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UKRAINE UPDATE: 21 FEBRUARY 2024

US to impose ‘major’ sanctions on Russia over Navalny death; France scrambles to find aid for Kyiv

US to impose ‘major’ sanctions on Russia over Navalny death; France scrambles to find aid for Kyiv
US President Joe Biden briefly speaks to members of the media before departing the South Lawn of the White House by Marine One, in Washington, DC, USA, 20 February 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / MICHAEL REYNOLDS)

The US plans to unveil a ‘major’ sanctions package against Russia on Friday following the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, President Joe Biden said.

The US has told allies that Russia could deploy a nuclear weapon or a mock warhead into space as early as this year, according to people familiar with the matter.

Massive spending cuts have left the French government struggling to put together funding for a package of as much as €3bn in military aid to Ukraine.

Ukraine said it was planning an additional route via the Danube River to boost exports to pre-war levels as a spat with Poland over agricultural deliveries blocks a land border with the European Union.  

US to announce ‘major’ sanctions on Friday over Navalny death

The US plans to unveil a “major” sanctions package against Russia on Friday following the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, President Joe Biden said.

“I told you we’d be announcing sanctions on Russia. We’ll have a major package announced on Friday,” Biden told reporters on Tuesday at the White House. 

White House spokesperson John Kirby said in a briefing earlier on Tuesday the sanctions would be designed “to hold Russia accountable for what happened to Mr Navalny”.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the “substantial package” of financial penalties would come on the eve of the second anniversary of the Ukraine war. He said they would cover “different elements of the Russian defence-industrial base and sources of revenue for the Russian economy” that fuel Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “war machine” and “repression”.

Biden has said Putin was responsible for the death of Navalny (47), a prominent voice against the Russian leader who had been imprisoned in the Arctic. In 2021, Biden said he had warned Putin during a summit meeting in Geneva of significant consequences if Navalny were to die in prison.

Read more: Biden blames Putin for Navalny’s death as Western outrage grows

The US has already imposed significant sanctions affecting large swathes of Russia’s economy and prominent officials following the invasion of Ukraine, so it’s unclear whether the new measures would have a practical effect on Moscow.  

Russia may launch anti-satellite nuclear weapon into space this year

The US has told allies that Russia could deploy a nuclear weapon or a mock warhead into space as early as this year, according to people familiar with the matter.

Russia was developing a space-based capability to knock out satellites using a nuclear weapon, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity. A nuclear warhead in orbit would violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which Russia is a signatory.

The development comes after the House Intelligence Committee chairman warned last week of a grave but unspecified security threat from Russia. President Joe Biden later said that the Kremlin had been developing an anti-satellite space weapon that did not pose a direct threat to human lives. 

However, Putin denied the allegations. 

“We have always been categorically against and are now against the deployment of nuclear weapons in space,” he said on Tuesday at a televised meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. “We are doing in space only what other countries have, including the United States.” 

The Kremlin’s alleged ambition underscores what security experts and Washington say is growing competition among the US, Russia and China to develop attack capabilities in orbit. The new space race stands in contrast with the Cold War when the two superpowers negotiated a series of arms control agreements designed to prevent the weaponisation of space. 

Read more: Russia’s bid for an orbiting weapon highlights a new space race 

The current assessment is that Russia doesn’t plan to detonate any orbital weapon, according to the people. However, there is a risk of an accident and a nuclear explosion could potentially affect about a third of satellites and play havoc with communications systems on Earth, they said.

France struggles to pay for Ukraine aid as budget is stretched

Massive spending cuts have left the French government struggling to put together funding for a package of as much as €3-billion in military aid to Ukraine.

The defence, foreign affairs and finance ministries will be asked to redirect funds and find savings to pay for equipment ranging from missiles to artillery, people familiar with the matter said, without giving details as discussions are ongoing.

The government’s headroom is limited after it lowered its 2024 GDP forecast on Sunday and said it needed to save €10-billion to meet commitments to narrow its budget deficit. And it has promised costly measures to help farmers, who have been protesting over rising costs, cheap imports and red tape.

France has also been criticised for a lack of transparency over its assistance to Ukraine, leading to accusations it isn’t doing as much as European and Nato partners. The Ukrainian military is facing a critical shortage of ammunition as Russia’s full-scale invasion reaches its two-year mark this week.

“All this already represents a great deal, but we’re determined to do even more,” President Emmanuel Macron said as he announced the new package in Paris on Friday, standing alongside Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky. This was the first time France has given figures for its aid.

The financing of the latest support will have to be found without making formal changes to this year’s budget, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential planning.  

Read more on efforts to support Ukraine:

Ukraine plans new Danube export route to beat Polish border spat

Ukraine said it was planning an additional route via the Danube River to boost exports to pre-war levels as a spat with Poland over agricultural deliveries blocks a land border with the European Union. 

The Danube became a priority avenue for Ukrainian supplies after Russia exited a UN-backed safe corridor in the Black Sea last year. Still, a significant amount of crops also flows by rail and road via the EU, and Polish farmers — protesting against what they call an uncontrolled flood of Ukrainian food products — are blocking a key route.

Read more: Ukraine says Polish border blockade is hurting war effort  

The proposed new route — few details are immediately known — would run from the Ukrainian port of Izmail to Romania’s Constanta and the Danube ports of Germany, according to the minister. The Ukrainian Danube Shipping Company has already built a second large-tonnage SLG barge to deliver cargo, the Infrastructure Ministry said earlier this month. 

Ukrainian exports last year, largely food and metal products, were worth $35.8-billion, nearly 48% below its pre-war levels in 2021, according to government data. After the UN-brokered deal collapsed in July last year, Kyiv managed to carve out a new shipping path via the Black Sea, but the Danube remains crucial.  

Although many exporters prefer the Black Sea because it is cheaper, volumes via the Danube still amount to 1.2 million-1.8 million tonnes per month, Kubrakov said.

Russia detains US dual national on treason charge over Ukraine

A woman with dual US and Russian nationality has been detained in Russia and accused of treason for providing support to Ukraine’s military, state media reported.

The unnamed 33-year-old from Los Angeles was held in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg by agents from the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the state-run Tass news service reported on Tuesday.

A court ordered her detention on charges of treason after the FSB accused the woman of raising money since February 2022 to help Ukrainian organisations buy medicines, weapons and ammunition for the army, the news service said, citing a statement from the security service. Tass didn’t state whether the alleged fundraising was in Russia or abroad.

It’s the latest detention involving a US citizen in Russia and comes after police detained Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor based in Prague at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, at Kazan airport in Tatarstan on 2 June. She had travelled to Russia to attend a family emergency and was accused in October of failing to register as a “foreign agent”.

US journalist Evan Gershkovich has been held in a Moscow jail since March last year after the FSB detained him on spying allegations while he was on assignment for the Wall Street Journal in Yekaterinburg. Gershkovich and the newspaper deny the charges.

Russia ships Urals oil to Venezuela, expanding pool of buyers

A supertanker carrying Russia’s flagship Urals crude arrived off the coast of Venezuela as Moscow looks for new buyers amid tightening sanctions and disruptions in the Red Sea.

The Ligera is now near Amuay Bay, which is linked to a refinery run by state-owned company PDVSA, vessel-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show. It collected at least 1.7 million barrels of Urals via ship-to-ship transfers off southern Greece last month before sailing to Venezuela. 

The tanker’s arrival marks the first observed shipment of Urals crude to the South American country in at least five years. Russia has typically looked to buyers in Asia in the face of Western sanctions over the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.

Venezuela in the past has received foreign oil to help dilute its crude, making it easier to export, though it’s not clear if that is the reason behind the Ligera’s cargo. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Martin Smith says:

    So the current sanctions which are supposed to be having such a massive effect are not having much of an effect? And the current sanctions which are so severe can’t be that severe if there’s a whole new range of sanctions to come… one man’s news is another man’s misinformation. Better get the fact checkers out DM!

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      Sanctions that can work for a short time is completely Isolating Russia from the international world markets, short term why?
      There was an outcry during the invasion of Ukraine that members of the European union will collapse because they rely on cheap resources from Russia.
      It is difficult for member states to rely on America because of the contrasting revolving leadership.
      America is being dragged into crimes against humanity for their weapons being used with their consent to commit war crimes in Palestine.
      It is at odds with reality to support the notion that Israel, a serial violator of a population under occupation has a right to defend itself against the population occupied and violated daily.
      Ukraine is at risk as America who took lead in funding and supporting the invaded country,is wheeling and dealing over migrant legislation and further support whilst the Frontline is collapsing.
      There is only one way with Putin, weakness and strength.
      I don’t think America knows where it stands.

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