World

UKRAINE UPDATE: 8 DECEMBER 2023

Cameron warns US against cutting off aid to Kyiv; Putin pledges closer Russia-Iran ties

Cameron warns US against cutting off aid to Kyiv; Putin pledges closer Russia-Iran ties
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on 7 December 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Pavel Bednyakov / Kremlin Pool / Pool)

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron urged the US Congress to approve billions of dollars in support for Ukraine in its war against Russia, saying failure to do so risked emboldening Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Newly committed aid to Ukraine has dropped to the lowest level since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion, highlighting concerns about wavering support for Kyiv’s war effort from Western allies.

Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi vowed to deepen ties on Thursday, a day after the Russian leader made a rare visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Russia set 17 March 2024 as the date of the next presidential election, paving the way for a campaign in which Putin is widely expected to seek a fifth term.

Cameron urges Congress to approve $66bn aid for Ukraine

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron urged US Congress to approve billions of dollars in support for Ukraine in its war against Russia, saying failure to do so risked emboldening Putin.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked $66-billion in emergency aid to Ukraine, raising the prospect that US funding to the war-torn nation will dry up amid a partisan stalemate in Washington. 

Cameron, the former prime minister who made a shock return to the UK Cabinet last month, told the Aspen Security Forum that he was worried Western nations are “not going to do what we need to do” to shore up Ukraine.

“If that money doesn’t get through, there are only two people that will be smiling: one of them is Vladimir Putin in Russia, the other one is Xi Jinping in Beijing,” Cameron said. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to give either of those two a Christmas present.”

Cameron’s comments reflect growing concerns in Britain and Europe more widely that US interest in funding Ukraine’s war effort is waning. He noted that money spent so far hadn’t been wasted because it had “destroyed half of Russia’s pre-war assets”, and warned that if the US aid package was not passed by Congress, it may affect the commitment of other European nations.

US President Joe Biden has accused Republicans in Congress of “playing chicken with our national security” and on Wednesday, he joined a call with other Group of Seven leaders, including UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, where they reaffirmed their “steadfast commitment” to supporting Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also attended.

Putin pledges closer Russia-Iran ties after rare visit to Gulf

Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi vowed to deepen ties on Thursday, a day after the Russian leader made a rare visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Putin, whose country is under a raft of US and European sanctions imposed over his February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, has built an increasingly close partnership with Iran, including in the military sphere. His talks in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi on Wednesday also demonstrated the Russian leader’s success in courting the oil-rich traditional US Gulf allies, who have been critical of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

“Our relations are developing very well, please give my best regards to the Supreme Leader” of Iran, Putin said at the start of their talks in Moscow. “Thanks to his support, we have established a good trend in the last few years.” 

As it pursues its attack on Ukraine, Russia is using Iranian-made drones and is building a factory that will manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles designed by Iran, according to the White House. Tehran in return is reportedly getting advanced fighter aircraft and missiles, electronics and air defence equipment. 

Putin’s last liberal critic says deal to end war is inevitable

Veteran Russian pro-democracy politician Grigory Yavlinsky is mounting what may be his last political challenge to Putin to try to campaign for peace with Ukraine.

The three-time candidate is weighing another presidential election run against Putin. After receiving around 1% of the vote in the last election in 2018, he’s under no illusions about the outcome this time.

“I can tell you the results today — 75% turnout, 78% vote for Putin,” Yavlinsky said in an online interview from Moscow.

Still, Yavlinsky directed his main message to the US and its allies, urging them to seek talks on ending Europe’s worst conflict since World War 2, with Ukraine struggling to oust Russian forces from occupied territory after a stalemate that’s persisted for the past year. “This is about safeguarding 80% of Ukrainian territory” that Kyiv controls today, he said.

Peace talks “may start within one month, a year or two years, but that moment will come  — it’s inevitable,” he said. “We need to stop people dying. We’re paying a horrific price and Ukraine is being destroyed.” 

Yavlinsky acknowledged “deep despair” among Russia’s dwindling liberal elements, saying they “don’t understand what the future holds” amid the harshest Kremlin crackdown on dissent in decades. “There is no society left in Russia,” he said.

New aid to Ukraine drops to lowest level since war began

Newly committed aid to Ukraine dropped to the lowest level since Putin ordered the invasion, highlighting concerns about wavering support for Kyiv’s war effort from Western allies.

Fresh support fell almost 90% between August and October from the same period a year ago to €2.11-billion, according to data tracked by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy released on Thursday. The amount was the lowest since January 2022. Ukraine is increasingly dependent on just a few donors including Germany, the US, some Nordic countries and eastern Europe. 

The report comes after Senate Republicans blocked $66-billion in emergency Ukraine assistance, heightening the risk that US funding for the country’s war effort will run dry. Support from the European Union is also looking increasingly shaky after Hungary threatened to torpedo next week’s summit in Brussels, where it will be discussed.

“Our figures confirm the impression of a more hesitant donor attitude in recent months,” Christoph Trebesch, head of the team in charge of the Ukraine Support Tracker and director of a research centre at the Kiel Institute, said in an emailed statement. “Given the uncertainty over further US aid, Ukraine can only hope for the EU to finally pass its long-announced $50-billion support package. A further delay would clearly strengthen Putin’s position.”  

Russia sets presidential vote for 17 March

Russia set 17 March 2024 as the date of the next presidential election, paving the way for a campaign in which Putin is widely expected to seek a fifth term.

The upper house of parliament unanimously confirmed the election date in a vote on Thursday, with Russia embroiled in its war in Ukraine and its economy under unprecedented international sanctions over the February 2022 invasion Putin ordered. After changing the Constitution to allow himself two more terms, he may also seek another six years as president in 2030.

“Today’s decision essentially kicks off the election campaign,” Speaker Valentina Matviyenko said at the Federation Council meeting. “Biased foreign organisations will certainly try to discredit our elections.”

UK sanctions on Russian tanker firm show effort to curb evasion

UK sanctions against a Dubai-based company that controls Russia’s state-controlled oil tanker fleet are the latest sign that Western authorities are starting to react to Moscow’s effort to work around the curbs.

A firm called Oil Tankers SCF Mgmt FZCO was among dozens of entities and individuals added to the UK’s sanctions list on Wednesday, in what the British government described as an effort to cut funding to “Putin’s war machine”. 

Read more: Russia punches $11bn hole in oil sanctions regime 

The firm has a fleet of 62 ships spanning oil and fuel transportation, according to the Equasis international maritime database. The vast majority are beneficially owned by state tanker company Sovcomflot, according to a separate industry database.

The UK first sanctioned Sovcomflot’s Russian entity last year. Many of its ships are now managed from Dubai.

The latest move is the biggest yet by the UK to target ships helping to carry Russian oil that are operating outside Western jurisdictions since sanctions were imposed on the nation’s exports.

The UK and US have in recent weeks shown signs of ramping up enforcement actions targeting Russia’s oil sector. The two nations, along with Group of Seven allies and the European Union, have been trying to implement a price cap on the sale of Russian crude and fuel to limit Moscow’s revenue.

So far the Kremlin has largely managed to circumvent that policy, punching an $11-billion hole in Western sanctions. But in recent weeks there has been a steady stream of sanctions on Russian companies, marking a new stage in the enforcement of the rules.

In addition to Sovcomflot, three other tanker businesses were also targeted: K&O Ship Management, Radiating World Shipping Services and Star Voyages Shipping Services.

Russia ‘targeted UK officials in email-hacking campaign’

The UK accused Russia’s main intelligence agency of seeking to hack the emails of British politicians and officials in an attempt to interfere in its democratic processes.

“They have been targeting high-profile individuals and entities with a clear intent: using information they obtained to meddle in British politics,” Foreign Office minister Leo Docherty told the House of Commons on Thursday.

The intrusions include targeting personal email accounts and impersonation attempts against universities and media organisations, according to Docherty. Civil servants and journalists have also been targeted by Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, he said.

In November, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre warned that Russian and other state-sponsored hackers posed an “enduring and significant threat” to the country. The agency said that Russia was one of the most prolific state actors in cybercrime, and had dedicated substantial resources to conducting hacking operations internationally.

Ukraine funding fight stokes new fears over US reliability

The latest jockeying between Biden and Republicans in Congress over Ukraine aid is fuelling fresh concerns over Washington’s commitment to support Kyiv’s fight against Russia as the 2024 US election nears.

On Wednesday, Biden accused Republicans of “playing chicken with our national security” as he delivered a speech, again urging them to approve $106-billion to support Ukraine and Israel. It was a message intended to heighten the urgency around US support, which could run out in the coming months and leave Ukraine without crucial munitions to repel Russian forces. 

“Republicans in Congress are willing to give Putin the greatest gift you could hope for and abandon our global leadership, not in just Ukraine but beyond that,” Biden said. 

The US infighting may fan fears in European and Asian capitals looking to US leadership and support amid more aggressive Russian and Chinese actions. For some observers, tying domestic political demands to a pressing foreign policy priority sets a disturbing precedent — especially when the US is ostensibly supporting a democracy against an aggressor that seeks to undermine US influence.

“There will be a sense of shock across the world for anyone that relies on US security guarantees — Tokyo, Seoul, Canberra, let alone Taipei — that you just can’t rely on these Americans because they’re not serious,” said Max Bergmann, a Russia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former US official.

Concerns about the reliability of the US are probably only going to deepen as campaigning gains steam, with former president Donald Trump already emerging as the Republican frontrunner after a term in office spent upending foreign policy norms, including threats to withdraw support from Nato and praising Putin.

While Ukrainians may run out of the munitions required to maintain adequate air and missile defence, the immediate effects of a funding lapse “would be only modest on the ground”, because neither Russia nor Ukraine can mount a major offensive in the near term, according to Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Even so, substantial delays would impede preparations for any offensive in the spring or summer, “while signalling to Putin that he can wait us out”, he said. 

Some European officials are clearly worried about the US commitment and are urging Washington legislators to hold the course and not abandon Ukraine in a fight it probably can’t win on its own. 

“I don’t want to see a second Afghanistan,” Jadwiga Emilewicz, a former deputy prime minister of Poland who now liaises between Warsaw and Kyiv, told Bloomberg. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Paddy Ross says:

    The US has seriously lost its way as ‘the leader of the free world’. The issue underlying the war in Ukraine is democracy versus autocracy and anyone who believes in ‘the rule of the people by the people for the people’, which must be close to 90% of the citizens of the world, must realise that Russia can not be allowed to prevail in this conflict.
    All we see in the US is a myopic contest that ignores the fact that the conflict in Ukraine is of far greater importance to this world than a relatively minor domestic issue in Congress. The fact that close to seventy million voters in the US supported Donald Trump in the last election shows just how far America has lost its way and its leadership responsibilities..

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