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UKRAINE UPDATE: 14 JUNE 2023

US announces another $325m in military assistance; Nato chief says counteroffensive ‘gaining momentum’

US announces another $325m in military assistance; Nato chief says counteroffensive ‘gaining momentum’
Rescuers at the scene of an apartment block, hit by a Russian missile in Kryvy Rih, Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine, on 13 June 2023. At least 11 people were killed and 25 others were wounded, Reuters reported. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Stas Kozluik)

The Biden administration announced a new $325m military assistance package for Ukraine on Tuesday, including Bradley fighting vehicles, Stinger anti-aircraft systems, Stryker armoured personnel carriers and Javelin anti-armour systems. The weapons, drawn from US stockpiles, will help Ukraine replace vehicles and munitions that it’s losing as it presses ahead with a counteroffensive aimed at expelling Russian forces.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive against the invading Russian forces was gaining momentum, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Washington. “The Ukrainians have launched the offensive, they are making advances, they are gaining ground,” Stoltenberg said on Tuesday during a visit to Washington.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned what he said was a “terrorist” Russian missile attack on a residential building in Kryvyi Rih, which local officials said killed 11 people and injured at least 28.

Ukrainian defence forces shot down 11 of 14 missiles fired overnight by Russia from strategic bombers over the Caspian Sea, Ukraine’s Air Force command said on Facebook. Russia also deployed at least four single-attack drones, one of which was downed, it added.

Latest developments

 

 

 

African leaders head to Russia in ‘peace mission’

A delegation of African heads of state is expected to arrive in Russia imminently for talks with President Vladimir Putin, the latest in a series of mediation efforts aimed at bringing an end to the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.

The presidents of South Africa, Egypt, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia and the Republic of Congo are participating in the peace initiative. They also plan to travel to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Details of their proposals to end the fighting haven’t been made public.

“The leaders of several African states are expected to come to Russia soon,” Putin said on Tuesday at a meeting with military reporters. “We have agreed to discuss current issues.”

The African leaders will face an uphill battle to convince the warring sides to lay down their weapons, with Zelensky having already rejected any deal that entails Ukraine ceding any territory to Russia and Putin unlikely to agree to conditions for a troop withdrawal.

Read more: Six African nations propose ‘peace mission’ for Ukraine

Details of the trip have been kept under wraps amid security concerns surrounding the mission, which was announced by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa last month. France and China are spearheading separate interventions to try to bring an end to the fighting.

While South Africa insists that it has adopted a non-aligned position toward the conflict, US Ambassador Reuben Brigety last month accused Pretoria of supplying weapons to Russia, an allegation it denies.

In a letter dated 9 June that was published by The New York Times on Tuesday, US legislators from both sides of the floor criticised Pretoria’s close ties with Russia and called on the Biden administration to reconsider plans to host the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act Forum in South Africa in November. Agoa affords a number of African nations duty-free access to US markets and the four congressmen said South Africa’s actions called into question its eligibility to benefit.

No decision has been taken to move the forum and Pretoria continues to enjoy the support of the US government, Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for South Africa’s international relations department, said on Twitter.

Russia considering quitting Ukraine safe-corridor crop deal, says Putin

Russia is considering leaving the deal that allows Ukraine to ship grain exports from Black Sea ports, Putin said at a televised meeting.

The Russian leader said that his country had agreed to the deal’s extension several times, not in Ukraine’s interests, but for its allies in Africa and South America.

Russia had endorsed the deal “to support developing countries — our friends, and in order to achieve the lifting of sanctions from our agricultural sector”, Putin said. “We have been deceived once again. We are now thinking about how we can get out of this so-called grain deal.”

Putin’s economic forum puts Russia’s isolation on display

Putin’s annual economic forum in St Petersburg was a magnet for global politicians and investors until his invasion of Ukraine. Now it’s become a measure of Russia’s deepening isolation.

Organisers have struggled to attract major political figures, according to the programme for this year’s event that opens on Wednesday, as even some leaders of Russia’s former Soviet neighbours have opted to stay away.

With European and US business leaders all but absent, the 26th St Petersburg International Economic Forum is drawing mostly lower-level officials from countries that have stayed largely neutral on the war, including from the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. The four-day event offers a snapshot of how Russia is having to rewire its economic relations under pressure from unprecedented sanctions imposed by the US and its allies.

Where French President Emmanuel Macron and then German Chancellor Angela Merkel were once high-profile guests, the most senior European visitor this year is Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto. He’s scheduled to speak at a panel on global energy with Venezuelan Petroleum Minister Pedro Tellechea.

Brazilian President Lula da Silva declined an invitation to attend the forum. Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also won’t be there, according to officials in the Central Asian nation.

The largest international presence will be from the Middle East, according to the programme. United Arab Emirates Economy Minister Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri heads a group of UAE officials listed as taking part in a session on trade relations with Russia.

France accuses Russia of online disinformation campaign

The French authorities have identified a digital disinformation campaign against several European countries including France since September involving “state entities or entities affiliated with the Russian state” that have been “amplifying false information”.

France’s foreign affairs minister, Catherine Colonna, said it involved the creation of fake web pages impersonating French media including 20 Minutes, Le Monde, Le Parisien and Le Figaro, and government sites, as well as the creation of fake accounts on social networks.

The campaign was detected in advance, with protective and preventive measures being already taken and other technical steps still under way. The Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs has dodged an attempt at identity theft on its website, according to the statement.

Russian-speaking individuals, Russian embassies and cultural centres, as well as “several Russian companies”, were involved in the campaign, the minister said, describing it as a “hybrid strategy that Russia is implementing to undermine the conditions for peaceful democratic debate”.

 

 

 

Russia turns oil tap for North Korea back on as US warns on weapons

Russia has resumed sending oil to sanctions-hit North Korea for the first time since 2020, deepening cooperation between the two nations that the US claims also includes sending arms from Pyongyang to help the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.

A report released this week from a United Nations sanctions committee said Russia began sending refined petroleum products to North Korea in December 2022, which has continued into 2023. The shipments had been halted in about October 2020, the data showed, but Russia has sent about 67,000 barrels of oil since it restarted the flow.

The resumption of oil shipments comes as cooperation between the long-time partners has picked up in recent months, raising concerns that both nations may be evading sanctions in a partnership that helps North Korea’s beleaguered economy and funnels arms to Putin for his attack on Ukraine.

“We are concerned that the DPRK is planning to deliver more military equipment to Russia,” a US State Department spokesperson told Reuters on Tuesday, referring to North Korea by its official name.

The US in recent months has accused North Korea, which has backed Russia’s invasion, of sending arms and ammunition to aid Putin’s war, including shells and rockets. Pyongyang has dismissed the claims as groundless rumours.

One thing Kim’s regime has in abundance is weaponry, especially the Soviet-era artillery experiencing a revival on the frontlines of Ukraine. North Korea possesses stores of munitions to supply what the International Institute of Strategic Studies estimates is an arsenal of more than 21,600 artillery pieces, a force that has for decades held Seoul under the threat of devastation.

While the Biden administration said the weapons won’t do much to alter the battlefield, the sales would open a stream of revenue to a North Korean state isolated from much of world trade. DM

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