UKRAINE UPDATE: 20 JULY 2023
Putin to skip BRICS Summit, resolving SA’s diplomatic dilemma; Finland tells Russia to close its consulate
South Africa said Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t attend next month’s summit of BRICS leaders in person, resolving a potential dilemma for the country’s authorities over whether to execute an International Criminal Court warrant for his arrest.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia intentionally attacked grain-deal infrastructure as he ordered his military to boost port defence and diplomats to step up contacts with partners to continue exports of Ukrainian crops. Ukraine is studying options to get the grain corridor working again, including convoys for ships, the Interfax news service cited him as saying.
The Ukrainian military reported earlier that Russia had fired a barrage from the Black Sea overnight, mainly striking at infrastructure in the southern Odesa region, with some missiles hitting a grain terminal and a vegetable oil terminal. The Russian Defence Ministry said military-industrial targets had been selected, as well as energy infrastructure and ammunition depots around the city of Odesa.
- Putin to skip BRICS Summit, resolving South Africa’s dilemma
- Lula sees global fatigue over Ukraine as he pushes for peace
- Russia readies pilot of digital rouble as war squeezes economy
- Grains extend gains as Odesa terminals attacked
Putin ‘skips BRICS Summit in SA’, avoiding arrest threat
Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t attend next month’s summit of BRICS leaders in Johannesburg in person, resolving a potential dilemma South Africa faced over whether to execute an International Criminal Court warrant for his arrest if he did come, South Africa said.
“By mutual agreement, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation will not attend the summit but the Russian Federation will be represented by Foreign Minister Mr Sergey Lavrov,” South Africa’s Presidency said in a statement on Wednesday.
Putin’s possible participation in the gathering was being closely monitored by Washington and its allies as they seek to isolate Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. South Africa has adopted a non-aligned stance toward the conflict, a position that has drawn harsh criticism from some of the nation’s largest trading partners, including America and the European Union.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov confirmed that Putin will take part in the summit by video conference, while Lavrov will attend in person.
Finland tells Russia to close its consulate, intensifying spat
Finland told Russia to close its consulate on the southeastern coast, deepening a diplomatic dispute between the neighbours.
The Nordic country is withdrawing consent for Russia to operate its consulate general in Turku as of 1 October, the government said in a statement on Wednesday. The Russian ambassador has been notified, it said.
The move is a response to a Russian decision to close Finland’s consulate in St Petersburg as of 1 October. Both countries have in recent weeks also expelled each other’s diplomats, and Finnish missions in Russia have had difficulties with their bank accounts.
Finland joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in early April, doubling the length of the alliance’s border with Russia. The decision to enter the bloc was prompted by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Attack on Ukraine ports drives wheat to a three-week high
Wheat and maize rallied to three-week highs as another wave of Russian attacks battered southern Ukraine following the collapse of the grain export deal.
Shelling on Tuesday and Wednesday hit agriculture terminals in the ports of Odesa and Chornomorsk, according to the agriculture ministry. The damage knocked out a “significant part” of Chornomorsk’s grain export infrastructure and destroyed 60,000 tonnes of grain there.
The ports were two of the three that had been opened under the Black Sea grain deal, which Russia exited earlier this week, a year after it was originally agreed. The strikes highlight security risks and could weigh on plans by officials to continue shipments without the pact in place.
“Russian terrorists absolutely consciously aimed at the grain deal infrastructure,” Zelensky said on Telegram after a meeting with key officials on Wednesday.
He instructed Ukraine’s military to boost the defence of port infrastructure and for his diplomats to step up contacts with foreign partners to try to continue exporting the nation’s grain and put more pressure on Russia. The US has said shipping escorts are not an option.
Russia readies digital rouble pilot as war squeezes economy
Russia is pressing ahead with plans to introduce a digital rouble, joining a growing list of countries to experiment with the electronic currency as it’s wrestling with international isolation over its war in Ukraine.
Legislation to approve the creation of the national digital currency was passed by the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of Parliament, on Wednesday. Once it’s signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, the Bank of Russia may begin tests of the digital rouble as soon as next month.
More than half of the world’s central banks are considering or developing digital currencies, according to the International Monetary Fund. At least 20 are working on pilot programmes, including India, Japan and China, whose project reaches 260 million people and is being tested in areas including public transport and e-commerce, research published by the Atlantic Council showed.
While cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin make use of decentralised payments systems that don’t depend on governments, digital currencies issued by central banks are issued and regulated by their respective states. Advocates say they make it easier to provide banking services to under-served social groups, increase the efficiency of payments and lower transaction costs, while sceptics warn of privacy concerns and security risks from cyber attacks.
Russia gives seized Danone, Carlsberg assets to Putin allies
Russia named a relative of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and an ally of President Vladimir Putin to head the seized local operations of France’s Danone and Denmark’s Carlsberg.
Yakub Zakriev (32), who’s Chechnya’s agriculture minister, is now listed as the general director of Danone Russia, according to the official Spark-Interfax disclosure service. He’s a nephew of Kadyrov, the Chechen ruler who’s a protegé of Putin and who has been repeatedly accused of human rights violations in the southern Russian republic.
The Federal Property Management Agency also appointed Taimuraz Bolloyev to lead Carlsberg’s Baltika Brewing Company, according to a spokesman for the Russian company.
“Putin is distributing assets to his vassals,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. The takeovers represent “a kind of oligarchic state capitalism that does not exist outside of ties with the state. And certainly, it will result in less efficiency in the economy.”
Russia on Sunday seized control of the local subsidiaries of Danone and Carlsberg under a decree Putin signed in April. The decree allowed for the assets of companies or individuals from “unfriendly” nations to be taken over by the state in response to similar moves or the threat of them by those countries. The yoghurt maker and the brewer had both been trying to leave Russia.
Lula sees global fatigue over Ukraine as he pushes for peace
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said the world is tiring of Russia’s war in Ukraine as he insisted on his peace efforts after a summit with European leaders highlighted tensions over the conflict.
Lula, who has pushed to broker a deal between Putin and Zelensky, also criticised Chile’s Gabriel Boric for his stance against Moscow.
“The world is starting to get tired. Countries are starting to get tired,” Lula told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday. “So the moment will come when there will be peace. And then there will have to be a group of countries that are able to talk to Russia and to talk to Ukraine.”
At a two-day summit of European Union, Latin American and Caribbean leaders earlier this week, the EU failed to ensure the meeting’s conclusions mentioned Russia explicitly over its invasion, or condemned Moscow. Nicaragua refused to sign. Lula has avoided singling out Moscow as the main culprit for the conflict, saying Zelensky and Joe Biden were also to blame for failing to negotiate more with Putin.
G20 mediators plan a dozen meetings to agree on war language
The chief mediators of the Group of 20 (G20) countries are planning to meet more frequently in the coming weeks as they struggle to find common ground on how to describe Russia’s war in Ukraine before the leaders’ summit in September.
If a joint statement does not materialise, India will become the first G20 chair to fail to issue such a statement since 2008. New Delhi wants to avoid such a situation as Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks to strengthen his credentials as an international statesman.
“We will have 10 to 12 rounds,” said Amitabh Kant, the chief negotiator for India. The drafting of the final communique has already begun with the negotiators meeting virtually until the face-to-face discussions days before the heads of state gather in New Delhi on 9-10 September.
Foreign and finance ministers’ meetings in India ended without a communique so far this year. The finance chiefs of the world’s top economies continued to be split over the language describing the war, with just a “chair summary” and “outcome document” issued on Tuesday after two days of meetings in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
As the G20 host, India is caught in the middle. The US and its allies insist on mentioning Putin’s war in Ukraine in a communique traditionally issued after the heads of state summit, but Russia and China are firmly opposed to it, leading to an impasse.
Currently, the negotiators, also known as sherpas, are trying to bring “everybody around to a common agreement”, but there were still wide differences within the group, Kant said. The G20 countries have different national positions and the red lines need to be considered, he added. DM