World

UKRAINE UPDATE: 17 NOVEMBER 2023

Cameron assures Zelensky of UK’s continued support; Finland to close four Russian border crossings

Cameron assures Zelensky of UK’s continued support; Finland to close four Russian border crossings
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron at a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on 16 November 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ukrainian Presidential Press Service Handout)

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron chose Kyiv as the destination for his first trip abroad since returning to government and gave a personal assurance to President Volodymyr Zelensky that Britain would maintain support for Ukraine ‘for however long it takes’.

The US Senate overwhelmingly approved a temporary funding measure to avert a government shutdown, delaying a partisan clash over federal spending until the new year and leaving out emergency aid to allies Ukraine and Israel.

Finland will close four of its busiest border crossings with Russia after concluding that an influx of migrants from third countries was an organised operation threatening its national security.

Cameron vows UK support for Ukraine won’t waver in trip to Kyiv

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron chose Kyiv as the destination for his first trip abroad since returning to government and gave a personal assurance to President Volodymyr Zelensky that Britain would maintain support for Ukraine “for however long it takes”.

Zelensky told the former UK premier that it’s “a pity” that some of the world’s attention had been distracted from Russia’s attack on Ukraine by the Israel-Hamas war, and said such a “dividing of focus really doesn’t help”.

Cameron responded by pledging that he would work to understand Ukraine’s needs and how to foster effective communications among Kyiv’s allies “to make sure the attention is here in Ukraine”, according to a video posted on Zelensky’s X account.

“What I want to say by being here is that we will continue to give you the moral support, the diplomatic support, the economic support, but above all the military support that you need,” said Cameron, who was appointed on Monday by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. “Not just this year and next year but for however long it takes.”

US Senate votes to avert shutdown, leaves out Israel-Ukraine aid

The US Senate overwhelmingly approved a temporary funding measure to avert a government shutdown, delaying a partisan clash over federal spending until the new year and leaving out emergency aid to allies Ukraine and Israel.

The 87-11 vote late on Wednesday night sent the measure, already passed by the House, to President Joe Biden. He was expected to sign it before the shutdown deadline late on Friday night.

The outcome provides a temporary reprieve from a bitter ideological struggle over spending that already this year has brought the US close to a debt default, provoked Fitch Ratings to downgrade the nation’s sovereign credit rating, and cost former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy his job. 

“The government is staying open,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a press conference late on Wednesday and urged the new House speaker, Mike Johnson, to continue on a bipartisan path. He also praised Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans for helping to avoid a shutdown.

Schumer added that assistance for Israel and Ukraine would be the chamber’s next priority and “we will be working on it immediately when we get back from Thanksgiving”.

Finland closes key Russian border crossings

Finland will close four of its busiest border crossings with Russia after concluding that an influx of migrants from third countries was an organised operation threatening its national security.

The government was acting “decisively and quickly” to “stop this phenomenon”, Prime Minister Petteri Orpo told reporters in Helsinki on Thursday. It will close the Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa, Imatra and Niirala crossing points from midnight on Saturday for all traffic and concentrate all asylum applications at two northerly border points, with the measures in force until 18 February.

“This is an exceptional and hefty move,” Orpo said. “We want to send a strong message to stem this development.”

The decision follows an intensifying inflow of asylum seekers arriving at border crossings in the southeast of the country, with Orpo saying earlier in the week that Russia appeared to be helping or transporting immigrants to the checkpoints along the demarcation.

While the absolute number of arrivals is low, “we have information and indications that people’s arrival into Finland is being machinated, and therefore the absolute numbers do not matter”, Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said.

On Wednesday, Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto linked the developments to recently concluded negotiations over a defence cooperation agreement with the US that would ease the transport of soldiers and military equipment into the Nordic country.

The recent arrival of immigrants echoes the events of the winter of 2015-2016 when scores of Asian and Middle Eastern asylum seekers arrived in droves across the border in remote Arctic areas from Russia, which Finnish officials later concluded was probably part of a hybrid attack masterminded by Moscow.

Russia detains former Carlsberg executives as row deepens

Russia has detained two former executives from Carlsberg who managed the Baltika Brewing Company before it was seized by the state and accused them of fraud.

The investigators asked a St Petersburg court to place Denis Sherstennikov and Anton Rogachevsky under arrest on suspicion of fraud, the court said on Telegram. The managers have been detained, Fontanka media reported.

The investigators allege that the two men transferred Baltika’s intellectual property rights worth at least 295.6 million roubles ($3.3-million) to Carlsberg Kazakhstan and another unit for nearly two decades, according to the court’s statement.

Baltika’s press service didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In July, Russia seized control of Baltika, the local subsidiary of Carlsberg, under a presidential decree that allows for the assets of companies or individuals from “unfriendly” nations to be taken over by the state. Before the seizure, Carlsberg had been trying to divest its Russian business. The Federal Property Management Agency later appointed Putin’s ally Taimuraz Bolloyev to lead Baltika. 

Sherstennikov was Baltika’s president and Rogachevsky was his deputy.

“It is appalling that the efforts of the Russian state to justify their illegal takeover of our business in Russia has now evolved into targeting innocent employees,” Carlsberg said.

Canada so expensive that some Ukrainian immigrants are leaving

Not long after Russia began bombing Ukraine, Oleksii Martynenko packed his bags and fled Kremenchuk, a once-tranquil but now war-torn city roughly 350km from Kyiv. He moved to Stockholm and took a job as a line cook. One year later, as his work visa approached expiry, he relocated to Canada’s largest city. 

The continental change of scenery proved challenging for the Ukrainian immigrant. It took Martynenko about two months to find a comparable job in Toronto’s bustling downtown, about an hour’s commute from his apartment in the city’s suburbs. It wasn’t enough to pay the bills, so he soon took a second job, also as a line cook, and now works seven days a week in fast-paced kitchens.

The strenuous work and high cost of living has taken its toll. Martynenko (44) is now planning a return to Sweden. His monthly expenses in Toronto include roughly C$100 for a phone plan ($73), C$150 for public transit, C$400 for groceries, and C$1,000 for a room in a rooming house, where the kitchen and bathroom are shared among four tenants. Any money left over is sent back to family still in Ukraine. At least in Stockholm he earned enough to have savings, he said.

“I’m tired all the time now,” Martynenko said in an interview. “I want to go back to Europe because it’s such a difficult life in Canada.”

Canada has long been a choice destination for newcomers seeking a better life in a prosperous nation. Nearly a quarter of all Canadians are immigrants and the country has welcomed nearly 200,000 Ukrainians since the war’s outset. But the daily grind of life in Canada’s busiest metropolises — not just Toronto but also Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary — along with soaring costs is making it increasingly hard to get by.

Social service organisations have warned that the country’s most vulnerable citizens — often newcomers — are affected most by higher prices, especially in housing. Andrei Zavialov, a settlement worker with Ukrainian Canadian Social Services Toronto, said he knows of at least 15 Ukrainians who have returned to their home country from the Greater Toronto Area since the war broke out. There isn’t one predominant reason for leaving, he said, but expenses are among the most cited factors.

“An individual becomes unable to find money, but they need to pay for very high rent, groceries,” said Zavialov. “And such expenses hit an immigrant’s pocket strongly. No job, no money, they return to Ukraine where everything is familiar.”

Anecdotal stories like these are supported by new research suggesting that more newcomers have chosen to leave Canada in recent years as worsening housing affordability, a strained healthcare system, and underemployment spark disillusionment with the opportunities the country offers. DM

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