World

UKRAINE UPDATE: 21 FEBRUARY 2023

Biden makes surprise visit to Kyiv; US to provide another $460m in weapons aid

Biden makes surprise visit to Kyiv; US to provide another $460m in weapons aid
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) and US President Joe Biden hold a joint press news briefing in Kyiv, Ukraine on Monday. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ukrainian Presidential Press Service Handout)

US President Joe Biden made a surprise trip to Kyiv to meet his counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, the highest-profile visit since Russia invaded and a strong show of support for Ukraine before the war’s one-year mark on Friday.

During his visit to Kyiv on Monday, US President Joe Biden said his goal was to reaffirm his administration’s “unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the visit — the first by a US president in 15 years — “historic, timely and brave”.

The US also announced a package of $460-million in additional weapons for Ukraine that crucially includes 155mm artillery rounds and rockets for the powerful Himars missile system.

Read more: One year of Russia’s war in Ukraine: Key events and how it’s unfolding

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, earlier said that he told China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, during talks in Munich at the weekend that the bloc had “strong concern” about Beijing supplying weapons to Russia and if China armed Kremlin forces that would be a “red line.”

Key developments

  • Biden visits Kyiv in surprise wartime trip amid air raid alerts
  • China looks to convince world it can broker Russia-Ukraine peace
  • Russia and China have a stranglehold on global food security
  • Ukraine’s allies work through consequences of the long war ahead
  • US plans new Russia export controls, sanctions on key industries

On the ground

Russia conducted 10 missile strikes and 25 air attacks over the past day and launched 62 barrages from multiple-launch rocket systems, Ukraine’s General Staff said on Facebook. According to its statement, Ukrainian troops repelled assaults near seven settlements in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions. Russia may lack sufficient reserves to “dramatically increase the scale or intensity of the offensive this winter,” analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said in their latest report.

Germany tells China it can’t arm Russia

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said she made clear to China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, that as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Beijing is also responsible for the preservation of global peace.

“That, of course, also means that China may not send any weapons, including dual-use goods, to Russia,” Baerbock said after the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

Next Ramstein meeting ‘planned for mid-March’

The next meeting of Ukraine’s allies at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany to discuss assistance for Ukraine will be in mid-March, most likely in an online format, the Ukrinform newswire reported, citing Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov.

 

 

 

Russian economy shrank less than expected 

Russia’s economy contracted by 2.1% last year, defying the worst fears of a major recession as surging commodity exports helped offset the impact of US and European sanctions. The preliminary result was better than the 3% decline officials expected as recently as early autumn and far short of the 10% drop some forecasters saw.

US to give $1.1bn for Ukrainian, Moldovan energy 

The US will provide $1.1-billion to support the power networks of Ukraine and Moldova, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Telegram. Moldova suffered power outages following Russian strikes on the Ukrainian energy grid.

Rheinmetall eyes boosting ammo output for Ukraine 

German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall has doubled the output of ammunition in recent months at its factory near Hamburg, Chief Executive Officer Armin Papperger said, after meeting Defence Minister Boris Pistorius to discuss ways to further increase production for Ukraine.

“We are running at full steam here,” Papperger said. “And we can increase capacity even further with another shift.”

US announces $460m in weapons aid

The Department of Defence announced the US would provide Ukraine with weapons from existing stockpiles including ammunition for Nato-standard 155mm howitzers and Himars multiple rocket launch systems.

The package also includes more Javelin anti-armour systems and about 2,000 rockets, mortar rounds, air surveillance radars, four Bradley Infantry Fire Support Team vehicles, night-vision devices and other gear.

Dutch envoy compares Ukraine to nine-year Soviet-Afghan war  

Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra drew on the example of the Soviet Union’s nine-year war in Afghanistan as a potential outlook for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Make no mistake: we might well be nowhere near the end,” Hoekstra said in a speech to students in Bruges, Belgium. “In fact, no one knows, but we may not even be halfway there.” He lamented that some countries had talked about holding on to their own weapons rather than supplying them to Ukraine.

Poland adds curbs on freight traffic with Belarus 

Poland banned all cargo vehicles registered outside the European Union and its free-trade zone from crossing its border with Belarus from Tuesday, further tightening tit-for-tat restrictions on road transportation between the two neighbours.

Passenger traffic will be limited to a single checkpoint on the 400km  border, Poland’s Interior Ministry said.

Read more: Poland closes Belarus border crossing over jailed journalist

White House hails ‘historic’ Biden visit to Kyiv

Biden aides hailed the visit to Kyiv as historic, saying it’s unprecedented in modern times to have the US president travel to a war zone where the US military doesn’t control critical infrastructure. The White House declined to provide details of exactly how he got to Kyiv and how he is now travelling to Warsaw from there until it’s safe to do so.

Biden’s travelling party was extremely small and consisted of a few aides, a photographer and a small medical team. The visit was meticulously planned over months and the president made the final decision to go on Friday when he huddled with key advisers in the Oval Office.

The White House notified Moscow of Biden’s trip a few hours before his departure, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said. He declined to say how the Russians responded.

EU mulls powers to punish sanctions evaders

A group of European Union member states is pushing for the bloc to ramp up its ability to hit back against those helping Russia circumvent sanctions, including through the use of trade measures.

The new powers may include issuing warnings to people or companies outside and in the EU that are helping Russia get around sanctions and giving the bloc the ability to act where this relates to products used against Ukraine in battle, according to a draft of the proposal seen by Bloomberg.

Russia puts war-tested weapons on sale in UAE  

Russian defence companies were out in force at an arms fair in the United Arab Emirates despite international sanctions, pitching to sell weapons that a top ally of President Vladimir Putin said had been battle-tested in the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Read more: Putin’s arms dealers put war-tested weapons on sale at UAE show

More than 200 Russian weapons ranging from tanks to air-defence systems and ammunition were on show on Monday at the Idex exhibition in Abu Dhabi, the region’s biggest defence and security fair, according to the manufacturers.

Ukraine expects to start meetings with IMF

Ukraine expects to begin preparatory meetings with International Monetary Fund officials on a full loan programme in the coming weeks, Deputy Ukrainian Central Bank Governor Serhiy Nikolaychuk said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

Read more: IMF weighs Ukraine aid package worth as much as $16bn

The fund is exploring a multiyear aid package for Ukraine worth as much as $16-billion to help cover the country’s needs and provide a catalyst for more international funding while Kyiv tries to repel Russian forces, Bloomberg reported last month.

Support for Ukraine ‘will endure’: Biden

In a series of tweets, Biden said that Putin was “dead wrong” when he assumed that “Ukraine was weak and the West was divided”.

“Over the last year, the United States has built a coalition of nations from the Atlantic to the Pacific to help defend Ukraine with unprecedented military, economic, and humanitarian support — and that support will endure,” Biden added.

He also announced another donation of equipment worth $500-million, “including artillery ammunition, anti-armour systems and air surveillance radars to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardments,” as well as “additional sanctions against elites and companies that are trying to evade or backfill Russia’s war machine”.

EU ‘will remain vigilant’ on China 

Borrell told reporters in Brussels ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers that Wang told him that China was not planning to arm Russia, but said that the bloc “will remain vigilant”. Putin may meet Wang when he visits Moscow this week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Tass.

Read more: Blinken rebukes China over balloon, warns against arming Russia

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday warned China against supporting Russia’s war effort, saying Washington had evidence it may be considering providing weapons. The government in Beijing won’t accept any finger-pointing from the US over its relations with Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Monday at a regular press briefing.

Kremlin says relations with Moldova ‘quite tense’ 

Relations between the governments in Moscow and Chisinau are “quite tense,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, warning Moldovan authorities to be “very, very cautious” about making any statements on the future of Russian peacekeepers in the breakaway Transnistria region, Tass reported.

Peskov was responding to comments by Moldova’s new prime minister, Dorin Recean, on the need to demilitarise the region, which borders Ukraine, and withdraw Russian forces. Moldovan authorities have warned that Russia is seeking to destabilise the country, a charge Moscow rejects.

 

 

 

Zelensky urges China to remain ‘pragmatic’

Zelensky said he has directly appealed to China not to support Russia’s war and called on Beijing to maintain a “pragmatic attitude” and help avert a wider global conflict.

“Our relationship with China has always been very good, we have had intense economic relations for many years, and it is in everyone’s interest that they do not change,” Zelensky was quoted as saying in Italian newspapers.

Ukraine ‘won’t defend Bakhmut at any cost’

Zelensky said that while it was important for Ukraine to defend the eastern city of Bakhmut, where there has been fierce fighting, it would not do so “at any cost and with everyone dying”.

“We will fight as long as it is reasonable,” he told Italian papers. Russia will probably claim it has captured Bakhmut to coincide with Friday’s one-year mark since the invasion regardless of the reality on the ground, according to the UK Defence Ministry’s latest intelligence update.

EU ‘could move fast on China sanctions’

The EU could quickly move to sanction China if it turned out Beijing was supporting Russia’s war effort, according to Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.

Read more: G7 mulls sanctioning Chinese firms for aiding Russia’s military

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Asselborn said in an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio ahead of talks with EU counterparts in Brussels on Monday. “It would be a dramatic change and would obviously have consequences for our entire relationship with China, not just for Germany, but for the whole EU,” he added.

The credibility of the peace proposals China has said it will present this week would be destroyed if it turned out Beijing was helping Russia, Asselborn said. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.