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UKRAINE UPDATE: 2 JUNE 2023

Zelensky urges Nato security guarantees; Russia says it repelled another border attack

Zelensky urges Nato security guarantees; Russia says it repelled another border attack
Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy (centre), leaves after holding a press conference at the European Political Community summit in Bulboaca, Moldova on 1 June 2023. (Photo: Carl Court / Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden, speaking at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, said, “The American people’s support for Ukraine will not waver.” Consider, he said, what would happen if support “wavers and Ukraine goes down. What about Belarus? What about the rest of Eastern Europe?”

‘We would like to have Nato guarantees,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked, as he unexpectedly joined European leaders at a summit in neighbouring Moldova. “And while we are not in Nato, we want to have security guarantees.”

Zelensky spoke to reporters after the meeting outside Chisinau, which included German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron. A split is becoming apparent between Germany and France on prospective membership for Ukraine in the military alliance. While Paris is pushing for a concrete path, Berlin is urging caution.

Kyiv was hit by a missile barrage overnight, the 19th such attack in the past month.

Latest developments

Elon Musk’s SpaceX wins Pentagon deal for Starlink in Ukraine

The Pentagon is buying Starlink satellite communications terminals and services from billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX for use by the Ukraine military, the Defence Department said.

The terminals will likely be purchased under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which provides for the embattled nation’s long-term security needs. In December, the Defence Department disclosed in announcing such a funding package that it would provide satellite communications “terminals and services” to Ukraine, but didn’t confirm that Musk’s company would get the contract.

“We continue to work with a range of global partners to ensure Ukraine has the resilient satellite and communication capabilities they need,” the Pentagon said in a statement on Thursday. “Satellite communications constitute a vital layer in Ukraine’s overall communications network and the department contracts with Starlink for services of this type.”

US military officials have praised the role that portable Starlink terminals have played in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in keeping the civilian population connected and providing crucial communications for the country’s military.

The statement was the latest twist in the Pentagon’s often contentious relationship with Musk over the terminals. At one point last October, Musk reportedly told the Pentagon that SpaceX wouldn’t continue to foot the bill for the portable terminals, only to reverse that position.

 

 

 

EU moves closer to new Russia sanctions after proposals weakened

European Union member states are slowly moving toward an agreement on an 11th sanctions package over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as a number of proposals originally put forward by the bloc’s executive arm are set to be watered down.

Plans to ban ships transporting prohibited goods from entering EU ports are likely to be partly dropped, while restrictions relating to ship-to-ship transfers and vessels that switch off their navigation systems will include a grace period of about 30 days, according to people familiar with the latest legal texts under discussion.

The European Commission put forward a set of proposals early last month with the key aim of closing loopholes, tackling sanctions circumvention and strengthening enforcement. The aim had been to sign off on the measures around the time of a Group of Seven summit that took place in Japan on 19-21 May, but the package has been in limbo for weeks over several issues raised by member states.

One area of concern was a mechanism to target third countries that aren’t doing enough to prevent Russia from evading sanctions. The primary aim of the tool would be to deter governments from helping Russia and crack down on trade channels that Moscow may be exploiting. If diplomatic pressure proves ineffective, the mechanism would allow targeted export restrictions on key goods.

However, that tool’s original criteria have been weakened during back-and-forth negotiations between diplomatic envoys raising the bar as to when it can be used. Several member states, including Germany, also remain concerned about the prospect of listing countries and would rather list companies first, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private matters.

Meanwhile, Hungary and Greece continue to want to see some of their companies removed from a Ukrainian blacklist of what Kyiv calls “international sponsors of war.” Discussions on that issue are ongoing, the people said.

The EU hopes that the package will be agreed next week, one of the people said.

Russia says it repelled fresh border attack from Ukraine

Russia said it beat back new cross-border attacks from Ukraine as a regional governor said hundreds of residents had been evacuated to escape shelling.

The Defence Ministry in Moscow said “Ukrainian terrorist units” backed by tanks attempted unsuccessfully to break into Russia’s Belgorod region in the early hours of Thursday. Russian troops and artillery killed 30 fighters and destroyed four armoured vehicles, a mobile rocket launcher and a pickup truck during clashes, the ministry said in a statement on Telegram.

Ukraine hasn’t commented on the incident, which is the second reported confrontation at the border in the past 10 days. The Russian Defence said Ministry last week that its troops defeated insurgents who entered the Belgorod region in two days of fighting, the most serious conflict on its territory since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

Read more: Russia says troops defeated assault in Ukraine border area

Several Russian border towns were hit during “mass shelling” that wounded eight people and set fire to some houses as well as damaging the local administration building in the town of Shebekino, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram. He blamed the attacks on Ukraine and said hundreds of people including women and children had been evacuated to nearby regions.

Two people were also hurt during an explosion in the city of Belgorod on Thursday that may have been caused by a drone, Gladkov said.

 

 

 

Ramaphosa deploys envoys to explain stance on Russia

South Africa’s president will send four of his Cabinet ministers to the Group of Seven nations to explain the country’s non-aligned position on Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The South African government has refused to back sides in the conflict and abstained from several United Nations votes condemning Russia’s actions, angering key trading partners including the US. The stance was called into question earlier this month when US Ambassador Reuben Brigety accused South Africa of supplying weapons to Russia.

While President Cyril Ramaphosa has denied the allegation, the diplomatic furore that ensued sparked fears that trade worth billions of dollars with countries including the US could be placed at risk and the rand fell to a record low against the dollar.

Read More: South African central bank sounds alarm on threat of sanctions

Abandoned Russian superyacht to be auctioned after sanctions lifted

The US Treasury removed an abandoned $120-million Russian superyacht from its sanctions list, clearing the way for the vessel to be auctioned to the highest bidder.

The 267-foot Alfa Nero, replete with a baby grand piano and Miro painting, was ditched in Antigua’s Falmouth Harbour in March 2022 after Russian troops invaded Ukraine. Last year, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on Russian fertiliser billionaire Andrey Guryev, naming him as the owner of Alfa Nero, an allegation the magnate denies.

Facing a mountain of unpaid bills, the government of Antigua formally seized the superyacht in April and asked the US Treasury to lift sanctions on the vessel so it could sell it.

The delisting “underscores the United States’ commitment to work closely with international partners to deprive Russian oligarchs and elites of their assets and the proceeds of their wealth”, a Treasury spokesperson said in a statement.

Since the war began in February 2022, the US and its allies have imposed sanctions on dozens of wealthy Russians, leading to the freezing of more than two dozen superyachts worth about $4-billion in ports around the world. DM

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