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UKRAINE UPDATE: 24 FEBRUARY 2023

EU to resume talks on fresh Russian sanctions; Poland to send Leopard 2 tanks within days

EU to resume talks on fresh Russian sanctions; Poland to send Leopard 2 tanks within days
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (left) attend a joint press conference following their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine on 23 February 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergey Dolzhenko)

European Union members failed to sign off on a new package of sanctions targeting Russia for its war in Ukraine, with diplomats set to reconvene on Friday morning in an effort to get the measures over the line, according to people familiar with the matter.

With today (Friday, 24 February) marking one year of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would closely monitor what Russia does with its nuclear weapons after the Kremlin suspended the country’s participation in the New Start treaty.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said his country was discussing a four-year full-fledged programme with the International Monetary Fund with the aim of hammering out specific details as soon as next month.

Key developments 

On the ground

Russia continued to shell settlements in the Kharkiv region, with one person injured by a missile attack on an administrative building near Kupyansk, according to the local governor. In the past day, Russian troops launched several rocket and air strikes, and conducted mortar and artillery fire, the Ukrainian General Staff said on Facebook. Civilian facilities in the Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kherson regions were damaged.

Estonian premier says war will end when Russia knows it’s lost

Nato states should overcome concerns that giving Ukraine the support it needs to defeat Russia will escalate the conflict beyond Putin’s red lines, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said.

Even a worst-case scenario — a potential nuclear retaliation — would happen in the conflict zone and not on the alliance’s soil, she said in an interview on Thursday.

EU fails to agree on new Russias sanctions, set to try again

Talks became stuck on the scope of restrictions to impose on Russian rubber imports, according to people familiar with the matter, with Poland leading the charge to toughen up those provisions.

The EU is coordinating some of the proposed sanctions with the Group of Seven as part of a coordinated action to coincide with the one-year mark since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That means diplomats are confident the measures will be agreed upon on Friday, the people said.

The proposed package includes export controls on multiple technologies and electronic components used in equipment such as drones, missiles, helicopters and for other military purposes, as well as restrictions on heavy vehicle exports. It would also hit a number of Russian banks and Iranian entities, including those linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, imposing trade restrictions on the latter over Tehran’s provision of drones to Russia.

 

 

 

Sweden may announce tanks for Ukraine this week  

Sweden is set to announce that it will transfer battle tanks to Ukraine, the TT news service said, citing people it didn’t identify. According to the report, the Swedish government’s eleventh package of military aid will be unveiled this week and will include air defence systems as well as tanks.

Sweden has about 120 tanks based on the German Leopard 2. The country previously announced that it would send 50 armoured combat vehicles to Ukraine.

Putin gave Biden $12,000 pen set months before invasion  

The Russian leader gave US President Joe Biden a $12,000 pen and decorative writing set at their first presidential summit in Geneva in 2021 during a momentary thaw in relations that ended with the invasion of Ukraine eight months later.

The writing set was the most expensive gift Biden received from a foreign leader that year. It was described in an annual report from the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol as a “Kholuy lacquer miniature workshop desk writing set and pen”.

Poland to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine within days 

Poland will deliver 14 of its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine “in a few days”, Jacek Siewiera, the head of the national security bureau, told the Financial Times.

“It’s possible” that the tanks will leave the border “at the end of the week,” he was cited as saying. Poland has been assembling a coalition of countries to send the older A4 version of the Leopard 2 to bolster Ukraine’s fight against Russia.

Poland beefs up security measures on border with Russia, Belarus 

Poland is ramping up security measures on its border with Belarus and Russia’s Kaliningrad region, said Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak.

The country has started setting up concrete and steel obstacles at the crossings as “part of our defence and deterrence strategy”, he said on Twitter. Poland’s government has been among the most vocal in the European Union and Nato in calling for a tough response against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

US senator highlights trade routes in call for stronger sanctions  

US Senator Ben Cardin, who was leading a key congressional delegation this week in Europe, said Russian sanctions could be stronger, particularly around Europe’s periphery, where the Kremlin is building new trade routes to skirt restrictions.

“In some cases we don’t have the direct ability to stop this trade,” the Democrat from Maryland said at a briefing in Vienna hosted by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “We will look at ways to use our global influence. It is part of our strategy.”

Russia and Iran have been building a new transcontinental trade route stretching from the eastern edge of Europe to the Indian Ocean, a 3,000km passage to avoid the reach of foreign intervention.

Zelensky says it’s ‘preferable’ to have contacts with China  

Ukraine is seeking to reach out to high-level Chinese officials because it corresponds with the interests of the country, President Volodymyr Zelensky said at a press conference with Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sanchez.

“I believe that it would be desirable for Ukraine to meet with China,” Zelensky said. “We conveyed this signal to China on the diplomatic level.”

G7 finance chiefs condemn Russia’s war, boost aid to Ukraine  

Group of Seven finance ministers increased their budget to $39-billion and reaffirmed their “unwavering support for Ukraine,” according to a statement issued on Thursday.

“We re-emphasise our shared commitment to our coordinated economic measures in response to Russia’s war of aggression,” Shunichi Suzuki, the finance minister of Japan and this year’s G7 chair, said from Bengaluru, India. “Our sanctions have significantly undermined Russia’s capacity to wage its illegal war.”

Poland warns Ukraine collapse could encourage China on Taiwan  

“If, God forbid, Russia were to conquer Ukraine, chaos could very quickly ensue, not only in our region but also in the Far East,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at a news conference in Copenhagen, alongside Danish Premier Mette Frederiksen.

“China could attack Taiwan and there could be various disruptions of the international order,” he added. China considers Taiwan part of its territory and has repeatedly said it is willing to use force to prevent its formal independence.

Ukraine seeks four-year IMF programme

Ukraine was working “very actively” with the IMF to discuss a full-fledged four-year programme, Prime Minister Shmyhal said, adding that the government was working to finalise appointments to anti-corruption institutions.

The premier told reporters in Kyiv that Ukraine was in talks on fighter planes for a counter-offensive, while the country received promises on the delivery of long-range weapons during Biden’s surprise visit at the start of this week.

Ukraine’s economic security bureau website was hacked 

The website of Ukraine’s Economic Security Bureau — an agency that investigates economic crimes — was hacked on Thursday morning and IT specialists were working to fix the site.

It’s not known so far who was behind the attack or which tools were used, the bureau’s press office told Bloomberg by phone.

Ukraine has been subject to thousands of cyberattacks over the past year, many of them linked to Russia.

Russian attendees stir OSCE meeting in Vienna

A meeting of lawmakers from Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) member states kicked off in Vienna with seven Russian delegates attending. Envoys from several countries, including Ukraine, didn’t participate in discussions at which Russian peers were present.

Austria has come under scrutiny for granting visas to the Russian delegates, including some sanctioned individuals. It said it must allow them to attend based on its obligations as a host country for the OSCE, an organisation founded to promote peace and east-west dialogue on the continent.

EU trade chief says Russia’s fiscal outlook ‘deteriorating rapidly’

European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said the bloc’s sanctions were taking a toll on Russia’s economy as the EU attempts to complete a 10th round of punitive measures targeting Moscow.

“We see strong impact on Russia’s industry — Russia’s fiscal position is deteriorating rapidly,” Dombrovskis told reporters in Sofia. He said measures including the bloc’s oil embargo and the Group of Seven oil price cap, which went into effect later, have yet to take hold.

Finland donates Leopard 2 mine-clearance tanks

Finland will donate three of its six mine-clearance tanks as part of its 13th military aid package to Ukraine, said Defence Minister Mikko Savola. The package of more than €160-million includes training in the use and maintenance of the vehicles.

Tanks donated by Finland and other countries “give Ukraine the capabilities it needs to take back its territory,” said Savola, who added that the size of Finland’s contribution was limited by its own long border with Russia. “We cannot compromise on our own security,” he said.

Allies watching Russian nuclear activity, says Nato chief

Nato will closely monitor what Russia does with its nuclear weapons after President Putin suspended his country’s participation in the New Start treaty, alliance chief Stoltenberg said as he warned of the risk of an arms build-up.

“This is a reckless decision because we need arms control and we need transparency,” Stoltenberg told Bloomberg TV in an interview. “A world without nuclear arms control agreements risks leading to more nuclear weapons.”

Poland says Ukraine will get fighter jets sooner or later

It’s only a matter of time before Western nations decide to send fighter jets to Ukraine, according to Tomasz Szatkowski, Poland’s permanent representative to Nato. “Sooner or later Western planes will also go to Ukraine,” Szatkowski told TVN24 television in an interview on Thursday. “Western, but also post-Soviet systems.”

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said his government would support allies who decided to supply fighter jets to Ukraine, but that Germany would not be in a position to send any itself.

Pistorius said that it would be “awkward” if Ukraine used the jets to attack Russian territory and not for “preventive defence” and that would be something allies would have to discuss with officials in Kyiv.

Russia expands powers to conceal economic data

Russian authorities will be able to suspend publication of any official statistical information under a new draft law passed by Parliament this week.

The government has stopped releasing a broad range of data, including on foreign trade and currency reserves, since the invasion of Ukraine last year triggered waves of sanctions from the US and its allies.

Sanctioned Russian oil is being switched at sea

Millions of barrels of Russian crude and fuels have been switched between tankers just a few kilometres off the coast of Greece, one of a series of workarounds that traders have used to overcome European Union sanctions against Moscow.

At least 23 million barrels of crude and additional volumes of refined fuels have been transferred from one tanker to another in the Bay of Lakonikos since 1 January, according to tanker tracking by Bloomberg.

German firms commit to Ukraine reconstruction effort  

German companies are already working on projects to help rebuild Ukraine and are preparing to ramp up efforts to tackle what will be a “mammoth international task”, according to the head of the country’s BDI industry lobby.

BDI President Siegfried Russwurm also called on the German government to “promptly and permanently” lift defence spending to meet Nato’s 2% guideline. “Tolerating military aggression in the midst of Europe would irreparably damage the international rules-based system on which peace, security and prosperity are founded,” he said.

Russians’ support for Putin’s war is unwavering

Even as the invasion of Ukraine has dragged on far longer than the few days that the Kremlin originally hoped when it launched a “special military operation,” and as casualties have mounted, the majority of Russians say they are ready to keep fighting, according to independent polls.

Only about a fifth of Russians want to bring a quick end to the war if that means admitting defeat, according to a Kremlin consultant.

Schools turn to distance learning amid airstrikes threat

Ukraine’s education ministry recommended schools switch to online classes amid the threat of Russian airstrikes around the invasion’s one-year mark.

“The Russian military disregards the norms of international humanitarian law and has no limits of weapon use,” said minister Serhiy Shkarlet. In the past year, Russian attacks have damaged 3,128 educational institutions, completely destroying 441, according to ministry data.

Putin has failed in ‘energy war’ on Europe: Habeck

Putin had failed in his bid to “bring Europe to its knees” with his “energy war,” although the continent remained “in a sensitive situation,” said German Economy Minister Robert Habeck.

Asked in an interview with broadcaster RTL/ntv whether German money was still flowing to the Kremlin, Habeck said companies in Europe’s biggest economy were no longer buying Russian gas, but conceded that some may still be arriving in Germany via LNG terminals in third countries. The crucial step is to bring down oil prices, which would probably “hit Russia the hardest”, he added.

Spanish premier visits Ukraine

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was the latest world leader to visit Ukraine, arriving in Kyiv early on Thursday to show support as the nation prepared to mark the first year of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Sanchez’s visit came after US President Joe Biden made a surprise trip to Kyiv, his first since the invasion began, on Monday and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visited on Tuesday.

 

 

 

Wagner leader says mercenary group now getting ammo  

The founder of mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said his fighters in Ukraine were now receiving new ammunition supplies after a war of words with the Defence Ministry.

“Today at 6am they announced they’re starting to ship the ammunition,” Prigozhin said, according to his press service’s Telegram account. “I’d like to thank everyone who helped us. You saved the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of guys who are defending their motherland.”

Prigozhin, a multimillionaire Putin ally who’s risen to greater prominence during the war in Ukraine, has forged a battlefield rivalry with Russia’s regular forces.

Germany sets out ‘path to peace’

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock outlined “necessary, concrete steps” toward peace in Ukraine that will be part of a resolution to be presented by more than 50 countries at the United Nations General Assembly.

“What the world community is asking for could not be simpler: a halt to Russian attacks, protection of civilians, respect for Ukraine’s territorial integrity through Russian troop withdrawal, and accountability for crimes committed,” Baerbock said in an emailed statement.

“That is the path to peace, I will reiterate that in New York,” she added. “That’s what the world community will decide today, and that’s what the world has been expecting from Russia for a year.”

The growing cash pile in Moscow foreign investors can’t touch 

Stock dividends, interest payments on bonds and anything else that Western investors didn’t sell before the war are all part of a pile of money accumulating in Moscow that’s been trapped by sanctions.

The accounts are remnants of what’s left of Russia’s ties to the world of international finance, and another marker of its isolation as the country’s war on Ukraine begins a second year. DM

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