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UKRAINE UPDATE: 22 FEBRUARY 2024

Zelensky urges talks to end Polish border blockade; weapons shipments will take time – BAE

Zelensky urges talks to end Polish border blockade; weapons shipments will take time – BAE
Russian President Vladimir Putin like his predecessors are both vulnerable and fallible to the consequences of military defeat (Photo: Contributor / Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for a meeting with Poland’s prime minister and the European Commission to help resolve a spat over grain shipments after Polish farmers blocked border crossings and disrupted imports.

UK defence firm BAE Systems cautioned that it will take time to gear up weapons shipments to Ukraine, amid pressure to bolster supplies as Russia makes gains on the battlefield.

Ukraine said its military continued to defend a narrow strip of land in Russian-occupied territory along the southern bend of the Dnipro River, after Russia’s defence minister told President Vladimir Putin it had been seized by his forces.

The European Union approved a modest new package of sanctions ahead of the two-year mark since Russia invaded Ukraine and following the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a Russian prison. 

Zelensky urges Tusk, EU meeting to resolve border blockade

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for a meeting with Poland’s prime minister and the European Commission to help resolve a spat over grain shipments after Polish farmers blocked border crossings and disrupted imports.

The protests have grown in recent days with 2,500 trucks trying to enter from Poland stuck on the frontier on Wednesday morning, according to Ukraine’s border guard service. Farmers have also disrupted passenger and rail transport from Ukraine, spilling grain on the tracks at a crossing Tuesday, which sparked condemnation from officials in both countries. 

Poland’s government has already asked the European Union’s executive arm to help defuse the dispute. In an address to the nation on Wednesday, Zelensky said that he had instructed his premier and “the entire government” to arrive at a meeting on the border by 24 February that he’s also prepared to attend.

“I think everyone will understand that Ukraine cannot accept what is happening on the border between our countries,” Zelensky said. “This is wrong.” 

The move will pile pressure on Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who just weeks after taking office in December managed to quell a months-long border blockade by truck drivers. His administration is trying to strike a balance between assuaging a group that has political power in Poland and not disrupting essential assistance for Kyiv as the country suffers from shortages of US military aid.

Grain shipments can currently only transit through Poland on the way to ports on the Baltic Sea or elsewhere in Europe. But Polish farmers have demanded that the government seal the border for other food products including sugar and frozen fruits. They claim much of the agricultural imports are of low quality or shipped illegally.

Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi and his Polish counterpart, Czeslaw Siekierski, met on Wednesday in an attempt to find an agreement, but made little progress. The government in Kyiv is now planning an additional route via the Danube River to redirect its shipments of grain to protect a key source of revenue for the country at war with Russia. 

“The talks are tough and we’re not making any rapid headway,” Polish Deputy Agriculture Minister Michal Kolodziejczak told Polsat News. “The voice of the European Commission and its president will be very important here.”

The border blockade is hurting Kyiv’s ability to defend itself as the country awaits essential supplies in its fight against Russia, a senior official said this week. The authorities in Warsaw have disputed the claim, saying deliveries of military aid and other essentials are taking place under police escort. 

Getting more weapons to Ukraine will take time – BAE

BAE Systems cautioned that it will take time to gear up weapons shipments to Ukraine, amid pressure to bolster supplies as Russia makes gains on the battlefield.

Having weapons readily available for Ukraine and in other war zones such as the Middle East would be “difficult,” Charles Woodburn, chief executive officer of the UK defence firm, said on Wednesday after reporting record order backlogs at the end of 2023. 

“We’re working as rapidly as possible to add that but it does take a bit of time,” Woodburn said. “A clear picture of requirements is what the industry needs.”

The main challenge was in adding the capacity needed to increase output, Woodburn said. BAE has stepped up recruitment, adding 6,700 people last year, and has increased production of Hägglunds military vehicles that are widely used in Ukraine. Political disagreements among Western nations have also held up weapons deliveries. 

Read more: War in Ukraine is turning in Putin’s favour after months of stalemate

BAE and other suppliers are working to speed military production for the US, UK and their allies, who confront a rising tide of conflicts across numerous regions. 

BAE is investing in machinery, its production footprint and in foundries, Woodburn said. The company aims to increase the production of 155mm  shells in the UK by eight-fold. This effort will take 18 months to two years, he said. 

Ukraine disputes Russia’s claim on bridgehead seizure

Ukraine said its military continued to defend a narrow strip of land in Russian-occupied territory along the southern bend of the Dnipro River, after Russia’s defence minister told Putin it had been seized by his forces.

The bridgehead at Krynky lies on the opposite side of the river from the city of Kherson which Ukraine freed from Russian control in November 2022. Ukrainian troops remained at their positions on the land, the Southern Military Command said on Wednesday on Telegram, dismissing Russian claims to have ousted them. 

Putin said he’d been informed by the military that the village of Krynky was “completely” under Russian control, during a televised meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday. Shoigu confirmed the report and added, “We have troops stationed there.”  

The Dnipro, which slices across eastern Ukraine, remains a major natural barrier between the two forces. After retaking Kherson, Ukrainian forces sought to establish a foothold on the opposite bank of the river as a potential springboard for a push into the occupied south of the country that so far hasn’t materialised. 

EU approves more Russia sanctions following Navalny’s death

The European Union approved a modest new package of sanctions ahead of the two-year mark since Russia invaded Ukraine and following the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a Russian prison.

The package, the bloc’s 13th since Russia’s war against its neighbour started, is limited in scope as the bloc was keen to see it approved before Feb. 24 and is focusing much of its efforts on enforcing existing restrictions. The bloc’s presidency, currently held by Belgium, announced the agreement in a post on X on Wednesday.  

Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the EU’s executive, welcomed the adoption of the package. “With 2,000 listings in total, we keep the pressure high on the Kremlin,” Von der Leyen said on X.  

Call for tougher curbs on grain from Russian-occupied Ukraine

Restrictions need to be tightened to prevent grain from Russian-occupied Ukraine entering the global market via Swiss-based commodity traders, according to an advocacy group.

Marketing pillaged commodities is a war crime under international law, according to a report from Public Eye, which said grain from occupied regions was being covertly sold on world markets. It was being shipped through ports in both Russia and occupied Ukraine, and sanctions imposed by Switzerland — the hub for global grain trading — do little to inhibit those flows, according to the NGO.

“Swiss sanctions provisions against Russia, which are in line with the EU, currently do not provide any means to combat the trade in plundered commodities from Ukraine,” Public Eye said. “To take account of the geopolitical significance of the Swiss trading hub, the Ukraine ordinance should be expanded to include transit trade.” 

The Public Eye study comes after a Swiss newspaper reported in January that Vivalon, a Zug-based grain trader, bought a cargo late last year that appeared to be from occupied Ukraine. DM

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