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UKRAINE UPDATE: 11 APRIL 2024

Switzerland to host peace plan summit in mid-June; Kyiv forges ahead with increased mobilisation

Switzerland to host peace plan summit in mid-June; Kyiv forges ahead with increased mobilisation
The Buergenstock Hotel high above Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. The resort will host a two-day Russia-Ukraine war peace conference in June, the Swiss government announced on 10 April 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Urs Flueeler)

Switzerland will host a high-level conference on 15-16 June to consolidate global support for a peace framework advocated by Ukraine that would end the war with Russia.

Ukrainian legislators are forging ahead with controversial legislation to recruit more troops as worries mount that a lack of manpower is hurting the country’s front-line forces.

The State Department approved the emergency sale of $138-million in air defence equipment for Ukraine, part of a US push to keep up support for the country while a far larger assistance package remains stuck in Congress.

Switzerland announces summit on Ukraine peace for mid-June

Switzerland will host a high-level conference on 15-16 June to consolidate global support for a peace framework advocated by Ukraine that would end the war with Russia.

The gathering aims to “create a common understanding” on how to achieve “a comprehensive, just and lasting peace for Ukraine in accordance with international law and the United Nations charter”, a Swiss government statement said on Wednesday.

“Switzerland held talks with G7 member states, the European Union and representatives of the Global South such as China, India, South Africa, Brazil, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia,” the government said. “There is currently sufficient international support for a high-level conference to launch the peace process.” More than 120 countries will be invited.

It’s not clear at this stage whether national leaders or lower-level officials will participate in the conference. Another open question remains whether, and at what level, China will attend, given the influence that Ukraine’s allies say Beijing exerts on Moscow more than two years into the war.

“China replied more positively than we could have ever expected,” Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said at a press conference in Bern on Wednesday. “We received positive signals from the great powers of the world.”

While Russia’s participation is not envisaged at this stage, the conference should also lay out a “concrete roadmap for Russia’s participation in the peace process”.

Cassis met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in January to discuss the Swiss peace effort. “The expectation that they will participate in the process later on was at the core of my meeting with Lavrov,” Cassis said during the press conference.

The conference will be held in the mountain resort of the Buergenstock overlooking Lake Lucerne and will cost as much as 10 million Swiss francs ($11-million).

While several countries have been pushing for Russia to attend the meeting, Kyiv wants the meeting of delegations to reach a broad agreement on the key principles that would form the basis of any future settlement before engaging with Moscow.

Read more on Ukraine’s peace formula:

Ukraine has proposed a peace formula calling for respecting the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, the withdrawal of Russian troops as well as ensuring nuclear and food security. Cassis said the meeting wants to build upon this approach, adding though that it won’t be “exclusively at the core” of the conference.

Ukraine moves on mobilisation as troop numbers raise alarm

Ukrainian legislators are forging ahead with controversial legislation to recruit more troops as worries mount that a lack of manpower is hurting the country’s front-line forces.

The Bill on mobilisation aims to tighten registration rules, narrow exemptions from military service and introduce some penalties in an effort to bolster the ranks of front-line troops. Ukrainian forces are grappling with ammunition and personnel shortages as they hold the line against a renewed Russian offensive.

The draft, which had been weighed down by some 4,000 amendments, was approved by parliament’s security and defence committee in Kyiv on Tuesday. It will be debated in the chamber this week with several legislators saying the measure could be approved as early as Friday.

“We are speaking to the Parliament to pass the legislation in coming days,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview with a group of Ukrainian broadcasters on Saturday.

The president last week signed legislation to lower the conscription age to 25 from 27 after it had sat on his desk for almost a year. Contending with a public exhausted by war, Zelensky had sought a more comprehensive mobilisation plan, including an outline for troop rotations and potential time limits on military service.

The military’s push to draft more soldiers became a source of contention between Zelensky and his generals — and was part of the backdrop of the president’s decision in February to dismiss his popular army chief, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi. But the military has maintained pressure for additional manpower as Kremlin troops take advantage of Ukraine’s depleted ammunition stocks.

“No matter how much help we get, how many weapons we have — we lack people,” the commander of Ukraine’s ground troops, Oleksandr Pavliuk, said in a Facebook post on Monday.

After capturing the eastern city of Avdiivka earlier this year, Russian troops have unleashed their firepower all along the frontline and made marginal advances. Kremlin troops are seeking to capture strategically key spots, such as the town of Chasiv Yar, west of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Meanwhile, a $60-billion US aid package continues to be blocked by Republicans in Congress, with House Speaker Mike Johnson yet to call a vote as he seeks to prevent a rebellion from hard-liners in his ranks.

US approves $138m in air defence equipment for Ukraine

The State Department approved the emergency sale of $138-million in air defence equipment for Ukraine, part of a US push to keep up support for the country while its far larger assistance package remains stuck in Congress.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined that an “emergency exists that requires the immediate sale” of equipment, services and training for the Hawk Phase III missile system from RTX, the department said on Tuesday.

After a failed offensive last year, Ukraine’s military has struggled with shrinking weapons stockpiles against resurgent Russian forces aided by a renewed defence industrial base that Western officials say has been bolstered by China.

Zelensky has appealed to the US and other Western nations for air defence as his country’s cities endure repeated Russian air assaults, including with Iranian attack drones.

UK’s Cameron says US aid to Ukraine is investment in security

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron urged the US Congress to treat aid to Ukraine as “an investment in American security” that will help the war-torn nation repel Russian invaders and stymie Vladimir Putin’s ambitions.

Cameron was on a two-day visit to Washington, with a stated aim of urging the US to unlock the flow of more funds to Ukraine to help win the war against Russia. His itinerary included meetings with congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle to “call for them to change the narrative on Ukraine this year” by approving the $60-billion of funding snarled up in Congress.

“My plea really to American congressmen is this is actually an investment in American security,” Cameron said on Wednesday on MSNBC. “Ninety percent of what you spend will go into jobs here in America and you can make the decisive difference in getting Ukraine back on the front foot, and getting them to make sure Putin doesn’t win.”

While Cameron met Secretary of State Antony Blinken and held talks with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, he failed to secure a meeting with the Louisiana Republican Mike Johnson — who as House Speaker can facilitate a vote on that aid, which has already been approved by the Senate. Ahead of his trip, Cameron said on X that “Speaker Johnson can make it happen in Congress.”

Johnson has so far declined to call a vote on the funding as he tries to prevent a rebellion from Republican hardliners who could sink the legislation and even try to oust him as Speaker.

Cameron said he’d met Johnson on his previous visit and would still be meeting Democrat and Republican congressional leaders. On Monday, he met former president Donald Trump in Florida, describing their discussions as “good” but declining to give details of what he called a “private” encounter.

“This year, in the run-up to November and whoever is president afterward, no one wants us to be in a situation where Putin is winning, Ukraine is losing and we’re having to deal with that situation,” he said. “We can help right now.”

Russian factories rush to buy drone defence from local suppliers

Intensifying Ukrainian drone attacks are forcing Russian companies to find ways to protect their own plants and factories instead of relying on the military, providing an unexpected boost to radar and warfare-equipment producers.

Tender data show that demand for private systems to repel unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, has quadrupled over the past year. At the same time, Russia has managed to at least double output of this sort of equipment since the start of the war, Bloomberg Economics estimates.

“Russia will likely be able to make its refineries and other high-value structures less vulnerable to drone strikes over the coming quarters,” said Russia economist Alex Isakov, of Bloomberg Economics. Much of the ramp-up had happened over a period of relatively mild enforcement of trade sanctions, including around the transhipment of electronic components, he said.

Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s invasion has entered a new phase, with Kyiv increasingly using homegrown drone technology against some of the country’s most important manufacturers. Russian oil refineries have been hit hardest as Ukraine seeks to cut fuel supplies to the Kremlin’s armed forces and the flow of petrodollars into Russia’s coffers.

Russia was discussing the deployment of military-grade defences at oil plants, but nothing has been publicly announced yet, though officials have said they’re working with industry to protect these sites. Ukraine has also struck some metals industry facilities, and earlier this month hit a refinery in the Tatarstan region, far from the border with Ukraine.

As the war increasingly spills into Russian territory, private companies are fuelling demand for special electronic warfare systems. According to one local electronic procurement platform, Tenderpro, which says it is used by more than 300,000 Russian companies, about a third of all tenders for anti-UAV systems were carried out by oil and gas enterprises. Industrial and mining companies account for 28% and 10% of cases, respectively.

The war has led to “explosive growth” in the electronic warfare market, and production has not yet kept pace with demand, said Andrey Klyuev, chief executive officer of local radar equipment producer Umirs. “The threat is growing much faster than the manufacturers can handle,” he said, speaking at a conference on anti-UAV technologies in Moscow.

Still, the production of radars and radio remote-control equipment — the statistical category in which anti-drone systems fall — is starting the year with strong momentum. Output increased two-fold in February compared with the same period in 2023, according to the latest Federal Statistics Service data, the second month in a row of skyrocketing growth.

Electronic warfare equipment isn’t impenetrable against drone attacks, but can significantly limit damage.

New York’s displaced Ukrainians weigh leaving city for home

Kseniia Nadvotska’s dreams of travelling the world panned out unexpectedly.

Soon after Russia began shelling her hometown of Kyiv, the then 35-year-old fled with her young son to Romania, then on to Poland, Germany and Mexico. From there, she crossed into San Diego with about a hundred dollars in her pocket, before being flown to New York by a volunteer organisation.

“America had always been a dream,” Nadvotska said over Zoom. “It was always so unattainable, and suddenly we were just there. I couldn’t process it.”

The novelty faded quickly. She spent the next 18 months in a series of low-paying medical billing jobs and cramped Brooklyn apartments, with little time to learn English or pick up her son from school. Isolated and increasingly worried about her ability to make ends meet, she started on antidepressants and began virtual sessions with a Mariupol-based therapist.

Toward the end of last year, she decided to move back to Ukraine.

“I would tell anyone coming to New York to take off their rose-coloured glasses,” Nadvotska said. “You have to work so much just to pay your bills, your living expenses. To get a driver’s licence. For a single parent and a child, it’s impossible.”

More than two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this is the reality for displaced Ukrainians like Nadvotska. Those under New York City’s care now compete with more than 60,000 migrants from around the world for limited resources, while those going it alone face the threat of eviction and unpaid bills.

It underscores why about 80% of displaced persons dream of going back to Ukraine, according to a survey published in July by the United Nations — even as the war seems to have no end in sight. Just last month, Russia pummelled major cities including Kyiv with more than 3,000 guided aerial bombs, 600 drones and 400 missiles, according to Zelensky.

“I don’t think most of them anticipated this conflict to be so protracted,” Federica Franzè, a supervisor at the Refugee Support Project — a group that provides free psychological support to asylum-seekers — said of the Ukrainians who fled.

And now, many face a deadline. In April, Uniting for Ukraine, a parole programme that granted more than 170,000 Ukrainians a two-year stay in the US, expires for the first wave of arrivals.

Those who want to stay longer must either renew their parole status or obtain Temporary Protected Status through a legal process that’s become bogged down by the large influx of asylum-seekers. And with many pro bono lawyers at capacity, some displaced individuals must foot the cost of a private attorney on top of a several-hundred dollar filing fee.

Those applications, which used to be processed almost immediately for Ukrainians, now take about five months, according to Evan Taras Bokshan, an immigration attorney. Once obtained, TPS enables holders to work and gives them protection from deportation. It also grants them authorisation to travel.

Neither programme offers a path to permanent residency, and recent arrivals on the so-called U4U programme have had to contend with fewer resources after Congress curbed funding for resettlement aid. Parolees arriving since October haven’t been entitled to the legal services, cash and rent assistance that earlier arrivals received. DM

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