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UKRAINE UPDATE: 27 JULY 2023

Nato-Ukraine council to discuss Black Sea ports; troops make ‘tactically significant’ gains in counteroffensive

Nato-Ukraine council to discuss Black Sea ports; troops make ‘tactically significant’ gains in counteroffensive
Ukraine’s national flag and the EU flag fly under the Nato logo in European Square, central Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergey Dolzhenko)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said a Wednesday meeting of the new Nato-Ukraine Council at the level of ambassadors would discuss the security of Ukrainian grain exports and Black Sea ports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to hold meetings with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as delegations start arriving for the second Russia-Africa Summit. The two-day event in St Petersburg opens on Thursday and the Kremlin has said 17 heads of state are due to take part, along with lower-level officials from as many as 49 countries.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front and advanced on Tuesday, according to the Institute for the Study of War. Footage published on Tuesday showed that Ukrainian troops had made “tactically significant” gains south of the village of Klishchiivka, which is itself to the southwest of Bakhmut, the US-based organisation said on its website.

Latest developments 

Russian gas output down 13% in first half after EU exports cut

Russian natural gas production in the first half was almost 13% lower than a year earlier following the Kremlin’s decision to halt pipeline exports to many countries in Europe, its biggest market.Russian producers pumped 319.3 billion cubic metres of gas in the first half of the year, according to industry data seen by Bloomberg.

The country started to significantly reduce gas output last year after halting most pipeline exports to Europe amid the Kremlin’s standoff with the West over the invasion of Ukraine.Russia produced 42.8 billion cubic metres of gas in June, down 8.6% from the same month a year earlier.

The magnitude of the year-on-year drop is gradually narrowing because at this point in 2022, the Kremlin had already begun to constrain exports. The figures exclude volumes that were burnt off, or flared, in line with how the Energy Ministry has historically calculated output.

Russian who allegedly exposed US hack jailed for 14 years

A Moscow court on Wednesday sentenced the founder of Russia’s top cybersecurity firm to 14 years in prison for treason.

Ilya Sachkov (37), who’d built up Group-IB into a security business that expanded into Europe, Asia and the Middle East, was ordered to serve the sentence at a strict-regime prison colony, state-run Tass news service reported. His lawyer, Sergei Afanasyev, told Bloomberg News that Sachkov, who was detained in September 2021 and denied wrongdoing, would appeal against the conviction.

While the charges against him have never been made public because of secrecy surrounding treason trials in Russia, Sachkov was alleged to have given the US government information regarding a hacking team in Moscow’s GRU military intelligence service — dubbed “Fancy Bear” by US cybersecurity companies — and its efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election, according to people familiar with the matter.

It’s unclear if those accusations formed part of the official count, and Russian media has reported that the charges relate to a separate incident from 2014. In an interview with Forbes published in May last year, Sachkov accused unnamed people whose activities his cybersecurity investigations were “seriously obstructing” of being behind his prosecution.

One reason Sachkov may have been targeted is that he provided information to Western agencies about Vladislav Klyushin, the founder of another Russian cybersecurity company with Kremlin ties, three people familiar with the matter said soon after his detention.

Moldova asks Russia to reduce embassy staff in its capital, Chisinau

Moldova asked Russia to significantly reduce staff at its embassy in Chisinau to match the number of its own employees in Moscow, citing what it called repeated attempts to meddle in the nation’s internal affairs and sidetrack its pro-European progress.

“This decision comes as a result of numerous unfriendly actions toward Moldova, which were not related to the diplomatic mandate, as well as attempts to destabilise the internal situation in our country,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Russia will need to withdraw 45 diplomats and technical staff from Moldova by 15 August to match Moldova’s 10 diplomats and 15 technical staff in Moscow, according to the ministry.

Ex-Ukraine prosecutor who fled to Russia wins EU sanctions fight

Viktor Pshonka, a former top Ukrainian prosecutor who fled to Russia after the fall of his nation’s Kremlin-backed regime, won a European Union court fight over his inclusion on the bloc’s war sanctions list.

The EU’s General Court said Wednesday it annulled decisions to target Pshonka and his son, Artem, citing errors of assessment and doubts that they were based on a sufficiently “solid factual basis”.

Pshonka and his son were first slapped with EU sanctions in 2014 as people subject to criminal prosecution in Ukraine for alleged “embezzlement of Ukrainian state funds and their illegal transfer outside Ukraine”.

In its decision, the EU court said it wasn’t clear that the EU had satisfied itself that the Ukrainian judicial administration respected the rights of defence in the local criminal proceedings. DM

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