US says South Africa supplied arms to Russia; UK provides multiple cruise missiles

US says South Africa supplied arms to Russia; UK provides multiple cruise missiles
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he was looking into allegations by the US that South Africa supplied weapons and ammunition to Russia, despite Pretoria having taken a neutral stance on its invasion of Ukraine, according to a report citing Washington’s ambassador to South Africa. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)

President Volodymyr Zelensky told the BBC that Ukraine needs more time to prepare for its anticipated counteroffensive against Russian occupying forces. Zelensky earlier said that Kyiv was conducting intensive work with partners on new defence packages and decisions were expected shortly.

The UK has provided Ukraine with multiple Storm Shadow cruise missiles, with a firing range in excess of 250km, to use in Kyiv’s expected counteroffensive. The US has accused South Africa of supplying arms to Russia; President Cyril Ramaphosa said he’s looking into the claims.  

A two-day meeting on the Black Sea grain deal between United Nations officials and deputy defence ministers from Turkey, Russia and Ukraine ended in Istanbul with “constructive progress”, but no resolution.  

Key developments

Russia says grain deal to end if no guarantees by 18 May 

The Black Sea initiative that’s allowed Ukraine to export millions of tonnes of grain and other foodstuffs will end unless Russia receives guarantees by 18 May that its demands will be met, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin said after the talks in Istanbul, according to Tass.

Russia is against constant extensions of the Black Sea grain deal and insists that agreements with the Russian side, which centre on Moscow’s own grain and fertiliser shipments, haven’t been fulfilled.

No decision has been made on a new meeting about the deal at the deputy minister level after this week’s discussions.

US ambassador says Russia got arms from South Africa 

The US is convinced South Africa supplied weapons and ammunition to Russia, despite Pretoria having taken a neutral stance on its invasion of Ukraine, News24 reported, citing Washington’s ambassador to South Africa.

The armaments were allegedly collected by a Russian cargo ship that docked at the Simon’s Town Naval Base in Cape Town in December, the news website reported. South Africa’s President said he was looking into the allegations.

The South African rand slid more than 2% on the report while the nation’s stock index tumbled and government bond yields soared.

Read more: US ambassador says Russia got arms in South Africa: News24 

Russia hands Arctic Council chair to Norway 

Russia joined the other members of the Arctic Council in a pledge to safeguard and strengthen the intergovernmental body as it handed over its chairmanship to Norway. Meetings of the council, an eight-country group that includes the US, have been put on hold since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s handover of the rotating chairmanship took place on Thursday in a low-profile event held in Salekhard on the Arctic Circle and online.




Turkey cites progress at Black Sea grain talks

Talks in Istanbul to extend the Black Sea grain initiative that has allowed Ukraine to export millions of tonnes of grain since last summer made “positive and constructive progress” over two days, Turkey’s Ministry of Defence said in a tweet.

Officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN would continue to work to ensure the initiative continued, the ministry said.

UK provides Storm Shadow missiles ‘to push back Russians’

The UK is sending Storm Shadow cruise missiles for Ukraine to counter Russian offensives, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said. Wallace told the House of Commons on Thursday that the new weapons — the longest-range missiles yet provided by a Western ally — would give Ukraine its “best chance to defend themselves against Russian continuing brutality” and “will allow to push back Russian forces”.

He said Russia’s failure to halt attacks on Ukrainian civilians had prompted the UK’s decision. “We simply will not stand by while Russia kills civilians,” Wallace said. “This is a calibrated and proportionate response to Russia’s escalations.”

Wallace noted that it isn’t clear yet whether this new weapon will make a difference, since putting a fourth-generation weapons system on second-generation aircraft isn’t easy. It may take weeks or a month to see if this works, he said.

Russia budget gap hits $45bn

Russia’s budget gap surged in the first four months of the year, exceeding the full-year target as spending surged amid the war in Ukraine and energy revenues plunged under pressure from sanctions and other restrictions.

The federal deficit hit 3.42-trillion roubles ($45.4-billion) in the period, beyond the full-year plan of 2.9-trillion, the Finance Ministry said. Spending jumped by 26% while revenues were down by 22%, dragged lower as income from oil and gas fell by more than half from the year before.

EU has frozen €24bn in Russian private assets

The EU has frozen €24.1-billion in Russian private assets since the invasion of Ukraine over 14 months ago, European Commission spokesperson Christian Wigand told journalists at a regular briefing, adding that the EU was “working on making Russia pay for the crimes committed against Ukraine”.

The EU has sanctioned almost 1,500 individuals, restricted exports of hundreds of goods and technologies, and targeted many of Moscow’s key revenue sources, but has been struggling to find and freeze the assets of sanctioned Russian billionaires, he said.

Read more: EU hunt for sanctioned Russian billionaires’ assets stalls 

EU’s Borrell urges more aid for Ukraine

The European Union has already provided Ukraine with more than 1,000 missiles since February, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said, as he urged states to provide more arms for Zelensky’s counteroffensive.

“I know that’s not enough,” Josep Borrell said of the delivered missiles, speaking to Bloomberg TV at a defence conference. “Zelensky has said he’s going to delay the counteroffensive — certainly they need more preparation, they need more arms, they need to have more capacity and it is us that has to provide it,” Borrell said.

The EU agreed earlier this year to various measures to boost ammunition support to Ukraine by delivering shells and missiles from existing stocks and increasing production.




Zelensky says launching offensive now would cost too many lives

Zelensky said Ukraine’s military needs more time to prepare its anticipated counteroffensive against Russian forces in occupied territory. 

It would be “unacceptable” to launch the actions now because it would cost too many lives, Ukraine’s president told the BBC and other Eurovision News members in an interview published on Thursday. Equipment promised by allies, including armoured vehicles, was still “arriving in batches”, he said.

Ukraine could be successful if it went ahead now, according to Zelensky. “But we’d lose a lot of people. I think that’s unacceptable. So we need to wait. We still need a bit more time.” His comments come days after Ukraine’s defence minister said the prospects for Ukraine’s pending counteroffensive were being overestimated by some.

Russian defence ministry ramping up prisoner scheme, says UK 

Russia’s defence ministry may have signed up as many as 10,000 convicts in April alone to fight in Ukraine, the UK defence ministry said. 

From last summer, prisoners were the key pool of recruits for the Wagner Group’s mercenary operations in Ukraine, the UK said in a Twitter update. Wagner “highly likely lost access to the Russian penal system in February” when its feud with Russia’s defence ministry escalated, it said.

Is $30bn of weapons enough for a successful counteroffensive?

Armed with well over $30-billion in weapons freshly supplied by its allies, Ukraine is gearing up for a counteroffensive that may push Russia closer to ending its war, or show neither side has enough firepower to seize the advantage.

Kyiv’s troops will leverage that hardware — shipments delivered since December that cost more than any Nato member except the US spends in a year — to try to overrun dug-in Russian positions and retake occupied territory. The question is whether it’s enough. DM


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