UKRAINE UPDATE: 13 SEPTEMBER 2023
North Korea’s Kim arrives in Russia to meet Putin; Kyiv says operations in east and south remain ‘difficult’
Vladimir Putin prepared to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whose luxury armoured train crossed into Russian territory. In the eastern port city of Vladivostok, the Russian president sought to reassure investors after a steep drop in the rouble exposed the country’s vulnerability to financial shocks.
A senior Nato official said the alliance was concerned that the talks in Russia’s Far East could lead to additional arms deliveries to the Kremlin. Russia is, meanwhile, unlikely to be able to mount a significant offensive operation this year as its armed forces lack the necessary munitions and troops, the official told reporters in Brussels.
Military operations in eastern and southern Ukraine remain “quite difficult”, the General Staff in Kyiv said. Ukrainian forces are consolidating their positions after making gains on the southern front, inflicting “significant losses in manpower and equipment” on the Russian military, while Kremlin troops are pushing to break Ukrainian lines in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.
- Kim Jong-un crosses into Russia for rare summit with Putin
- Putin looks to calm markets, business as rouble roils war economy
- Zelensky vetoes asset-disclosure bill after anti-graft protest
- Putin praises ‘outstanding’ Musk while vowing more Moon missions
- Polish government to extend ban on Ukraine grain imports
EU set to lift sanctions on two Russian businessmen
The European Union is set to lift sanctions on two Russian businessmen after a review of the restrictions imposed on individuals and entities as punishment for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter.
The EU is expected to remove tycoons Grigory Berezkin and Farkhad Akhmedov from the list, the people said. The EU’s legal services asked for the change last month, the people said. Reuters earlier reported the plan for the two men.
The moves still require a formal sign-off and could still change before they’re adopted. The EU declined to comment, saying the process was ongoing.
Separately, billionaire Arkady Volozh, the co-founder of Yandex NV who publicly condemned Russia’s war on Ukraine in a statement last month, is expected to remain on the list for another six months at least, the people said.
While the US and UK have both previously lifted sanctions on some Russians, the two tycoons are the wealthiest Russians to get sanctions relief in the EU. They, and Volozh, developed their businesses and expanded their fortunes during Putin’s reign; however, none was seen as being particularly close to the Kremlin.
Azerbaijan-born Akhmedov, who currently lives in Baku, made much of his fortune from the sale of his stake in Russian gas producer Nortgas in November 2012 for $1.4-billion. In 2021 he settled the largest divorce in the UK, agreeing to pay his ex-wife around £135-million.
Russia-born Berezkin is the chairman of ESN group, which holds interests in energy and media businesses.
How far will McCarthy go to satisfy ultra-conservative Republicans?
US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy must choose in the coming weeks how far to go to satisfy Republican hardliners, a dilemma that will have an impact on a potential impeachment effort against President Joe Biden, the supply lines of the Ukrainian counteroffensive and more than four million federal workers.
The 58-year-old veteran politician, barely eight months into his dream job and under constant threat of ouster from dissident ultra-conservatives, is caught between the demands of his party’s right wing and the potential disruption and political damage of a government shutdown as soon as 1 October.
The Republican leader has launched a formal impeachment inquiry into Biden, who has been the target of multiple Republican investigations, including those into the business dealings of his son, Hunter Biden.
McCarthy appears to be avoiding — at least initially — a floor vote to open the inquiry. Such a vote would pose a serious risk to swing-district House Republicans, 18 of whom represent areas Biden won in the 2020 election.
For now, he is trying to delay a reckoning on the government funding clash and pursue a middle course. He has floated a temporary spending measure to keep the government operating into November, leaving out $24-billion in requested Ukraine assistance. A shutdown could hinge on that aid.
McCarthy is the key player in reaching a spending deal to avoid a shutdown.
Yet he’s also now “at his highest level of risk,” Mick Mulvaney, a former House Republican and White House chief of staff, told Bloomberg Radio’s Sound On. The Speaker “might have to go through at least a little bit of a shutdown if for no other reason to establish some bona fides with the conservative wing”.
McCarthy expressed confidence on Monday he would achieve conservative priorities without a shutdown. “We are going to get our work done,” he told reporters at the Capitol.
A government shutdown would cut off pay to federal workers and military personnel, halt many government services and heighten US political dysfunction.
Conservatives consider the House’s power over annual government funding their greatest leverage with Democrat Biden in the White House. They have demanded deep cuts in spending, an end to “woke” diversity policies in the military, stronger border enforcement and reductions or a halt to Ukraine aid.
Putin calls Trump charges persecution that lays bare ‘rot’ in US
Putin called the legal cases facing former US president Donald Trump “political persecution” that inadvertently benefits Russia by revealing the true face of its adversaries.
“In that sense, if they try to compete with us in some way, it’s good because it shows who is competing against us,” Putin said at the keynote session of his annual economic forum in the Pacific Russian port city of Vladivostok on Tuesday.
Using language strikingly similar to Trump’s own, Putin said, “Everything that’s happening with Trump is the persecution of a political rival for political reasons.”
“And this is being done in front of the public in the US and the whole world,” he said. “They are airing their domestic problems.”
The cases piling up against Trump over alleged attempts to overturn the result of the 2020 election show “the complete rot of the American political system”, Putin said.
Trump, who faces criminal and civil trials as he seeks the Republican Party’s nomination for president, has denounced all the cases against him as politically motivated attacks.
Poland to extend Ukraine grain-import ban, putting pressure on EU
Poland will extend its ban on imports of grain from Ukraine unless the European Union allows its own restrictions to stay in place beyond Friday — a move that raises tensions with both Kyiv and Brussels.
The government in Warsaw approved the plan on Tuesday, effectively issuing an ultimatum to the EU three days before the scheduled expiry of the bloc’s measures. Meanwhile, Hungary and Romania reiterated that EU import restrictions should be extended until at least the end of the year.
“We’re convinced that the EU is wavering and will allow for the extension” of the current restrictions, Polish Agriculture Minister Robert Telus said in a radio interview on Tuesday. “If it doesn’t, then we’re going to act tough because it’s in the interest of Polish farmers.”
Ukraine has sought alternative export routes for its grain after Russia blocked most shipments via the Black Sea shortly after its invasion last year. Some eastern European countries have since restricted grain imports from Ukraine because the flows are undercutting their own farming sectors. The collapse in July of a deal to facilitate exports from the Black Sea has heightened tensions.
Putin looks to calm markets, business as rouble roils war economy
Russia is steering clear of extreme measures for now in response to economic turbulence, Putin said, trying to deliver a message of reassurance after a steep depreciation underscored his country’s vulnerability to financial shocks from the war in Ukraine.
Speaking at an investment forum on Tuesday ahead of his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Putin said Russia could cope without resorting to tighter capital controls or seizing private assets. As Putin spoke, the rouble pared an advance against the dollar but was still on track for its third consecutive day of gains.
Despite a brief crash in the rouble last month and volatility that followed, the currency’s swings are “manageable,” Putin said at the keynote session of the annual economic forum in the Pacific Russian port city of Vladivostok. At the same time, exporters had been “restrained” in bringing back their revenues from abroad, he said, putting a squeeze on the supply of foreign exchange.
The Kremlin’s drive to expand military recruitment has meanwhile been threatening to get in the way of the economic turnaround by thinning the workforce.
Putin didn’t directly say if another call-up was possible but praised those he called “real men” who were volunteering to join the fight. Russia had enlisted an extra 270,000 people over the past six to seven months, he said, in addition to the 300,000 mobilised earlier.
Zelensky vetoes asset-disclosure bill after anti-graft protest
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vetoed a law on asset declarations for public officials after grassroots anti-corruption campaigners protested that the legislation delayed the disclosures by a year.
The parliament in Kyiv last week approved the legislation that included the delay, prompting a public campaign that assailed the rules as lacking transparency. A petition urging Zelensky to reject the law was launched by an injured soldier recovering in a military hospital who gathered the required 25,000 signatures in a few hours.
“Declarations must be fully revealed. Right now,” Zelensky said in a statement on social media. “Not in a year. The register must be opened right now.”
The presidential veto is a victory for anti-corruption activists in Kyiv, who have stepped up criticism in recent weeks of public corruption. Zelensky last week replaced his defence minister following allegations of graft in public procurement. Last month, he fired all the military’s draft officers after accusations of sleaze had come to light.
Putin praises ‘outstanding’ Musk while vowing more Moon missions
Putin praised Elon Musk as an outstanding person and talented businessman, just days after the chief executive officer of SpaceX acknowledged preventing Ukraine from using his company’s Starlink satellite network for an attack on Russian warships.
“As for private business, Elon Musk, he is certainly an outstanding person,” Putin said at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on Tuesday. “I think it will be recognised throughout the world. He is an active, talented businessman.”
Putin’s compliments came after Musk posted on X, his social media network formerly known as Twitter, on 7 September about his decision to reject an emergency request from Ukrainian authorities to activate Starlink toward Sevastopol, the port city in Crimea.
Granting permission, Musk said, would have made SpaceX “explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation”.
Noting SpaceX receives support from the US government, Putin said Russia was open to involving private investors in its space industry and vowed to continue Russia’s efforts to explore the Moon despite last month’s failure of the Luna-25 mission.
Putin says Russia to rectify slow response to high fuel prices
Russia’s government was slow to react to rising domestic fuel prices, but was now working on solutions with the nation’s oil producers, Putin said.
Road fuel has become more expensive in Russia as the country’s Cabinet failed to react in a timely way to developments in the global markets, Putin said on Tuesday. The government’s decision to cut by half the subsidies Russian refineries get for supplying petrol and diesel to buyers at home aggravated the problem, he said.
Rising fuel costs are a political concern for the Kremlin, which is preparing for the presidential elections in March. The issue has previously caused protests, such as in 2018 when consumers across Russia rallied to demand cheaper fuel.
Russian authorities have been exploring ways to limit pump prices, including recommendations for producers to reduce their own fuel shipments overseas while mulling a ban on so-called grey exports by non-producers. The country plans to reduce diesel exports from its key western ports by a quarter this month, partly as a result of seasonal refinery maintenance. DM