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UKRAINE UPDATE: 6 MARCH 2024

France to join Czech munition plan for Kyiv – Macron; ICC issues warrants for top Russian officers

France to join Czech munition plan for Kyiv – Macron; ICC issues warrants for top Russian officers
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron after signing a strategic action plan in Prague, Czech Republic, 5 March 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / MICHAL TUREK)

French President Emmanuel Macron threw his support behind a Czech plan to deliver hundreds of thousands of artillery shells to Ukraine from countries outside the European Union to help it force back Russian advances.

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against two Russian military officers for alleged war crimes linked to missile strikes against Ukraine’s electric infrastructure.

Russia plans to unleash a hybrid attack against Moldova in a bid to undermine the former Soviet republic’s plan to join the European Union and maintain Kremlin influence, Moldova’s intelligence chief said. 

France will join Czech ammunition plan for Kyiv, says Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron threw his support behind a Czech plan to deliver hundreds of thousands of artillery shells to Ukraine from countries outside the European Union to help it force back Russian advances.

France will take part in the initiative, Macron said, without offering financial details, adding that the EU’s European Peace Facility could also be tapped in part to fund it. A French official had previously said such mechanisms would not be used.

“The Czech initiative is extremely useful, we support it, we’ll participate in it,” Macron said in Prague on Tuesday alongside Czech President Petr Pavel. “It consists of looking for ammunition everywhere it is available and is compatible with the equipment we’ve delivered.” 

Macron has insisted on focusing the EU’s efforts on bolstering Europe’s defence industry rather than diverting funds for off-the-shelf material from outside the bloc. But dwindling ammunition stocks and stalled funding from the US have put Ukrainian forces on the back foot, raising worries that Russian troops may make significant advances by summer. 

The Czech president said last month that Prague had identified some 800,000 rounds of ammunition that could be bought from non-EU countries and delivered within weeks if money were made available. Days later, Macron hosted leaders in Paris to discuss support for Ukraine, including the Czech proposal. The Netherlands agreed to contribute €100-million.

The initiative is a backstop as the EU has fallen well short of a pledge to provide Ukraine with one million rounds of artillery by this month. Russia is producing far more and benefiting from ammunition deliveries from North Korea.  

Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Denmark and Canada have all joined France in backing the Czech plan to buy non-EU ammunition, while Poland expressed interest, Bloomberg has reported. A separate discussion of EU defence and foreign ministers is expected to take place later this week to hammer out the details.

The French president already broke a taboo last week when he publicly floated the possibility of sending European troops to Ukraine to support initiatives like demining and training, irking some of his allies. 

Earlier on Tuesday, he reiterated the message to Czech media. 

“In response to a question about sending troops, I replied that nothing was ruled out. Every word counts,” Macron told Pravo newspaper. “We’re starting the debate and thinking about what we can do to support Ukraine.”

Russian officers hit with arrest warrants for alleged war crimes

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants against two Russian military officers for alleged war crimes linked to missile strikes against Ukraine’s electric infrastructure.

They were charged for alleged crimes committed between October 2022 and March 2023, when Ukraine’s power plants and substations faced a fierce campaign of air strikes. The Hague-based court issued warrants against Sergei Ivanovich Kobylash, the then commander of Russia’s long-range aviation forces, and the commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Viktor Nikolayevich Sokolov, it said on Tuesday.

The “alleged campaign of strikes qualifies as a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts against a civilian population, pursuant to a state policy”, which qualifies them as a crime against humanity, the ICC said.

The ICC investigates and tries individuals charged with genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. In March last year, it issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for crimes related to the alleged abduction of children from Ukraine, a move that Moscow dismissed as “outrageous” at the time.  

Russia plans ‘unprecedented’ bid to derail Moldova’s EU path – spy chief

Russia plans to unleash a hybrid attack against Moldova in a bid to undermine the former Soviet republic’s plan to join the European Union and maintain Kremlin influence, Moldova’s intelligence chief said. 

The campaign would involve “an unprecedented level of intensity in Russia’s actions”, Alexandru Musteata, the director of Moldova’s Intelligence and Security Service, told reporters on Tuesday in the capital, Chisinau. He said authorities had uncovered information showing Russia aimed to disrupt Moldova’s presidential election and EU referendum this year. 

Moldova’s pro-European president, Maia Sandu, will seek a second term in an election scheduled for later this year as she seeks to steer the nation of 2.6 million wedged between Ukraine and Romania into the European fold and break the Kremlin’s influence. 

Sandu, who has been the target of Moscow’s ire, has laid out a blueprint for Moldova to join the EU by 2030. Accession talks opened last December.  

But authorities in Chisinau have long warned of Russian efforts to destabilise the political system. Musteata said Russia, amplifying a message via social media channels such as Telegram and TikTok, would ramp up attacks over the next two months by backing pro-Russian protests, fomenting violence and backing the breakaway region of Transnistria. 

Transnistria’s self-proclaimed administration last week called on Moscow to come to its aid in a standoff with the central government in Chisinau, pushing back against Sandu’s bid to reassert control over the region. The call followed speculation that Transnistria would seek to join Russia. 

Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in foreign elections. The Foreign Ministry last week dismissed the talk of annexation, accusing Nato of trying to mould Moldova into a “second Ukraine” against the position of a majority in the country. 

Another autonomous region in Moldova, Gagauzia, is also viewed as a pro-Russian entity where Moscow can leverage pressure to destabilise the country.  

Russia working with China for lunar nuclear power plant

The head of Russia’s space agency said the agency was working on plans with China on ways to deliver and install a nuclear power plant on the moon by 2035.

“Today we are seriously considering the project,” Yury Borisov, the general director of Roscosmos, said during a Tuesday lecture to students, according to the Interfax news service. The power plant would need to be built by robots, he said. 

In 2021, Russia and China presented a roadmap for building a scientific station on the moon by the end of 2035. According to a Tass news service report, the plan for the project includes technical lunar rovers for research, a jumping robot and several smart mini-rovers designed to explore the surface of Earth’s satellite.  

Spain urges EU to take tougher stance on Russian LNG imports

Spain has asked the European Union to take a tougher stance on Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports by ensuring that countries can block them without shipments being diverted to neighbours.

The country has seen deliveries from Russia double since the invasion of Ukraine to make up roughly a fifth of its gas imports last year. While the EU will soon allow member states to block such flows without the use of sanctions, Spain’s Energy Minister Teresa Ribera said it was not clear how the tool would work.

“We have to ensure the response is effective,” she said in an interview on the sidelines of an EU energy ministers meeting on Monday. “Please, let’s try and coordinate how we react on this, both on the spot market and existing contracts.”

So far, Finland — which first proposed the measure that will enter into force in the coming weeks — is one of the few countries that will use the ban, according to a person familiar with the matter. Its imports of Russian gas are basically zero.

For Spain and a number of other European countries that are more reliant on Russian cargoes, the plan poses a dilemma. Most of their shipments arrive via the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, and one EU nation blocking imports could just see them go elsewhere. 

Guidance is also needed on how to get companies out of long-term take-or-pay contracts with Moscow, Ribera said, while making sure the gas isn’t simply repackaged in another third country.

The debate comes at a critical moment as the EU tries to figure out not only whether it can eliminate the last remaining gas flows from Russia, but whether countries most reliant on those supplies can find alternatives. The EU wants to be fully rid of Russian fossil fuels by 2027, and Lithuania has called on the bloc to put in place legislative measures to ensure gas has stopped flowing by then. 

China spurns Ukraine diplomats at home, undermining peace push

China has sent a high-ranking diplomat to Kyiv to seek a political settlement to the war. But within Beijing, it appears to be giving Ukrainian diplomats the cold shoulder. 

Li Hui, China’s special envoy for Eurasian affairs, arrived in Russia on Saturday, the first port of call for a trip that will also take him to Poland, Ukraine, Germany, France and Belgium. This is Li’s second round of shuttle diplomacy since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago. 

But expectations for his trip to lead to a meaningful solution to the war are low. Li is a former Chinese ambassador to Moscow. Beijing’s continued diplomatic and economic support of Russia since the war has been a sticking point in relations with Europe, which said its trust in Beijing has eroded as it steps up scrutiny of its trade with China. There’s also scepticism over China’s 12-point peace proposal issued in February 2023 to end the war. 

Beijing’s outreach abroad appears to contrast with its actions at home. Ukraine’s ambassador, Pavlo Riabikin, has secured only a handful of meetings since his arrival in the Chinese capital last summer, despite sending requests to almost 40 different ministries and municipalities, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private information.

By contrast, Russian Ambassador Igor Morgulov — who was appointed to serve in Beijing by Vladimir Putin in September 2022 — described Russia-China relations last year as “very fruitful.” He told Rossiya-24, a state-owned Russian news channel, that his embassy arranged 27 visits by Russian officials to China at the level of federal minister and higher, including the head of state Putin himself.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in response to a question about the Ukrainian ambassador’s lack of meetings that “communication channels between China and Ukraine are unimpeded”. The Ukraine embassy in Beijing didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.  

Chinese President Xi Jinping has had one phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky since the war began. The two spoke in April 2023, more than a year after the Russian invasion. He met with Putin three times since the war, most recently in October when the Russian leader visited Beijing for the Belt and Road Forum. DM

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