Kyiv reports counteroffensive ‘partial success’; Belarus hints at already receiving Russian nuclear bombs

Kyiv reports counteroffensive ‘partial success’; Belarus hints at already receiving Russian nuclear bombs
An aerial view taken with a drone shows residents removing debris at the site of a damaged building after a missile strike in Kramatorsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, 14 June 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Yevgen Goncharenko)

Ukrainian forces reported ‘partial success’ in a counteroffensive backed by a fresh infusion of arms a day after President Vladimir Putin acknowledged Russian troops lack sufficient advanced weapons.

‘Our troops are moving in conditions of extremely severe fighting, enemy aviation and artillery advantage,” Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said on Telegram. The official said the Ukrainian military had advanced in some areas near the Russian-occupied city of Bakhmut as well as in the southern Zaporizhzhia region.

A delegation of African heads of state is expected to arrive in Russia imminently for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the latest in a series of mediation efforts aimed at bringing an end to war. Russia is also ramping up a lobbying campaign to avoid new financial restrictions against money laundering that may plunge its economy deeper into isolation over the war.

Latest developments




African leaders head to Russia in mediation mission 

A delegation of African heads of state is expected to arrive in Russia imminently for talks with 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 African delegation will visit Kyiv on 16 June and meet Putin in St Petersburg the following day, the state-run Tass news service reported on Wednesday, citing Yuri Ushakov, the Russian leader’s aide. Putin told reporters on Tuesday that the leaders would 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.

Kremlin warns Mideast that fresh curbs on finance will hit trade

Russia is ramping up a lobbying campaign to avoid new financial restrictions against money laundering that may plunge its economy deeper into isolation over the war in Ukraine.

Moscow has approached more than half a dozen countries including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates in recent weeks to spell out the negative consequences for trade ties if the Financial Action Task Force imposes more restrictions this month.

Investments and cooperation in defence and energy projects would also suffer, according to documents seen by Bloomberg and accounts by officials in Nato countries familiar with the situation.

The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental organisation that sets standards for combatting dirty money, took the unprecedented step of suspending Russia from membership in February over its invasion of Ukraine. The government in Kyiv is now seeking to add Russia to the “black list” or “grey list” of states at the FATF’s June 19-23 meeting.

Designation on the first list would place Russia alongside North Korea, Iran and Myanmar. It would oblige FATF member states as well as banks, investment houses and payment-processing companies to conduct enhanced due diligence and in the most serious cases take counter-measures to protect the international financial system.

Another 23 countries are on the “grey list,” including Turkey, South Africa, the UAE and Jordan. A report by the International Monetary Fund in 2021 found that this penalty, which involves closer monitoring requirements, results in a “large and statistically significant reduction in capital inflows”.

The Kremlin is warning countries that an FATF listing would make it more difficult and costly for them to continue doing business with Russia. Calculations shared in documents for officials in Turkey and the UAE estimate the two countries would each suffer a hit of almost 1% of their gross domestic product in lost trade and investment.

Bloomberg has previously reported that Russia has urged India to oppose either listing at the meeting. Russia’s Federal Financial Monitoring Service, Rosfinmonitoring, is now seeking to convene a virtual meeting this week with counterparts from Brazil, India, China and South Africa in the BRICS grouping, where the issue is likely to be on the agenda, according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is sensitive.

Germany names Russia as principal threat to Euro-Atlantic sphere

Germany singled out Russia as the principal menace to its security and signalled it wants to pursue a partnership with China despite the Asian nation increasingly behaving like a rival and competitor.

In the country’s inaugural national security strategy, published on Wednesday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government also enshrined Nato’s target of spending at least 2% of economic output annually on average on defence as an official policy goal.

“Today’s Russia is, for now, the most significant threat to peace and security in the Euro-Atlantic area,” the government wrote in the strategy paper, which runs to more than 70 pages and also addresses energy security and access to raw materials and technology.

On China, the government declared that “the elements of rivalry and competition have increased in recent years” while stating that the government in Beijing “remains a partner without whom many of the most pressing global challenges cannot be resolved.”

Belarus leader hints he’s already received Russian nuclear weapons

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko suggested Russian tactical nuclear weapons had already arrived in his country, even as Putin said delivery would only begin next month.

“We have missiles and bombs, we have received from Russia,” Lukashenko told a Russian TV reporter in an interview posted by the Belarusian state-owned Belta news service late on Tuesday. He then boasted that the weapons are “three times more powerful” than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War 2, saying they were capable of killing a million people “immediately”.

When the reporter asked him to clarify that the nuclear weapons promised by Russia had been delivered, however, Lukashenko chuckled and appeared to backtrack. Saying they were taking the issue “slowly,” he promised to blindfold the journalist and take her to a storage facility to see the weapons “once we get them”.

Putin told Lukashenko at a televised meeting in Russia’s Sochi on Friday that construction of the nuclear storage in Belarus would be completed by July 7-8 and that transfer of the tactical weapons would begin soon after.




Pro-Russian hackers target website of Europe’s largest port

The website of the port of Rotterdam was targeted in a cyberattack blamed on Russia-aligned hackers last week.

Several Dutch ports including Amsterdam and Groningen also faced distributed denial-of-service attacks, known as DDoS, according to port authorities. The port of Rotterdam received information from the Dutch National Cyber Security Center that pro-Russian groups were responsible for the attack, a spokesperson said by phone.

Dutch news outlet RTL, which first reported the incidents, said a hacker group it called “NoName057(16)” claimed the attacks were a response to the Netherlands’s plans to buy Swiss tanks for Ukraine. Earlier this year, intelligence agencies warned the Dutch maritime infrastructure faces the threat of sabotage from Russia.

While the port of Amsterdam’s website didn’t work for more than an hour on 6 June, Groningen Seaports experienced online disruption lasting two days. The ports didn’t pay any ransom to the attackers and no data was stolen, said the spokespeople.

The attacks were carried out from Russian and Serbian IP addresses, according to information the port of Rotterdam received from its service provider, the spokesperson said. DM


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