UKRAINE UPDATE: 14 JULY 2023
US defence chief has ‘no doubt’ Kyiv will join Nato; Biden says Russia cannot sustain years of war
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said he has ‘no doubt’ Ukraine will join Nato after the war as a summit meeting this week buttressed that promise, a move President Joe Biden championed as a diplomatic breakthrough.
Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov cited a “very productive” Nato summit meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, and touted a total of more than $1.5-billion in military pledges. They included Scalp missiles, Leopard battle tanks, Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and pilot training for F-16 fighter jets, he said on Twitter.
Russia’s flagship Urals crude oil breached a price cap set by the Group of Seven, a blow to sanctions efforts and arguably an economic win for Moscow. According to price reporting agency Argus Media, Urals crude topped $60 a barrel on Wednesday, climbing above the G7 ceiling set last year in an attempt to restrict revenue to Moscow’s war machine.
- Russia finally cuts crude exports, at most opportune moment
- Russian flagship oil breaches price cap in blow to sanctions
- Russian tycoon says UK seized his superyacht to look ‘tough’
- Erdoğan hints Turkey to ratify Sweden Nato bid in few months
- Ouster of Russian General ‘Spartacus’ sparks ruling party feud
Biden blasts election meddling at site where Trump backed Putin
President Joe Biden affirmed the US commitment to Nato and accused Moscow of election interference at the same Helsinki site where former President Donald Trump famously said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin over US intelligence sources.
At a press conference on Thursday with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Biden said he could “absolutely guarantee” US dedication to Nato. As president, Trump — the current 2024 Republican frontrunner — repeatedly threatened to pull the US out of the alliance if members didn’t reach the group’s goal of spending 2% of GDP on defence annually.
“There is no question there’s overwhelming support from the American people, there’s overwhelming support from the members of Congress, both House and Senate, and both parties, notwithstanding the fact there’s some extreme elements of one party. We will stand together,” Biden said at the Presidential Palace by the Baltic Sea.
Biden also underscored the Kremlin’s role in meddling in the 2016 elections, another break from Trump.
“They’ve already interfered in American elections,” Biden said. “So that would not be anything new. They did that last time, they tried to.”
Five years ago at the same Presidential Palace, Trump downplayed the Kremlin’s role in the 2016 US election, saying he believed Putin, who had just denied Russian involvement.
Russian tycoon says UK seized his Canary Wharf superyacht Just to look ‘tough’
The UK detained the £38-million superyacht owned by an unsanctioned Russian tycoon in an attempt to look tough and compel him to openly criticize the Russian regime, his lawyers told a UK court.
Sergei Naumenko, a property developer and food importer who isn’t on any sanctions list, sued the UK’s Department of Transport, saying he never engaged in political activities and has no connections with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Last year’s freeze of the almost brand new 60m yacht interferes with Naumenko’s rights to “peaceful enjoyment of possessions,” under the European Convention on Human Rights, his lawyers said in the documents given to the court before the Thursday hearing.
The government insists the boat was detained as Naumenko fits the criteria of a person “connected with Russia”.
The UK is effectively trying to compel Naumenko to criticise the Russian government without considering how it would affect him and his business at home, the tycoon’s lawyers said.
“Disproportionate action against individuals cannot be justified by a generalised desire to appear tough, whether that message is intended for consumption by the domestic electorate or elsewhere,” his lawyer Nigel Giffin said in the court filings.
Biden on Prigozhin: ‘I’d be careful what I ate’
Biden suggested Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin could be in danger after carrying out an attempted mutiny last month and briefly capturing a Russian military facility.
“If I were he I’d be careful what I ate,” Biden said at a press conference Thursday in Helsinki following a three-nation European trip. “I would keep an eye on my menu.”
The joke was a reference to high-profile instances of Russian security services using nerve agents and polonium to poison and kill political enemies of Putin.
Biden said world leaders at the Nato summit in Vilnius discussed not knowing where Prigozhin was currently located, and uncertainty around how the mutiny might affect Russian operations in Ukraine and the future of the Wagner Group.
Russia detains deputy digital minister on bribery claims
Russia’s Investigative Committee detained Deputy Minister of Digital Development Maxim Parshin on corruption allegations, local news services reported on Thursday.
Parshin is accused of taking a large bribe, state-run Tass cited the press service of Moscow’s Basmanny court as saying. The court is considering a request to place him in pre-trial detention until 12 September, the Interfax news service reported.
Biden says he doesn’t think Russia can sustain years of war in Ukraine
Biden said he did not think Putin could continue to fight his war in Ukraine for years, citing the economic and political toll on Russia.
“I don’t think that Russia could maintain the war,” Biden said on Thursday at a press conference in Helsinki, when asked by a reporter if the war, already nearing its 18-month point, could drag on for years.
“I think that there is going to be a circumstance where eventually, President Putin is going to decide it’s not in the interest of Russia — economically, politically or otherwise, to continue this war, but I can’t predict exactly how that happens,” Biden added. “Putin has already lost the war. Putin has a real problem.”
Russia finally cuts crude exports, at most opportune moment
Russia is finally cutting crude exports, at the most advantageous moment possible.
Moscow has pledged to curb shipments to global markets by 500,000 barrels a day next month. It’s a show of unity with fellow Opec+ leader Saudi Arabia, but also an attempt to answer months of questions about whether Russia could really have been cutting oil production — as announced in February — while simultaneously raising crude exports.
August gives Moscow the perfect opportunity to make these important gestures at minimal cost. Companies can redirect crude away from export terminals to domestic refiners, which will be running at a higher rate thanks to the end of spring maintenance and a period of generous state subsidies.
In fact, Russia should be able to achieve its export target without needing additional production cuts.
“Seeking to strengthen its ties with Saudi Arabia, Russia is set to fulfil its export cut pledge,” said Viktor Katona, head crude analyst at market intelligence firm Kpler. “The 500,000-barrel-a-day export cut will be fully absorbed by the domestic refining segment.”
Russian officials have given repeated assurances that the country’s 500,000 barrel-a-day production cut was implemented in March. But there’s no official data to back this up — the figures were classified in April — and tanker-tracking data show exports rising steadily from that month until mid-May.
Austin says there’s ‘no doubt’ Ukraine will join Nato after war
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said he has “no doubt” that Ukraine will join Nato after the conflict with Russia ends.
Austin told CNN that the alliance’s members want to move quickly on Ukraine’s proposed membership after the conflict, provided that it meets conditions such as improving its military equipment and training, and passing judicial and other reforms. Ukraine’s membership was a main topic of discussions at a Nato leader’s summit this week in Vilnius, Lithuania, where Zelensky made a new push to join.
“I have no doubt that that will happen,” Austin said in the interview from Vilnius. “And we heard just about every — all the countries in the room say as much, and I think that was reassuring to President Zelensky.”
Ouster of Russian General ‘Spartacus’ sparks ruling party feud
A Russian general who accused army chiefs of “treacherously” ousting him for criticising troop losses in the war in Ukraine has sparked a political feud within Putin’s ruling party, the latest sign of tensions over the military following the mutiny by Wagner mercenaries.
Major General Ivan Popov, whose call sign is “Spartacus”, said in an audio message that he’d been removed as commander of Russia’s 58th army in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region after he spoke to Defence Ministry chiefs “at the highest level, extremely harshly” about shortcomings in combat operations.
Popov told his “gladiators” in the message that he’d emphasised “the large-scale death and injury of our brothers from enemy artillery” because of an absence of countermeasures.
“Apparently, the senior bosses sensed some kind of danger” from the criticisms and quickly arranged an order from Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to remove him, Popov said. While Ukrainian forces couldn’t penetrate Russian defences, he said, the army’s top leadership “hit us from the rear, treacherously and viciously decapitating the army at the most difficult and tense moment”.
Popov’s accusations and the political dispute over his removal underline continued tensions among officials after the June 24 mutiny by Prigozhin that aimed to remove Shoigu and army Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov for failures in Russia’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine.
Another top general, Sergei Surovikin, hasn’t been seen in public since the rebellion ended, as the security services seek to establish whether elements in the military knew about Prigozhin’s plans in advance. Surovikin, who was repeatedly praised by the Wagner founder, has been quizzed by investigators over his links to the mercenaries, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
Putin appointed Gerasimov as overall head of Russia’s invasion force in January in place of Surovikin, a career military officer dubbed “General Armageddon” for his ruthless tactics during operations in Syria. He’s also stood by Shoigu, a long-standing ally who’s served alongside Putin for decades. DM