World

UKRAINE UPDATE: 23 NOVEMBER 2023

China’s Xi meets top Russian legislator in sign of tight ties; Finland seals bulk of Russian border

China’s Xi meets top Russian legislator in sign of tight ties; Finland seals bulk of Russian border
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the opening ceremony at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China, 18 October 2023. (Photo: Qilai Shen / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Chinese leader Xi Jinping met a top Russian legislator, underscoring the warm relations the nations have forged following the invasion of Ukraine.

Finland will leave just one border crossing open on its frontier with Russia to stem a flow of asylum seekers that is believed to be a hybrid operation masterminded by Moscow.

The European Union has presented member states with a framework to give Ukraine lasting security commitments, including a mechanism for longer-term military support, the training of Ukrainian troops and help to boost the country’s defence industry.

After months of acrimony, a much-anticipated meeting between Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky ended with both sides reaching an understanding of each other’s positions on Russia’s war.

China ‘willing to strengthen ties with Russia’

China was willing to strengthen ties with Russia and jointly promote the development of the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said in a meeting on Wednesday with Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin of the Duma, Russia’s lower legislative house, according to state-run broadcaster CCTV.

Volodin said Russia adhered to the one-China policy and firmly supported China in safeguarding territorial integrity, according to the statement.

Beijing has provided Moscow with diplomatic and economic support since Vladimir Putin ordered the attack on Ukraine in February 2022, support that has mitigated the effects of Western sanctions on Russia.

Finland seals bulk of Russian border with one station left open

Finland will leave just one border crossing open on its frontier with Russia to stem a flow of asylum seekers seen as a hybrid operation masterminded by Moscow.

The Nordic country will close another three road checkpoints after already shuttering the four busiest ones last week, Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said on Wednesday, citing a “worsening situation”.

Only the northernmost crossing, Raja-Jooseppi in Lapland, will stay open starting in the early hours of 25 November, Interior Minister Mari Rantanen told reporters in Helsinki. The decision is “unavoidable,” she said, adding the government stands ready to do more if needed.

Orpo had on Monday warned Russia that more border crossings would be closed if migrants continued to be brought there by Russian officials.

Asylum seekers from countries including Yemen and Afghanistan have continued to arrive at Salla and Vartius checkpoints, which are located in remote areas. Many come lightly clothed in freezing weather, most with bicycles, including children’s bikes, local media have reported. Their lack of gear and suitable vehicles indicates they are getting transport from Russia.

Finland’s government says the operation threatens national security, and on Saturday sealed the southeastern stretch of the border in response.

Read more: Finland closes Russian border crossings, citing security risk

The newest member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation guards 1,300km of border with Russia, the alliance’s longest stretch facing its main adversary.

EU prepares plan to give Ukraine lasting security commitments

The European Union has presented member states with a framework to give Ukraine lasting security commitments, including a mechanism for longer-term military support, the training of Ukrainian troops and help to boost the country’s defence industry.

The draft paper, which has been seen by Bloomberg, will be discussed by EU ambassadors this week and by the bloc’s leaders next month. It will also form the basis of consultations with Kyiv and the Group of Seven nations.

Read More: G7 nations to give individual security pledges to Ukraine

G7 members agreed at a Nato summit earlier this year to negotiate a collection of bilateral security guarantees with Ukraine aimed at deterring future Russian aggression. For its part, Ukraine committed to continuing a series of reforms, including to law enforcement, its judiciary as well as security and defence sectors. Some of Kyiv’s key allies are seeking to conclude bilateral agreements this year.

The EU’s framework aims to build on those bilateral arrangements, with proposals including:

  • “A predictable, efficient, sustainable and long-term mechanism for the provision of military equipment to Ukraine” that mobilises the European defence industry.
  • Providing training to Ukrainian armed forces.
  • Greater cooperation with the Ukrainian defence industry to boost capacity and align standards.
  • Strengthening Ukraine’s ability to counter cyber and hybrid threats as well as disinformation.
  • Supporting Ukraine’s demining efforts and addressing contamination caused by explosive remnants.
  • Helping Ukraine with its reform agenda relating to its EU accession process, as well as boosting its ability to monitor stocks of firearms, light weapons and ammunition and counter any illegal trafficking.
  • Supporting the country’s energy transition and nuclear safety efforts.
  • Sharing intelligence and satellite imagery.

Russia’s fuel sales driven higher by surging diesel exports

Russian oil-product flows have surged this month as local refiners boost processing rates due to the end of seasonal maintenance and the nation’s continued easing of export restrictions.

The rebound helps to offset what has been a grinding decline in seaborne crude cargoes over the past several weeks. That’s important because Russia counts combined crude and fuel flows as metrics for compliance with a pact with Opec+. The producer group will meet in the next several days to discuss future supply plans.

Led by a hike in diesel, Russia’s fuel shipments jumped to about 2.4 million barrels a day through 18 November, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from analytics firm Vortexa. That’s up about 333,000 barrels a day from October, meaning they’re on pace to reach a four-month high.

Lula, Zelensky ‘understand each other’ after finally meeting 

After months of acrimony, a much-anticipated meeting between Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky ended with both sides reaching an understanding of each other’s positions on Russia’s war.

The two presidents also promised to maintain contact, officials from each nation said after Wednesday’s exchange, which took place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Lula, who has refrained from taking sides between Russia and Ukraine, described the event as “the meeting that was supposed to happen and needed to happen”.

“I know it’s difficult for both him and Putin,” Lula told journalists after being with Zelensky. “No one will have 100% in a war, no one can win everything.” The Latin American leader also said it was necessary to build “a lasting peace so that there will never again be a territorial occupation like Russia did”.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the bilateral as an “important moment,” as Zelensky sought to rally support from the Global South for the 18-month-old war. Lula has claimed that Ukraine and the US shared blame for escalating it.

“The conversation was very warm and honest. And I think both presidents now understand each other’s position much better than before it,” Kuleba told reporters in New York, before accidentally referring to Lula as “President Putin”. DM

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