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UKRAINE UPDATE: 11 JULY 2023

Zelensky to court Nato at summit in Lithuania; Canada to double number of troops in Latvia

Zelensky to court Nato at summit in Lithuania; Canada to double number of troops in Latvia
Ukrainian servicemen of the 24th Separate Mechanised Brigade fire a 2S3 Akatsiya self-propelled howitzer at an undisclosed location in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, on 10 July 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Oleg Petrasyuk)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will press his nation’s case for joining Nato in person at a summit in Lithuania on Wednesday while Canada announced plans to more than double the number of its troops in Latvia to help shore up the alliance’s eastern flank.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, who will host Nato leaders for the two-day summit starting on Tuesday, underscored the need for more troops in the Baltic region, citing a “very bad cocktail” of new threats from neighbouring Belarus and new “aggressive rhetoric” from its president, Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Vladimir Putin. “We need boots on the ground,” Nauseda told Bloomberg Television. “We need more forward defence here.”

Russia’s top military commander appeared on state television earlier on Monday for the first time since the abortive mutiny by Wagner mercenaries aimed at ousting him. Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who’s in charge of Russia’s war operations in Ukraine, was shown in a brief video receiving battlefield reports from officials.

Latest developments

 

 

 

Erdoğan links Sweden’s Nato entry to Turkey’s EU bid

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan linked Sweden’s Nato membership bid to Ankara’s efforts to join the European Union, throwing a spanner in the works hours before a summit where the Nordic nation had hoped to finalise its accession.

For more than a year, Turkey has held up Sweden’s application to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation over concerns that it has been too lax in combating terrorism.

“First come and open the way for Turkey in the EU; after that, we’ll open the way for Sweden just like we did for Finland,” Erdogan told a press conference in Istanbul before leaving for Vilnius on Monday. He criticised what he called “countries keeping Turkey waiting at the EU’s door for almost 50 years.”

Erdoğan’s comments on Monday represent the first time he has directly linked Turkey’s EU membership to Sweden’s Nato entry, and came a day after the Turkish leader spoke to US President Joe Biden. The US is pushing for a deal with Ankara that would allow Sweden’s entry into Nato.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejected the proposal, saying Turkey’s EU candidacy had nothing to do with Sweden’s Nato bid. The European Commission was quick to point out that the processes of joining the two blocs are entirely separate.

Canada to double troops on eastern Nato flank to counter Russia

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would more than double the number of its troops in Latvia to help shore up Nato’s eastern flank against potential Russian aggression.

The Nato member will deploy as many as 1,200 new personnel to boost the Canadian-led battle group in Latvia as it expands to a combat-capable brigade, Trudeau said on Monday at a military base in Adazi, Latvia. He announced an investment of $2-billion in weapons, intelligence and in cyberactivity.

“We’re here because European security is important to Canadian security,” Trudeau told reporters alongside Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins.

Canada has led a multinational Nato battle group in Latvia for six years and currently has about 800 of its own soldiers there. The force is one of four Nato Enhanced Forward Presence battle groups in the region.

This operation is Canada’s largest overseas mission, with up to 2,200 troops to be persistently deployed, Trudeau’s office said in a news release.

Zelensky to visit Nato to rally support for Ukraine membership

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will travel to Vilnius, Lithuania to meet Nato’s leaders at a summit of the military alliance his country is seeking to join.

Zelensky will arrive on Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter. A spokesman for Zelensky declined to comment.

The gathering in Vilnius, less than 960km from Moscow, comes at a key moment, with Russia’s war in Ukraine nearing the 18-month mark. Nato aims to supply Kyiv with fresh munitions, including US-provided cluster bombs, and to assess the impact of the Wagner Group’s aborted mutiny last month on Russia’s leadership and operations.

Zelensky has called for Nato to send clear signals in support of membership beyond a 15-year-old statement that Ukraine will eventually join. He has said he wants Nato membership to begin after the war ends.

Russia-linked oil tanker fleet vanishes even faster than it grew

A fleet of tankers that sprouted up out of nowhere to keep Russia’s oil moving has disbanded even faster than it emerged, underscoring the challenges involved in keeping track of who’s helping Moscow to get its petroleum to buyers around the world.

Mumbai-based Gatik Ship Management now marshals a fleet of just four oil tankers, according to Equasis, an international maritime database set up to promote safe shipping. As recently as April it had 42, having amassed most of those carriers in under a year.

A contact number for Gatik via the Equasis database didn’t work, and a message to an email address given for the firm wasn’t immediately returned.

Gatik came under scrutiny earlier this year as its fast-expanding fleet, much of which was moving Russian barrels, raised questions about who might be backing the firm.

It’s hard to be clear what has become of the fleet. The vessels that are no longer listed under Gatik’s commercial management continue to handle Russian oil. They are now under the control of a wide range of companies whose ownership structure is also unclear.

Putin met Wagner’s Prigozhin days after revolt that shook Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin met Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin days after the failed uprising that he had denounced as treason, the Kremlin said.

The extraordinary meeting adds another twist to the saga of the Wagner mutiny that spiralled into the most serious threat to Putin’s nearly quarter-century rule. The Kremlin leader had threatened “harsh” punishment over the 24 June rebellion, saying Wagner’s leaders “betrayed their country and their people” and brought Russia to the edge of civil war.

Putin met Prigozhin and top Wagner commanders at the Kremlin for nearly three hours of talks on 29 June, the president’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said on Monday, according to Russian news services. The commanders pledged loyalty to Putin as head of state and commander-in-chief and declared their readiness to continue fighting for Russia, Peskov said.

Putin “listened to the explanations of the commanders” about the mutiny and “gave his assessment”, the Interfax news service cited Peskov as saying. In all, 35 people were invited to the meeting and the president offered Wagner’s leaders further opportunities for employment and involvement in combat operations, it reported.

Russian army chief appears for first time since Wagner mutiny

Russia’s top military commander was shown on state television on Monday for the first time since the abortive mutiny by Wagner mercenaries aimed at ousting him.

Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who’s in charge of Russia’s war operations in Ukraine, was shown in a brief video receiving battlefield reports from officials. He ordered steps to identify launch sites of Ukrainian missiles and to improve protection against air strikes, the Defence Ministry said in a statement on its Telegram channel that apparently sought to dispel recent speculation in some media that Gerasimov had been dismissed.

Putin appointed Gerasimov as overall commander of Russia’s invasion force in January in place of General Sergei Surovikin, who hasn’t been seen in public since the Wagner rebellion ended on 24 June.

Surovikin (56) has been questioned by investigators about the mutiny and his links to Prigozhin, who had heaped praise on the general before the revolt that posed the greatest threat to Putin’s nearly quarter-century rule in Russia. The career military officer, whose brutal reputation earned him the nickname “General Armageddon,” was last seen in a Defence Ministry video on 24 June urging Prigozhin to end the uprising.

 

 

 

Europe can’t supply Ukraine with weapons fast enough. Here’s why

“Before, we had time, but no money,” said Tommy Gustafsson-Rask, head of BAE Systems Hägglunds, reflecting a common theme across Europe’s defence industry. “Today, we have money, but no time.”

Almost 18 months into the war in Ukraine, Europe’s defence contractors — flooded with demand for everything from ammunition to shoulder-launched missiles and combat vehicles — face a dilemma. Do they gamble on expanding production, assuming that the war and tensions with Russia will last indefinitely? Or hold back until they get long-term commitments from governments that have spent the past few decades shaving or even slashing their defence budgets?

The calculation matters beyond the corporate offices of Europe’s defence industry, which collectively generates about €120-billion a year in revenues. Ukraine urgently needs more weapons, from artillery ammunition to air defence systems, and allies’ stocks are running low.

European capitals are trying to revive their own sleepy industries to both sustain weapons deliveries to Kyiv and bolster their own security. Additionally, Nato wants to boost the size of its so-called high-readiness forces — a pool made up of allies’ troops ready to deploy in less than 30 days — to 300,000, a seven-fold increase, all of whom will need high-quality weapons ready for use.

European defence ministries have longstanding business ties with US weapons makers like Raytheon Technologies or Lockheed Martin, but the US’s powerful industry alone cannot fulfil all global demand. The US is struggling with low stock levels of artillery ammunition, leading Washington to take the controversial decision to send Ukraine cluster munitions, despite concerns that the weapons pose a grave danger to civilians.

On an average day Ukraine and Russia fire tens of thousands of artillery shells at each other — a rate faster than allies can manufacture them. At one stage this year Russia was firing a similar amount of ammunition at Ukraine in a single day as Europe was able to produce in a month. It has taught many countries an important lesson: they have drastically miscalculated the levels of standing ammunition stocks they need to be properly prepared for a conflict.

Nato defence ministers in June agreed to significantly raise the recommended levels of ammunition critical to battle held by each member state, including 155mm artillery shells. While the targets are secret, Germany alone aims to increase its stock more than 10-fold from about 20,000 shells today to 230,000 by 2031, according to a German defence ministry document seen by Bloomberg.

“European stocks are not sufficient, and we should manufacture faster and more,” said Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who recently estimated that in the long term, it would cost Europe several trillion euros to replenish to the required stock levels of all categories of munitions.

“This is necessary to support Ukraine sufficiently, but more importantly, it is necessary for lifting our own defence to match the new security reality.” DM

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