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UKRAINE UPDATE: 8 AUGUST 2023

Chinese foreign minister reiterates appeal for peace talks; Black Sea drone attacks signal expanding war

Chinese foreign minister reiterates appeal for peace talks; Black Sea drone attacks signal expanding war
US Army soldiers with M1A2 tanks participate in a defence exercise on 15 April 2017. The US Army has accepted the last of 31 planned Abrams M1A2 tanks modified by General Dynamics for Ukraine, Douglas Bush, the service’s acquisition chief, told reporters. (Photo: EPA / Jeon Heon-Kyun)

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated an appeal for peace talks and political solutions for the war in a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. The move follows Ukraine pitching its 10-point peace formula to more than 40 countries in Saudi Arabia, where representatives for China stuck to calls for a ceasefire as a precursor to peace negotiations.

The US Army has accepted the last of 31 planned Abrams M1A2 tanks modified by General Dynamics for Ukraine, Douglas Bush, the service’s acquisition chief, told reporters. “Now they have to get to Europe and then Ukraine along with all the things that go with them — ammunition, spare parts, fuel, equipment, repair facilities,” he said. An early autumn arrival in Ukraine is the goal.

Latest developments

 

 

 

China’s viral rebuke of Russia doesn’t mean Xi is ditching Putin

China last week unleashed some of its strongest criticism against Russia since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Yet any suggestion that Xi Jinping is shifting his view on the war amounts to wishful thinking.

The rare admonition took place on Friday over an incident involving Chinese citizens — including a popular video blogger — who were denied entry from Kazakhstan into Russia at a border checkpoint. Video footage widely circulated on Chinese social media platforms over the weekend showed Russian border officials going through suitcases, with one of the travellers saying he felt like he was being treated as a criminal.

“Russia’s brutal and excessive law-enforcement activities in this incident have seriously violated the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese citizens,” the Chinese Embassy in Moscow said in a post on the social media platform WeChat.

Yet while the language was unusually harsh, it hardly signals a broader shift from Beijing. Since Russia’s invasion, China has repeatedly sought to create some space with Moscow on issues such as the use of nuclear weapons and attacks on civilians, even as Xi consistently backs Putin’s reasons for going to war — not least because Beijing sees the US and its allies strengthening ties with Taiwan.

The incident shows the world that relations between China and Russia are more layered and nuanced than understood by many in the West, according to Henry Wang Huiyao, founder of the Center for China and Globalization research group based in Beijing.

“China needs to maintain good relations with Russia,” he said. “It doesn’t mean they’re in favour of everything Russia does.”

Xi, who signed up to a “no limits” friendship with Putin shortly before his invasion, has sought to portray China as a neutral broker on Ukraine, releasing a 12-point blueprint for bringing peace that included calls to respect sovereignty, facilitate grain exports and halt all hostilities. While the roadmap has been widely panned by the US and its allies, it has bought Xi credibility among the so-called Global South and won China a seat at Ukraine talks hosted by Saudi Arabia over the weekend.

China sent a delegation led by veteran diplomat Li Hui to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to join more than 40 countries including the US and European nations — but not Russia. While the discussions brought little in the way of concrete steps to stop the war or reverse Russia’s territorial gains, they showed Xi’s success in countering US efforts to isolate Beijing due to its relationship with Russia.

Still, China has several reasons to be irked with Putin, including his move to end a deal that allowed grain exports through the Black Sea, leading to food supply problems that also affect China. And that’s only part of the problem, according to Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“The main issue remains the unpredictability of the long-term nature of the conflict,” he said. “The war destabilises the world, and this is bad from Beijing’s perspective as much as they might like the distracting effect it has toward the West’s focus on China.”

Wheat climbs as attack poses risk for key Russian export route

Wheat extended gains after Ukraine used sea drones to cripple a Russian naval vessel and an oil tanker over the weekend, posing a risk for a key export route for Russian commodities through the Black Sea.

Top wheat shipper Russia moves most of its grain through the waterway. It is in the middle of a second bumper harvest, making this a crucial time for getting crops to markets and ensuring enough supply to constrain global food costs.

The attack follows multiple strikes at Ukrainian sea and river ports. Russia last month exited a deal that ensured a safe corridor for Ukrainian exports from three Black Sea ports. Ukrainian shipments are now confined to river and land routes, and its harvests are decreasing as the war continues.

Futures in Chicago climbed by as much as 3.4% to $6.545 a bushel on Monday before paring the advance to about 1.9% as of 5.20am local time. Milling wheat in Paris rose by about 1.4%.

Rare Russian VIP jet in North Korea spurs arms deal concern

An unusual sighting of a Russian military jet in North Korea is stoking concern that Kim Jong-un is selling Vladimir Putin weapons as ties strengthen between the sanctioned states.

Tracking data from FlightRadar24 shows the Russian Air Force Ilyushin IL-62M flying from Moscow to Pyongyang on 31 July and returning on 2 August. Satellite imagery showed the aircraft at Pyongyang’s international airport for about 36 hours, according to NK News, a Seoul-based provider of news on North Korea that also tracks flight activity in the isolated country.

The flight was the first by this type of Russian military VIP plane to North Korea since mid-2019, when Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin travelled to Pyongyang, NK News said. Pyongyang closed its borders in early 2020 due to the pandemic, choking its economy.

Neither Russia nor North Korea have reported on the plane, and it is unclear who was aboard. Russia’s Defence Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The journey by the Russian Air Force jet came just days after Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu travelled to Pyongyang on a similar plane to attend a military parade hosted by Kim, who also gave him a tour of a weapons exhibit. It “appears related to following up on Shoigu’s delegation visit and possibly agreements made with Kim,” NK News said, adding that analysts “speculated that the two could have made weapons deals”.

Just after Shoigu returned to Moscow, the US reiterated its concern that Moscow was seeking to restock ammunition reserves depleted by its war in Ukraine.

“We’ve seen in the past Russia looking to try to obtain munitions from countries like North Korea,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brigadier-General Pat Ryder said in a briefing on 1 August. “It highlights the dire straits that Russia finds itself in when it comes to resupplying and refreshing its munitions capabilities.”

 

 

 

Ukraine Black Sea drone attacks signal rapidly expanding war

The footprint of Putin’s war on Ukraine is growing fast after a weekend in which sea drones crippled a Russian naval vessel and an oil tanker.

For the first time, the attacks put at risk Russia’s commodity exports via the Black Sea, a route that accounts for most of the grain and 15% to 20% of the oil that Russia sells daily on global markets. Significantly higher insurance and shipping costs are likely to follow for Moscow, but there are risks to European and global markets, too.

The expansion comes as Ukraine’s counteroffensive advances more slowly than Kyiv officials planned, and as Saudi Arabia’s attempt to catalyse peace talks by hosting a multinational conference showed just how hard it is likely to be to end the bloodshed on terms both sides can accept.

Ukraine’s defence ministry confirmed it struck key bridges on one of two roads that connect Crimea to the Ukrainian mainland on Sunday, using Storm Shadow cruise missiles. That forced Russia to reroute supplies to its forces in the south via the longer and more exposed road to the west, according to the Institute for the Study of War, in Washington.

“We’re in an escalation phase now and the situation is unpredictable,” said Alexander Gabuev, who heads the Russia Eurasia Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank.

“Since the start of its counteroffensive, Ukraine has been trying to deliver a message to the Russian elites and population that the war can strike into their territory,” Gabuev said. Now it “is trying to target Russian critical infrastructure, including sea routes in the Black Sea that are vital for Russian exports”.

Russian oil to India in June the cheapest since war in Ukraine

The average cost of Russian crude landing on Indian shores in June was the lowest since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.

The price for each barrel including freight costs was $68.17, down from $70.17 in May and $100.48 a year earlier, according to the latest figures from India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry. While that’s higher than a $60 cap imposed by Western nations on Moscow, the threshold doesn’t include shipping.

India has become one of the world’s top consumers of cheaper Russian crude since the war, along with China. Data from Kpler shows Indian imports dipping over the past two months, with flows expected to fall further in August as the Opec+ producer fulfils a pledge to trim exports. The analytics firm sees shipments to the South Asian nation rebounding from October, however. DM

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