UKRAINE UPDATE: 11 OCTOBER 2023
Zelensky visits Romania to elevate strategic partnership; Germany pledges €1bn to boost air defence
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he expected a grain corridor to Romania via Moldova to become operational soon, as he called for action to prevent Russia from turning the Black Sea and Danube region into a ‘dead zone’ for navigation.
Meeting President Klaus Iohannis in Bucharest, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine was bolstering air-defence systems in Odesa, while Romania had agreed to speed up the training of Ukrainian F-16 pilots. The Romanian leader pledged to elevate diplomatic ties with Kyiv to the level of strategic partnership.
In Ukraine, police said at least two people were wounded when Russian troops shelled the city of Avdiivka in the eastern Donetsk region. Russian forces stepped up their activity on the southern frontline, Ukraine’s southern commander, Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, said on Telegram.
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Germany announces Ukraine air defence package worth €1bn
Germany will look to boost Ukraine’s air defence capabilities this winter by delivering a promised package of equipment worth around €1-billion, including an additional Patriot system to help protect critical infrastructure.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government will also supply two more promised Iris-T air defence systems this month, together with guided missiles, the Defence Ministry said on Tuesday in an emailed statement. The package includes an additional 10 Leopard A1 battle tanks, three more Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns and supplies of 155mm ammunition over the coming weeks.
“With this new ‘winter package’ we are further increasing the operational readiness of the Ukrainian armed forces,” Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said ahead of a meeting with Nato counterparts on Wednesday in Brussels.
For the German government’s full list of military support for Ukraine, click here.
Pro-Russia Fico wins ally’s backing for new Slovak government
Slovakia’s election winner, Robert Fico, secured a pledge from his preferred coalition partner to assemble a new government, opening a path for the pro-Russian populist to return to power.
The Voice party under erstwhile Fico ally Peter Pellegrini agreed on Tuesday to hold talks to form a government with Fico’s Smer and the Slovak National Party, a group that shares the election victor’s criticism of Russian sanctions and opposes LGBTQ rights and migration.
Fico, the 59-year-old who led Slovakia for 10 years over three terms until resigning in 2018, stands to undermine European Union unity if he returns to power. He’s pledged to halt military aid to Ukraine and has challenged EU policy on issues ranging from migration to climate.
Fico secured a convincing victory in the 30 September vote, defying polls showing a close contest.
The decision by Pellegrini all but dooms the ambitions of pro-EU Progressive Slovakia to form a government, which would have to rely on Voice. Pellegrini succeeded Fico in 2018, when the Smer leader resigned amid national outrage over the murder of an investigative journalist.
Ukraine ships crops, metal to Europe and Asia via new corridor
Ukraine’s commodities are again heading directly to traditional buyers across Europe and Asia via its new shipping corridor in the Black Sea.
Three ships were en route to Spain and one each to the Netherlands, Egypt and Singapore, ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg showed. Ships that left Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have already arrived in Romania, Israel, Italy and Bulgaria with cargoes like grain and metals.
The trips show how Ukraine’s risky bet to go it alone in the Black Sea appears to be paying off and could allow shipments to ramp up, securing much-needed revenues. Kyiv set up its own temporary route from ports in Greater Odesa after Russia exited a safe-corridor deal backed by the United Nations and Turkey in July.
Still, volumes so far are much smaller than under the grain export agreement, when China was the top destination for Kyiv’s exports, followed by Spain, Turkey and Italy. Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry declined to comment on the developments.
Russia’s current account surplus jumps, boosted by energy sales
Russia’s current account surplus unexpectedly rebounded in the third quarter to $16.6-billion as the central bank reported improving foreign trade including in energy sales.
The surplus, roughly the difference between exports and imports, recovered from a two-year low of $9.6-billion in the second quarter, preliminary data published on Tuesday by the Bank of Russia showed. It was close to double the median forecast of $8.6-billion among economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
Still, with Russia’s economy adapting to unprecedented international sanctions over its war in Ukraine, the surplus remains far below levels recorded last year. It reached $40.9-billion in the first nine months of this year, compared with $196-billion in the same period of 2022, underlining pressure on the rouble from diminishing foreign currency earnings.
The central bank expects Russia to record a current account surplus of just $45-billion this year and $50-billion in 2024.
Israel-Hamas conflict complicates break from Russian gas, says Eni CEO
Italy’s diversification of gas supplies from Russia is becoming “more complex” in light of the Israel-Hamas conflict, Eni’s chief executive officer, Claudio Descalzi, said.
“Diversification from Russian gas is an important step,” Descalzi said at an event in Rome marking the Italian energy company’s 70th anniversary on Tuesday. The task “is becoming more complex with a new war not far from us”.
Israel’s gas shipments to Egypt fell by 20% as safety concerns prompted the shutdown of a key offshore field, threatening onward deliveries to Europe, where benchmark gas prices jumped. The immediate impact on gas production is limited, “but potential consequences are worrying markets”, Descalzi said.
Italy has diversified some of its natural gas sources since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine cut supplies, mainly by shifting to North Africa. Algeria has become the country’s top supplier, meeting 38% of demand. Italy had sourced 40% of its gas from Russia before the war.
Eni plans to have replaced about 80% of Russian gas supply by the coming winter. “To guarantee the substitution of Russian gas, a continuous system of contracts and gas production needs to be in place,” Descalzi said.
At the moment the Italian government is not concerned about the impact of Israel-Hamas conflict on gas supplies to the country and the situation is being monitored, according to an official.
Russia’s crude shipments stick to cut even as price cap crumbles
Russia’s seaborne crude exports slipped back from a 13-week high in the seven days to 8 October, keeping four-week average flows in line with the export cut that Moscow pledged to maintain until the end of the year.
About 3.23 million barrels a day of crude were shipped from Russian ports last week, a decline of about 490,000 barrels a day from the previous seven days, tanker-tracking data monitored by Bloomberg show. That reduced the less volatile four-week average to about 3.26 million barrels a day.
The drop came after record-equalling shipments from the Arctic port of Murmansk in the previous week were not sustained.
Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said in early August that Moscow would prolong export restrictions at a reduced level of 300,000 barrels a day below their May-June average until the end of the year. Bloomberg calculations indicate that shipments through ports should be running now at about 3.28 million barrels a day. DM