UKRAINE UPDATE: 18 OCTOBER 2023
Orbán first EU leader to meet Putin since ICC arrest warrant; Kyiv missile strikes ‘damaged Russian airfields’
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán became the first European Union premier to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin since an international arrest warrant was issued against the Russian leader over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s military said missile strikes on Russian airfields in the occupied Luhansk in the east and Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov destroyed nine Russian helicopters, an air-defence missile unit and an ammunition depot, and damaged the runways of both airfields. Russia’s military hasn’t commented.
Ukraine used ATACMS missiles provided by the US in the attack for the first time, CNN reported. The US has not officially confirmed it approved a transfer. President Joe Biden told Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in September that he was willing to provide Ukraine with the long-awaited missiles, Bloomberg reported last month.
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Putin arrives in China to meet Xi on rare international trip
President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing, according to Chinese state media, a rare trip abroad for the Russian leader who has an arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
Putin was expected to attend the Belt and Road Forum, CGTN reported. He was also set to meet President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, Russia’s Interfax said earlier.
The visit underscores the close ties between Beijing and Moscow that officials in Washington and Brussels are watching carefully amid the war in Ukraine. China has provided key diplomatic and economic support to Russia since Putin ordered the 2022 invasion, mitigating the effects of Western sanctions on Moscow.
Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Monday and exchanged views on topics including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to a statement from the foreign ministry.
Hungary calls Bulgaria levy on Russia gas transit ‘hostile step’
Hungary pledged to retaliate against Bulgaria after the Balkan nation blindsided it with a tax on Russian gas transit, potentially threatening the viability of energy imports through a critical route.
The levy, which Bulgaria announced last week, came without warning and was considered by Hungary to be a “hostile step,” Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Tuesday. He said Hungary would work with Serbia, which also relies on the Balkan pipeline for natural gas, on a response.
“We’re not going to leave this step unanswered,” Szijjarto told state television after Orbán met Putin in Beijing. Szijjarto didn’t provide any details on how his country might respond.
Bulgaria published a law on Friday introducing a charge of 20 Bulgarian lev ($10.81) per megawatt hour of Russian-origin gas, effectively raising its cost by about 20% of the price of Europe’s benchmark gas traded in the regional hub of Amsterdam.
The move wasn’t targeted at Hungary or Serbia, but at Russia, which has sought to tap energy profits to finance its war in Ukraine, Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov said on Tuesday.
“We expect not to increase prices in Serbia and Hungary, but to reduce the profits of Gazprom,” Denkov was quoted by the Dnevnik.bg news website as saying at a conference. “That is, to reduce the funds that enter the state budget of Russia to wage the war.”
Orbán is first EU leader to meet Putin since ICC arrest warrant
Orbán became the first European Union premier to meet Putin since an international warrant was issued against the Russian leader over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
Orbán met Putin on Tuesday in Beijing, where both leaders are attending the Belt and Road Initiative forum hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The leaders discussed cooperation on gas, oil and nuclear energy, Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs said on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.
Orbán’s meeting is likely to prompt a backlash from his EU and Nato allies as well as Ukraine, which have sought to isolate Putin since Russia invaded Hungary’s eastern neighbour last year. The Hungarian premier has acted to undermine that unity by sealing energy deals with Russia, trying to limit Western aid to Ukraine, delaying Nato expansion and publicly calling on the EU to scrap economic sanctions imposed on Moscow.
Orbán called the meeting with Putin the most difficult to date due to the “military operation and sanctions”. He said the aim was to salvage as many of the economic links as possible, including gas imports from Russia and Moscow’s lead role in expanding Hungary’s sole nuclear plant.
The International Criminal Court in March issued an arrest warrant for Putin, citing his alleged role in unlawfully deporting thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia. Hungary ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC in 2001, during Orbán’s first term as premier.
Russia’s crude oil shipments are creeping up again
Russia’s oil flows are steadily climbing again after months of careful adherence to a pact with Saudi Arabia to keep barrels off the global market.
The nation’s seaborne crude exports rebounded in the seven days to 15 October, boosting four-week average flows to their highest in more than three months.
About 3.51 million barrels a day of crude were shipped from Russian ports last week, a rise of about 285,000 barrels a day from the previous seven days, tanker-tracking data monitored by Bloomberg show. That lifted the less volatile four-week average to about 3.36 million barrels a day.
The increase came from a jump in Black Sea flows to a six-week high and a recovery in shipments from the Arctic port of Murmansk after a slump in the previous week. DM