World

UKRAINE UPDATE: 5 DECEMBER 2023

Russia sought to sway chemical weapons watchdog vote using disinformation; Putin to visit Middle East

Russia sought to sway chemical weapons watchdog vote using disinformation; Putin to visit Middle East
The logo of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, Netherlands. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Jerry Lampen)

Russia used disinformation and unsubstantiated claims in a plan to lobby officials in at least a dozen countries as part of an unsuccessful bid to retain a seat on the board of the international chemical weapons watchdog.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, a rare trip abroad for the leader who has faced international isolation since his invasion of Ukraine.

Austria is overflowing with Russian natural gas, allowing the longtime customer of Gazprom to boost sales to its neighbours while delaying efforts to pivot from Kremlin-controlled energy.

President Joe Biden’s budget director warned on Monday that the US would run completely out of resources to assist Ukraine by the end of the calendar year, as the White House looks to ratchet up pressure on legislators to pass an emergency funding package.

Russia’s unsuccessful bid to sway chemical weapons watchdog

Russia used disinformation and unsubstantiated claims in a plan to lobby officials in at least a dozen countries as part of an unsuccessful bid to retain a seat on the board of the international chemical weapons watchdog.

The Russian Foreign Ministry sent a memo to its embassies in several countries — including Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines — setting out Moscow’s talking points ahead of a vote last week to decide the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), according to people familiar with the matter and documents seen by Bloomberg.

The papers accuse the US and its “satellites” and “vassal countries” of wanting to transform the Hague-based OPCW into an instrument to promote their own interests and suppress alternative opinions. Preventing Russia from getting reelected to the board of the group was cast as part of that plan, said the people on condition of anonymity to discuss the memo’s content.

Moscow sought to urge those it lobbied to challenge what it called the unrestrained politicisation of the OPCW and to protect the body from “final destruction”. Despite those efforts, Russia received the fewest votes of any nominated country and lost out to Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania for board membership.

Moscow was deeply frustrated by the outcome and was investigating what went wrong, one of the people said.

The result was welcomed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “OPCW is a very reputable international body and terrorists have no place in it,” he posted on the platform X.

Putin to visit Saudi Arabia, UAE in rare trip abroad

Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, according to people familiar with the plans, a rare trip abroad for the leader who has faced international isolation since his invasion of Ukraine.

Putin plans to visit Abu Dhabi, UAE, this week, according to one person. He also plans to travel to Saudi Arabia, according to another person. The visit comes as the UAE hosts the annual COP28 summit in Dubai.

The visit to Saudi Arabia will be key for the two leaders of countries in Opec+, the alliance between the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its other major oil producers.

Russian gas glut shows Austria still in Kremlin’s energy orbit

Austria is overflowing with Russian natural gas, allowing the longtime customer of Gazprom to boost sales to its neighbours while delaying efforts to pivot from Kremlin-controlled energy.

The central European nation has been a hub for Russian flows for more than a half-century, with storage depots and pipelines historically configured to forward fuel to Hungary, Germany, Italy and Slovenia. State-owned OMV has a lengthy contract with Gazprom that obliges it to buy gas reaching the border.

The scrutiny of Austria’s supply is intensifying because the nation says it wants to diversify from Russia, yet trade data show a steady flow via Ukraine that satisfies more than half the economy’s demand.

Overflowing storage depots and unimpeded shipments indicate the market is more comfortable after Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, said Walter Boltz, a former Austrian regulator who’s now a senior energy adviser with Baker & Mckenzie.

“Austria should be able to survive even a sudden disruption” of Ukraine flows this year, he said.

Still, Boltz said he’s increasingly alarmed by the failure to break free from Gazprom’s grip. He sees significant risk for disruptions once Ukraine’s gas-transit deal with Russia expires next year.

The Gazprom contract lasts until 2040. Despite the war, Gazprom has continued supplying OMV’s Baumgarten gas hub through pipelines that crisscross Ukraine.

But that transit arrangement will end in December 2024, with Kyiv’s government pledging not to negotiate a new pact with Russia.

While Ukraine has signalled it remains open to European traders arranging access on an individual basis, the persistent threat of war damage to pipelines or compressor stations means deliveries can’t be guaranteed.

Congress nearly ‘out of time’ on Ukraine funds

President Joe Biden’s budget director warned on Monday that the US would run completely out of resources to assist Ukraine by the end of the calendar year, as the White House looks to ratchet up pressure on legislators to pass an emergency funding package.

“There is no magical pot of funding available to meet this moment,” Shalanda Young, who leads the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in a letter to congressional leaders. “We are out of money — and nearly out of time.”

A failure to act, Young warned, would “kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield, not only putting at risk the gains Ukraine has made, but increasing the likelihood of Russian military victories.”

Ukraine assistance has become a flashpoint on Capitol Hill, with new House Speaker Mike Johnson insisting that additional aid is contingent on immigration policy changes. The White House is seeking more than $61-billion for Ukraine aid as part of a roughly $105-billion package that would also include funding for Israel’s war against Hamas, US allies in the Pacific and money to house and process undocumented immigrants along the border with Mexico.

Read more: Senate border policy talks drag, jeopardising US aid to Ukraine

Republicans are hoping the Ukraine funding fight can provide leverage as they seek to tighten access to asylum for those entering the US. But negotiations on a sweeping immigration agreement are yet to yield results, with the Senate expected to depart for the Christmas holiday on 15 December.

Zelensky said his country’s counteroffensive did not achieve its desired goals because allies had not provided hoped-for weapons.

“In the case of Ukraine, if resilience fails today due to lack of aid and shortages of weapons and funding, it will mean that Russia will most likely invade Nato countries,” Zelensky said in an interview this week with the Associated Press. “And then the American children will fight.” DM

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