen and buying and maintaining weapons and munitions.

Sanctioned billionaire’s yacht attracts 63 bids at auction 

A luxury yacht once owned by sanctioned billionaire Dmitry Pumpyansky has attracted 63 bids in Gibraltar, in the first public auction of an asset seized since the start of the war in Ukraine.

The five-deck, 72m yacht Axioma was put up for sale after JPMorgan Chase & Co. called in a €20.5-million- loan tied to the vessel. The floating palace, which boasts an infinity swimming pool plus a 3D cinema, was impounded in March by authorities on the British territory at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. 

Zelensky vows to drive Russian occupiers out of Crimea  

Ukraine’s leader reiterated that Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, must be liberated. He spoke at a conference in Kyiv that brought together top officials from nearly 60 states, including the Group of Seven nations, in person or via video link.

“Where it began, there it will also end,” Zelensky told participants. 

Russia has turned Crimea into one of the most heavily militarised regions in Europe, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during the summit. Russia has launched 750 missiles from Crimea at Ukraine since the start of the invasion in February, Zelensky said.

 

 

 

Russian diamonds are quietly flowing again 

The panic that gripped the diamond world this year is starting to unwind as sanctioned Russian mining giant Alrosa has quietly revived exports to near pre-war levels.

Alrosa accounts for about a third of the global rough-diamond supply, and the $80-billion industry was thrown into turmoil as cutters, polishers and traders hunted for ways to keep buying from Russia while their banks couldn’t or wouldn’t finance payments. The sudden shortage of stones sent diamond prices surging, especially for the smaller and cheaper gems that Alrosa specialises in.

Germany, Slovakia agree on tank swap deal 

Germany and Slovakia have signed a letter of intent that would see Slovak Soviet-era tanks supplied to Ukraine replaced with 15 Leopard 2 A4 tanks from German industry stocks in a package including munitions, replacement parts and training. The Czech Republic’s Defence Ministry said it had a similar deal with Germany. 

German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said the “three-way exchange” with Slovakia was an effective means of increasing material support for Ukraine alongside direct deliveries of weapons. 

“Slovakia will deliver tanks to Ukraine as soon as possible, which the soldiers there are already familiar with and which can be used immediately to defend the country against Russia,” she added in an emailed statement. 

Latvia detains seven in protest over Soviet monument removal 

Latvian police detained seven people during protests over the planned demolition of a towering Soviet-era World War 2 monument, the latest potential flashpoint between the Baltic region and Russia. 

As protesters gathered on Monday, police in Riga said they issued 10 citations and were probing violations for petty hooliganism and disobeying lawful orders, police said in a statement on Facebook. Authorities have also closed the airspace around the monument to drones.   

 

 

 

Nearly 1 million refugees have arrived in Germany 

About 1 million Ukrainian refugees — mostly women and children — have come to Germany since Russia’s invasion, according to the German interior ministry. It’s unclear how many people have stayed in the country and there are indications that a “significant number” may have travelled on to other EU countries or returned home. 

“I am very proud of the humanity and willingness to help in our country,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in an emailed statement. Around 700 refugees from Ukraine are still arriving each day, according to a police estimate. 

Russian tech giant unloads controversial news business 

Yandex, Russia’s leading search engine, announced a binding deal to rid itself of its controversial news aggregator, which has been criticised by opponents of the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine for whitewashing evidence of human rights crimes. Yandex exchanged its news division and a blog site for VK’s Delivery Club, Russia’s biggest food and grocery delivery service, the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

The deals come amid a major shift among Russian technology companies brought on by the war in Ukraine. Sergei Kiriyenko, a top aide of Putin, is involved in negotiations over the fate of Yandex with its founder sidelined by European Union sanctions, Bloomberg reported this month. Kiriyenko’s son runs VK.

Finnish president calls for review of dependence on Russia  

In a speech on Monday, Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto called for reviewing all areas of potential dependence on Russia, which “can be used against us.”

“Trust in Russia is gone, and there are no prospects for a new beginning,” he told Finnish ambassadors gathered in Helsinki. “This isn’t a time of building connections.” Still, all contacts shouldn’t be severed, he said, adding that channels of communication should be kept open in case of future needs.

Polish president visits Ukraine 

Polish President Andrzej Duda visited Kyiv on Tuesday to meet with Zelensky to discuss the situation in Ukraine as well as potential military, economic and humanitarian support, Duda’s office said in a Twitter post. It was Duda’s fifth visit to the neighbouring country this year and the third since the war broke out on February 24. DM

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