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UKRAINE UPDATE: 27 MARCH 2024

Putin insiders disagree Kyiv had role in Moscow terror attack; France urges quicker arms output

Putin insiders disagree Kyiv had role in Moscow terror attack; France urges quicker arms output
Russian President Vladimir Putin on 26 March 2024, in Moscow. (Photo: Contributor / Getty Images)

While Vladimir Putin continues to argue that Ukraine may have had a role in the Moscow attack that killed at least 139 people, some of the members of the Russian president’s inner circle disagree.

France is putting pressure on its defence industry to accelerate the production of equipment for Ukraine, with the government threatening to impose its authority on companies it believes are too slow.

Ukrainian forces were benefiting from a plan to deliver hundreds of thousands of ammunition rounds to the front line as they used up stocks in anticipation that more was on the way, the Czech Republic’s top diplomat said.

Some in Putin’s circle see no Ukraine link to Moscow attack

While Vladimir Putin continues to argue that Ukraine may have had a role in the Moscow attack that killed 139 people, some of the Russian president’s inner circle disagree with him.

There’s no evidence of involvement by Ukraine, according to four people with close ties to the Kremlin. Putin was present at discussions where officials agreed there was no link to Kyiv, but remains determined to use the tragedy to try to rally Russians behind the war in Ukraine, according to one person with knowledge of the situation, asking not to be identified because the matter is sensitive.

Kremlin officials were shocked by the failure of the security services to prevent Friday’s gun attack against people attending a concert in Moscow’s Crocus City Hall, according to the people. Almost nobody they know within Russia’s political and business elite believes Ukraine was behind the assault, the people said.

Putin has twice sought to link Ukraine to Moscow’s worst atrocity in more than two decades even as Islamic State has claimed responsibility. The president acknowledged late on Monday that Islamist militants carried out the attack, but told officials in televised comments that “we are interested in who ordered it”.

The US “is trying to convince its satellites and other countries of the world that according to their intelligence data, there is supposedly no Kyiv trace in the Moscow terrorist attack”, Putin said at a meeting with his security chiefs.

Ukraine has flatly rejected any involvement and has called the attack a false-flag operation by the Kremlin, while US officials say Islamic State is solely responsible.

Putin’s top allies are eagerly taking up his theme. That’s prompting speculation he may leverage public anger over the tragedy to intensify the war against Ukraine, including possibly by ordering another mobilisation of reservists to join the army.

Read more: Russians relive dark memories as attack shatters Moscow bubble

“Of course, Ukraine,” Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s security council, told reporters on Tuesday in response to a question on whether Islamic State or Ukraine was responsible.

“The terrorists and those behind them — the bloody regime of Ukraine, Washington, Brussels — hope that through such terrorist attacks they will be able to split our society,” Vyacheslav Volodin, Speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, said on Tuesday in a statement on its website. “We must do everything to ensure that consolidation is even stronger.”

While Islamist radicals carried out the attack, Ukrainian, US and British intelligence services contributed to it, Alexander Bortnikov, the director of the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, told reporters on Tuesday, without offering evidence.

“The security services know this was Islamic State, but after Putin’s remarks they have no choice but to follow orders and prove that there was Ukrainian or Western involvement,” said Andrei Soldatov an expert on the FSB and Russian intelligence.

Four men, all from Tajikistan in central Asia, were charged at a closed-door hearing late on Sunday with carrying out the concert hall attack and ordered by a Moscow court to be detained until 22 May. Three more people were arrested on Monday and an eighth man was detained on Tuesday.  

France threatens to impose authority on defence firms for Kyiv

France is putting pressure on its defence industry to accelerate the production of equipment for Ukraine, with the government threatening to impose its authority on companies it believes are too slow.   

“For the first time, I’m not ruling out using what the law allows,” Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu told reporters on Tuesday. “This means, if there are production delays, using requisitions or a right to prioritise orders.”

Requisitions, he said, were allowed for staff and stocks of production tools under France’s military planning. The process could involve the government taking effective control of a company’s assets or making decisions instead of the firm’s management.

Lecornu mentioned delays in producing 200 Aster missiles that the state ordered last year, made in France and Italy by the MBDA consortium. He said defence orders could be prioritised over civil ones for some suppliers. The surface-to-air missiles worth around €900-million are expected to be delivered in 2026.

Ukraine is struggling to repel a renewed Russian offensive in the east of the country as it runs low on ammunition. US funding of more than $60-billion is stalled in Congress, while the target date of a European Union plan to deliver one million shells to Kyiv has been postponed until the end of the year.

At the same time, the Kremlin has ramped up domestic production and sought supplies from countries such as North Korea.

“Given the situation on the front line in Ukraine, no one would understand why the minister of the armed forces would not use his police powers to increase production of 155mm shells, if need be,” Lecornu said.

“It’s increasingly clear that Russia is a threat to us,” Lecornu said, referencing French efforts to produce missiles, howitzers and ammunition to help Ukraine. “We can’t allow ourselves to envisage a Russian victory.” He said pending French orders to MBDA were worth €3-billion.  

Ukraine is benefiting from ammunition pledge, says Czech envoy 

Ukrainian forces were benefiting from a plan to deliver hundreds of thousands of ammunition rounds to the front line as they used up stocks in anticipation that more was on the way, the Czech Republic’s top diplomat said.

Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said the Czech-led initiative, which foresees the procurement of about 800,000 shells from sources outside the European Union, was bearing fruit even if the badly needed shipments may be weeks away from delivery.

“As we see, it already helps Ukraine to fight better, because they know that they will have a supply of fresh ammunition, which changed their perspective on usage of the current stockpiles,” Lipavsky said in an interview in Prague on Monday.

Read more about military help for Ukraine:

The Czech plan, announced last month at the Munich Security Conference by the country’s president, Petr Pavel, has been embraced by members of the Nato military alliance as a stopgap measure.

Lipavsky said the Czech initiative wouldn’t be sufficient on its own to back Ukraine. Funding for the first deliveries to Ukraine needed to be processed before the shipments were sent off.

“We can do much more than the initially announced number,” the top envoy said in his office, citing a figure of 1.5 million shells as a potential volume.

Even as EU leaders welcomed the plan, some of the bloc’s largest countries have yet to make concrete pledges. Germany, by contrast, is spending €300-million to buy 180,000 shells. 

Lipavsky declined to say how long deliveries to the front line would take. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said earlier this month that stocks would arrive in the “foreseeable future” rather than in a matter of months.

Attacks in Russia stoke inflation risks after election

Attacks on Russian regions bordering Ukraine have left the central bank very little room to deviate from its current hawkish position when it meets on Friday, as the consequences of the strikes threaten to renew inflation risks.

There was a unanimous consensus among economists surveyed by Bloomberg that the key interest rate would remain unchanged at 16%. Some of those surveyed believe that even signs of slowing price growth this month and lower inflation expectations among the population won’t bring the start of an easing cycle any closer.

“A test lies ahead in the form of a possible price increase for fuel” due to attacks on refineries, said Dmitry Polevoy, investment director at Moscow-based Astra Asset Management. Regions including Belgorod and Kursk have faced drone and missile attacks in recent weeks as Ukraine mounts a campaign targeting infrastructure and industrial facilities including oil installations to try to undermine Russia’s war machine.  

In addition, the fact that the presidential election has passed means that price controls in general may weaken, Polevoy said. Ahead of the election, in which  Putin claimed a landslide victory to secure a fifth term in power, the government was very active with efforts to curb skyrocketing food prices, a major complaint among the electorate. 

Now, traditionally affordable staples such as chicken may grow pricier as attacks continue on the Belgorod region, a major agricultural area that accounts for 14% of all of Russia’s livestock and poultry production.

According to Bloomberg Economics, frontline regions are seeing growth in the price of food running five percentage points higher than in Moscow. If attacks in Russia increase in frequency, that inflation may spread to neighbouring areas. With groceries constituting 40% of the consumer price index, such a scenario would spark significant worry for the Bank of Russia.  

Russia’s crude shipments rebound even as sanctions snare tankers

Russia’s seaborne crude exports clawed back about half of the previous week’s losses even though there’s growing evidence that sanctions are finally starting to stymie Moscow’s oil supply chain.

The rebound came after maintenance work ended at Russia’s most important Baltic export terminal and storms that had repeatedly hit its main Pacific port in recent weeks began to abate. Those earlier disruptions left four-week average flows slightly below Russia’s first-quarter export target, tanker-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Indian oil refiners — Moscow’s second-biggest customer after China since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine — will no longer accept tankers owned by state-run Sovcomflot because of the risks posed by recently intensified sanctions. That appears to have led to several vessels hauling Russian crude getting held up off the Asian nation’s coast, with others diverting to China.

None of the ships designated by the US Treasury as carrying oil in breach of a Group of Seven price cap has loaded a cargo since it was added to a list of sanctioned vessels. Many have diverted to the Black Sea, where they have disappeared from tracking screens. Others are anchored near ports on Russia’s Baltic and Pacific coasts.

Still, for now, overall crude flows have not been reduced on any significant scale, with shipments in the week to 24 March rising by about 360,000 barrels a day. With a shadow fleet of tankers willing to haul Russian oil numbering at least 600 vessels, there are still plenty of ships to keep the oil flowing. DM

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  • Beyond Fedup says:

    At least there some sane people in his circle and the Kremlin, albeit small. Putin and co’s desperate and sinister attempt to fabricate Ukraine’s involvement show how weak and insecure he really is. The decent world must stand strong with Ukraine and not allow this evil monster to get away with his deranged machinations and murder, more like mass murder. There is still something very fishy about this whole matter. Jihadists who commit such crime are suicidal. They know that the retribution will be terrible, but more importantly, they will not become martyrs and get their reward of 72 virgins in heaven.

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