UKRAINE UPDATE: 19 JUNE 2023
Kyiv’s troops make small advances; Putin rebuffs African leaders’ peace initiative
Ukraine’s bid to drive Kremlin forces out of the east and south of the country continues with limited visibility.
Ukraine claimed a hit on a “significant” ammunition depot in Rykove in the Russian-occupied Kherson region. Video was posted on social media of a large fire; the footage couldn’t be independently verified and Russia hasn’t commented.
Kyiv’s troops are making small advances, including in the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions and around Bakhmut, Britain’s Defence Ministry said on Sunday. It added that both sides were incurring high casualties, with “Russian losses likely the highest since the peak of the battle for Bakhmut in March”.
No breakthrough was evident as heads of state and senior officials from seven African countries met President Vladimir Putin on Saturday in St Petersburg, a day after their talks in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Putin, who also had a bilateral meeting with South Africa’s President, rebuffed many of the 10 proposals offered by the African delegation, which urged an end to the war “through negotiations” and “diplomatic means.”
Zelensky told the delegation on Friday that talks were impossible while Russian occupying troops remain in Ukraine — a position supported on Sunday by Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg in comments to Germany’s Welt am Sonntag. “Peace cannot mean freezing the conflict and accepting a deal dictated by Russia,” he said.
European Commissioner Thierry Breton told a French newspaper that allies were organising “as if this war were going to last several months or even longer”. He added that efforts were moving along “almost every day” toward a path for Ukraine to join the EU.
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- Russia’s oil giant urges Opec+ to track exports, not just output
- Putin meets with African leaders on their Ukraine peace plan
- Next Africa: Putin is key for cornered Ramaphosa
- Is the war in Ukraine unwinnable for either side?
Biden says Kyiv won’t get ‘easy’ path into Nato
President Joe Biden said he wouldn’t support easing barriers for Ukraine to join Nato, saying the war-torn country has to “meet the same standards” as other nations in the transatlantic alliance.
“They’ve done everything related to demonstrating the ability to coordinate militarily, but there’s a whole issue of, is their system secure?” Biden told reporters as he prepared to board Air Force One. “Does it meet all the standards everyone, every other nation in Nato, does? I think it will. I think it can. But it’s not automatic.”
Russia’s oil giant urges Opec+ to track exports, not just output
Opec and its allies need to monitor not only production of the organisation’s member countries, but also their exports, according to Igor Sechin, head of Russian oil giant Rosneft.
Some nations in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries send as much as 90% of their output abroad, using other types of fuel for domestic consumption, said Sechin, a key ally of President Vladimir Putin and formerly a critic of Russia’s cooperation with the oil alliance.
For Russia, the share of crude exports in production is just 50%, Sechin said at a panel session of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum on Saturday.
This “puts our country at a disadvantage given the current monitoring mechanism” in Opec+, he said. “It seems appropriate to consider monitoring not only the production quotas, but also the oil exports, taking into account different sizes of domestic markets.”
Sechin’s call comes as Russian oil watchers remain doubtful of Moscow’s commitment to voluntary production cuts.
Russia was the first Opec+ nation to announce crude output cuts earlier this year, aiming to bolster demand for its oil amid Western sanctions, including fuel price caps. Moscow pledged to cut its output by 500,000 barrels a day from February and maintain that level through 2024.
However, the Russian government has made the nation’s oil production data classified, making it difficult to assess the progress of the cuts beyond assurances from energy officials.
Putin meets African leaders on their Ukraine peace plan
A delegation of African heads of state and senior officials met President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg on Saturday, the latest in a series of mediation efforts aimed at bringing an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The presidents of South Africa, Senegal, Zambia and Comoros and the prime minister of Egypt took part, along with officials from Uganda and the Republic of Congo, according to a readout from the Kremlin. The meeting followed Friday’s talks in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“We are convinced that the time has come for both sides to start negotiations and end this war,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said during the talks on Saturday.
Ramaphosa laid out 10 main points, including de-escalation of the conflict by both sides, diplomatic negotiations and recognising the sovereignty of states in accordance with the UN Charter. He also called for a reopening of the Black Sea so that grains can be exported, an exchange of prisoners of war and post-war reconstruction.
The African leaders will face an uphill battle to convince the warring sides to lay down their weapons. Zelenskiy has rejected any deal that entails Ukraine ceding territory to Russia, and Putin is unlikely to agree to conditions for a troop withdrawal.
Africa, along with the rest of the developing world, has been severely affected by the conflict, which disrupted trade and pushed up prices for grain and fertiliser.
Putin this week hinted that Russia may quit a deal brokered last summer by Turkey and the United Nations allowing Ukraine to safely ship grains from Black Sea ports. The pact, and the millions of tons of wheat, corn and other foodstuffs shipped since August, has helped to stabilise the world grain market. DM