G7 foreign ministers set for Munich meeting; Russian assault intensifies

G7 foreign ministers set for Munich meeting; Russian assault intensifies
A destroyed school stands in a ruined village on 11 February 2023 in Kamyanka, Ukraine. Meanwhile Russia has launched a new winter offensive in the nearby Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. (Photo: John Moore / Getty Images)

The intensity of Russia’s military actions, both on the ground in eastern Ukraine and via Friday’s massive missile barrage, seems to be rising as the invasion’s one-year mark approaches.

Top US and Ukrainian military leaders spoke ahead of Tuesday’s meeting of the Ramstein group of allied nations in Brussels. A Nato ministerial defence meeting will follow, as well as the Munich Security Conference that starts on Friday. Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven will reportedly also meet during the Munich event.

Russia on Friday launched its biggest barrage of missile attacks so far this year as President Volodymyr Zelensky seeks more weapons to fend off Vladimir Putin’s invasion. Moody’s Investors Service on Friday cut Ukraine’s credit rating to the second-lowest score, citing “long-lasting challenges” to its economy and public finances from the war with Russia.

Key developments

On the ground

Dozens of settlements in Donetsk, Luhansk, Sumy, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Mykolayiv and Kherson regions were shelled on Saturday with rockets, aviation strikes and drones, the Ukrainian General Staff said. Three rockets hit Kharkiv infrastructure late on Saturday, injuring a civilian. Civilian infrastructure was also damaged in Kherson with one injury reported. Five drones were shot down, according to the General Staff. Russian troops focused their main efforts on offensive actions in the Kupyansk, Lyman, Bakhmut and Avdiyivska regions in eastern Ukraine, using planes to strike Kyiv troop positions.

Ukraine minister calls on FATF to expel Russia

Russia should be expelled from the 37-member Financial Action Task Force, a global group that aims to combat money laundering and terrorist financing, Ukraine’s finance minister wrote in a Financial Times op-ed.

Blacklisting Russia “would create universal controls and require enhanced due diligence,” Serhiy Marchenko wrote. “Any transaction with the Russian financial system would be reviewed and scrutinised.”

The Paris-based group will have working meetings starting on 20 February that run until 24 February, the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

G7 foreign ministers to meet during Munich conference

Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations will discuss Ukraine on 18 February, coinciding with the 17-19 February Munich Security Conference, Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported, citing government sources it didn’t identify.

The ministers in Munich are expected to discuss measures to back Ukraine and tighten sanctions against Russia, the newspaper said.

Japan holds the rotating presidency of the G7 this year. The next formal foreign ministers’ meeting is scheduled for mid-April.



Russia wants to gradually cut crude discount to Brent benchmark

Russia is seeking to gradually narrow the discount on its key export crude oil to the Brent benchmark as the government tries to boost budget revenues amid sanctions.

The government proposes to limit the discount on Urals to Brent at $34 a barrel in April, $31 in May and $28 in June to calculate mineral extraction tax and profit-based tax. From 1 July, the discount will be set at $25.

Germany wants shared refugee burden

Germany’s interior minister called for support for Ukrainian refugees to be better shared among EU countries.

“Should there be another large wave of people fleeing Ukraine, the refugees should be better spread out in Europe,” Nancy Faeser told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag ahead of a Thursday summit of German officials on displaced persons.

“To date, Poland has taken in over 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees and Spain has only 160,000. It can’t remain like this,” she said. Germany took in more than 244,000 refugees in 2022, the most since 2016.

Many consumer giants remain in Russia

As the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine nears the one-year mark, many goods continue to be supplied by US and European companies with outposts in Russia, including Colgate, Procter & Gamble and L’Oréal.

Should these firms change their minds about staying in the face of mounting legal and reputational risks, they now have another challenge: the Kremlin is making it more expensive to leave.

While there are no Western sanctions on the everyday consumer sector, restrictions on Russian banks and individuals have made operating in the country more difficult.

Read more: For fear or money, consumer giants are staying in Russia 

No electricity usage limits in Ukraine on Sunday, grid operator says

Ukraine started the day with no household electricity shortages, grid operator Ukrenergo said on Telegram, after round-the-clock repair work and the resumption of operations at two atomic power plants.

Restoration work continues at thermal power plants damaged during recent Russian missile and drone attacks. The company warned that should consumption increase too much, emergency shutdowns were still possible in the Odesa, Kyiv, Khmelnitskiy and Zhytomyr regions.

Reznikov sees no chance of Russia storming Odesa by sea or land

Ukraine’s defence chief discounted the possibility of Russia storming Odesa by sea or land, according to a Ukrainian Navy post on Facebook.

To threaten the key Black Sea port city, Russia “needs to have dominance on the Black Sea,” which Kyiv undermined with its sinking of the warship Moskva last spring, Oleksii Resnikov said.

“Russia failed to approach the city by land and now they are thrown back to the left bank of the Dnipro, which together with destroyed bridges and crossings is a powerful natural protective barrier,” he said.

Russian casualties may be at highest rate since February, UK says

The UK defence ministry said in a Twitter update that over the past two weeks, “Russia has likely suffered its highest rate of casualties since the first week of the invasion” as poorly trained and under-resourced troops increasingly take to the battlefield.

As estimated by Ukraine, which the UK said it couldn’t verify, but “are likely accurate,” the mean average of Russian casualties in the past seven days has climbed to 824. Ukraine is also seeing a high attrition rate, the ministry said.



US, Ukraine defence chiefs speak ahead of Ramstein

Ukraine’s defence minister spoke to his US counterpart, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, with the approach of the next gathering of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group.

The Ramstein meeting, named for a US air base in Germany, will be held on Tuesday at Nato headquarters in Brussels. A Nato ministerial defence meeting is scheduled for Wednesday. Austin and Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, will attend.

“We discussed the current situation at the front, the urgent needs of the defence forces of Ukraine and priorities” for the meeting, Ukraine’s Oleksii Reznikov said on Twitter.

Ukraine pushes for sanctions on Russian atomic industry

The UN’s nuclear agency, which has missions at all Ukrainian nuclear power plants, should help to accelerate the process of imposing sanctions on the Russian nuclear industry, Ukraine’s energy minister said on Facebook after meeting one of the acting IAEA experts’ group.

“Russia must strictly answer for the seizure of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, for missiles and drones near nuclear power facilities, and for neglect of international principles of nuclear and radiation safety,” Herman Halushchenko said.

We still hold Bakhmut, Ukraine tells US Joint Chiefs of Staff Milley

Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, spoke to Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff on Saturday. The previous announced call between the pair was on 25 January.

Milley and Zaluzhnyi discussed Friday’s massive Russian missile barrage, air defence for Ukraine, and Russia’s use of underwater drones that may threaten the Black Sea safe-transit corridor, according to a Twitter post.

Kremlin forces are attacking Ukrainian positions as many as 50 times a day in the Donetsk region, Zaluzhnyi told Milley. The Ukrainian commander also said his forces “continue to hold Bakhmut under our control”. DM


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