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UKRAINE UPDATE: 26 MAY 2023

Wagner begins pulling out of Bakhmut; President Ramaphosa rules out SA abandoning neutral stance

Wagner begins pulling out of Bakhmut; President Ramaphosa rules out SA abandoning neutral stance
A Ukrainian serviceman from the 24th Separate Mechanized Brigade ‘King Danylo’ passes through a hole in the wall of a damaged building in a frontline position at an undisclosed location in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, 24 May 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Oleg Petrasyuk)

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, said his forces had begun pulling out of Bakhmut and handing over positions to the Russian army – the latest twist in the eastern Ukrainian city largely levelled by months of intense fighting.

Moscow and Minsk formalised an agreement to store Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, a move denounced by Belarus’s exiled opposition leader as further threatening the security of Ukraine and all of Europe.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke about the hoped-for fighter jet coalition with Sweden’s defence minister.

Zelensky’s chief of staff said 106 Ukrainian service members who were captured in the Bakhmut region, including eight officers, will be returned in a prisoner exchange. There was no immediate word from Russia’s defence ministry.

Latest developments

Ramaphosa rules out SA abandoning neutral stance on war

South Africa’s President insisted his country won’t be drawn into taking sides in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, even as it faces pressure from some of its main trading partners to change course.

“Some countries, including our own, are being threatened with penalties for pursuing an independent foreign policy and for adopting a position of non-alignment,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a speech on the outskirts of Johannesburg on Thursday. “We will maintain our position on the peaceful resolution of conflict wherever those conflicts occur.”

Read more: South Africa is non-aligned and irrelevant: Charles Onyango-Obbo

Ramaphosa’s comments come weeks after US Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety accused Pretoria of contradicting its neutral stance by supplying weapons to Russia, an allegation Ramaphosa has denied. Brigety implied that South Africa may lose its duty-free access to US markets, a prospect that sent the rand to a record low against the dollar before the two governments sought to smooth over the diplomatic row.

The US is South Africa’s second-biggest trading partner, with total trade between the two nations estimated at $23.3-billion last year. That compares with the $850-million of exports and imports between South Africa and Russia last year, according to International Monetary Fund data.

Brigety’s allegations added to US anger about South Africa’s abstention from United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s aggression and hosting its warships for naval exercises.

South Africa’s hosting of an August summit of leaders from the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa –  may reignite tensions: Russian President Vladimir Putin has been invited to attend and South Africa has yet to decide how it will handle an International Criminal Court warrant for his arrest if he does.

Ramaphosa said South Africa refuses to be drawn into any contest between global powers.

“As African countries, we have painful memories of a time when proxy wars were waged on the soils of Africa by foreign superpowers,” he said. “We have not forgotten the terrible, brutal legacy of first having our continent carved up and colonised by European countries, only to find ourselves once more pawns on a chessboard during the Cold War. We are not going back to that period in history.”

 

 

 

Palantir signs on for reconstruction work in war-torn Ukraine

Palantir Technologies will deepen its relationship with Ukraine, seeking to help power the country’s reconstruction efforts, the company and Ukrainian officials said.

Co-founded by the tech billionaire Peter Thiel, Palantir has been working with Ukrainian officials since last year, providing software and incorporating artificial intelligence technologies to power battlefield decision-making. The latest partnership will focus on reconstruction with an emphasis on reestablishing schools in war-torn areas.

Palantir established operations in Ukraine a few weeks after the war began. Ukrainian officials first used Palantir software to help resettle Ukrainian refugees to the UK, Lithuania and Poland. The country has since expanded its use of the software to assist with military operations, including analysing satellite images.

Palantir is part of a wave of US tech companies that have offered their services to Ukrainian officials since Russia invaded the country last year. Elon Musk’s satellite company Starlink has provided communications there, and drone startups including Skydio, backed by Andreessen Horowitz, and Brinc Drones, supported by OpenAI co-founder Sam Altman, have donated hardware and services.

Key Russian fuel finds its way back to buyers in South Korea

South Korean imports of Russian naphtha have started to rebound as processors in the Asian petrochemicals hub return to the trade after initially shunning it following the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

The nation has drawn nearly 160,000 tonnes of the vital but lesser-known fuel directly from Russia so far in May, according to Kpler data compiled by Bloomberg. That puts imports on course for the highest monthly total in about a year, although the figure remains well below levels seen before the conflict.

While South Korea doesn’t have sanctions on Russian energy, local processors – several of which are linked to US and European owners – had turned away from Russian fuels after Moscow’s invasion in February 2022, with naphtha flows dropping to zero. On the whole, Russia has managed to sustain its shipments of crude and petroleum products, largely by rerouting flows toward Asian buyers.

Data from Vortexa point to a similar trend, with South Korea’s imports of Russian naphtha growing to 63,000 barrels a day in May from zero in March.

Yandex to offer investors choice of Russian or foreign assets

Investors in Yandex will get to choose whether to keep a stake in the company’s profitable Russian business, take cash or receive a share of its international startups as the company attempts to split its assets, according to people familiar with the matter.

Dutch-registered Yandex plans to offer Russian investors an opportunity to swap their holdings for a stake in the Russian unit if it agrees to a deal to sell a majority stake in that business, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is not public. It is also considering offering several options for international investors, although nothing is final and any decisions will require shareholder approval, they said.

 

 

The F-16 jets Kyiv wants won’t fly in Ukraine any time soon

Ukraine faces a long wait before it can deploy F-16s against Russia, as US and European allies begin to thrash out who might be able to supply the fighter jets.

The countries pledging support for Ukraine are prioritising pilot training and will have to weigh the costs and any possible security gaps before deciding whether to actually send the aircraft.

Four nations have so far committed to a coalition to help train the Ukrainian pilots – the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. But only Denmark and the Netherlands may end up actually sending the jets to help counter Russia’s invasion.

While it could take many months before pilots are trained – let alone before jets are transferred – the push to start training fits into a broader effort to help Ukraine’s military withstand future attacks by Russia even after the war ends.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive to yield results, says top aide

A top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he’s confident an anticipated counteroffensive against Russian forces will yield results – and will begin as soon as the country receives the necessary weaponry from allies.

“We will further be preparing the counteroffensive,” Ihor Zhovkva, Zelenskiy’s deputy chief of staff focused on foreign affairs, told Bloomberg Television from Kyiv on Thursday. He cited deliveries of long-range artillery, ammunition and battle tanks.

Russian forces are dug in across a frontline of about 1,500km in eastern and southern Ukraine, even as the Russian military touted its capture of the embattled city of Bakhmut – after a nearly year-long battle that imposed heavy costs on both sides.

The Kremlin intensified a missile and drone attack across Ukraine, as Zelensky warned that Moscow may be switching to so-called mixed strikes with varying types of drones and missiles. Kyiv’s air defence said it intercepted 36 loitering drones launched overnight on Thursday. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    Well yes. We don’t want to send our young men to get shot at in a war between two ideologies. War is a crazy mixed up idea based on propaganda and false notions of ethics and humanity. If all people refused to shoot another human at the behest of some deranged leader, there would be no war. War exists in individual perception. So I’m glad our men are staying home where they belong. With families.

  • Veronica Baxter says:

    President Ramaphosa does well to remind us of countries that were used as pawns through colonisation and their people subjected to unspeakable cruelty. What a pity then that he ignores the history of Ukraine, colonized by the Soviets, suffering the Holodomor through Stalin’s Era, and used as a pawn in the Cold War until it gained a tentative sovereignty recently. I would have hoped that solidarity between two countries, Ukraine and South Africa, that share such history would have been possible. No one wants War, but if it comes, picking the side of the bully is shameful. ‘Non-aligned’ is a nonsense term in this context.

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