World

UKRAINE UPDATE: 25 APRIL 2024

Russia vetoes UN resolution to ban space-based nukes; Qatar to host Kyiv peace summit talks

Russia vetoes UN resolution to ban space-based nukes; Qatar to host Kyiv peace summit talks
US President Joe Biden in the White House State Dining Room on 24 April 2024 after signing the $95bn national security package. (Photo: Ron Sachs / CNP / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have reaffirmed a global commitment against deploying nuclear weapons in space, rebuffing US efforts to shine a spotlight on Moscow’s reported plans to do so.

National security advisers and senior officials from around the world are set to meet in Doha this weekend to discuss plans for a summit on Ukraine’s conditions for a settlement with Russia, according to people familiar with the matter.

President Joe Biden signed a $95-billion national security package into law and said assistance to Ukraine would begin to move within “hours”, capping off a bruising fight with Republicans over long-delayed assistance for Kyiv and other besieged US allies. 

Congressional passage on Tuesday of authority granting Biden new powers to seize Russian dollar assets to aid Ukraine has intensified debate over the potential consequences of foreign demand for US Treasuries and use of the dollar.

The arrest on bribery charges of one of Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu’s closest allies has weakened his position ahead of a potential government reshuffle by President Vladimir Putin, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Russia blocks UN resolution to ban nuclear weapons in space

Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have reaffirmed a global commitment against deploying nuclear weapons in space, rebuffing US efforts to shine a spotlight on Moscow’s reported plans to do so.

The resolution underscored that countries are “not to develop nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction” designed to be placed in space. The proposal also reaffirmed that countries must “fully comply” with their obligations under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which bans nuclear weapons in orbit.

Thirteen of 15 Security Council members voted in favour of the resolution, while China abstained. The negative vote from Russia — which wields veto power as a permanent member of the council — was enough to block it.

“They’re attempting to portray our country as being uninterested in preventing an arms race in outer space,” Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said before the vote. “This is absurd.”

The US unveiled plans for the resolution weeks after Washington said Moscow had plans to develop an anti-satellite space weapon. People familiar with the matter have said the US told allies that Russia could deploy a nuclear weapon or a mock warhead into space as early as this year. President Vladimir Putin has denied the claims.

US officials had since then stepped up pressure on Russia to get on board with the proposal they say reaffirms principles it has already agreed to as a member of the Outer Space Treaty. The veto is likely to raise serious concerns in Washington that Moscow is planning on deploying nuclear weapons in space, a senior US official who asked not to be named discussing the sensitive topic, said ahead of the vote.

Qatar will host meeting to discuss Ukrainian proposal to end war

National security advisers and senior officials from around the world are set to meet in Doha this weekend to discuss plans for a summit on Ukraine’s conditions for a settlement with Russia, according to people familiar with the matter.

The meeting of officials from the Group of Seven and the so-called Global South is part of a round of talks preparing the ground for a high-level summit that Switzerland is due to host in June. Some of those meetings have included dozens of other nations from the Gulf, the Group of 20 and BRICS. A smaller gathering took place last December.

The attendance list for the meeting in the Qatari capital has not yet been finalised, the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. Russia has not been invited and whether China will attend remains unclear, said the people.

Ukraine’s allies see China’s presence as important for the success of the summit given the influence they say Beijing has on Moscow more than two years into the war.  

Ukraine’s blueprint for peace calls for respecting the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, the withdrawal of Russian troops as well as guarantees over its future security. It also includes specific provisions to protect its nuclear generators and food supply.

Kyiv wants those principles to be broadly agreed at the June summit in Switzerland as a precursor to any potential talks involving Russia. China is seen as a key participant to give weight to any agreement and so the question of whether anyone from Beijing will show up at that meeting is crucial.  

Biden signs Ukraine Bill, offers long-range missiles Kyiv sought

President Joe Biden signed a $95-billion national security package into law and said assistance to Ukraine would begin to move within “hours”, capping off a bruising fight with Republicans over long-delayed assistance for Kyiv and other besieged US allies.

Biden’s signature cleared the way for the US to quickly resume arms shipments for Kyiv, whose efforts to repel Russia’s invasion have faltered amid the eight-month funding impasse. Even with refreshed stocks of weapons and ammunition, Ukraine could struggle to retake the initiative after being driven to breaking point from months of Russian attacks.

“I’m making sure the shipments start right away. In the next few hours — literally in a few hours — we are going to begin sending equipment to Ukraine for air defence munitions, artillery for rocket systems, and armoured vehicles,” Biden said on Wednesday at the White House. 

The US said the initial tranche of aid was valued at $1-billion and would include air defence interceptors, artillery rounds, armoured vehicles and anti-tank weapons — the first transfer from $61-billion in new funding. Ukrainian and US officials acknowledged for the first time that the assistance includes the longer-range version of a tactical ballistic missile system known as Atacms, which Ukraine has long desired in a push to strike deeper into occupied territory. 

“During recent days we were actively working with our American friends — at all levels — to fill in this package with those weapons our warriors need,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday in his regular address to the nation. 

“From Atacms and artillery, from anti-tank weapons and missiles for Himars, to needed air defence and equipment. Now we will do everything to compensate [for] that half a year which was spent in debates and doubts.”

The new longer-range Atacms system was secretly approved for use by Biden in February, according to a senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The US has restricted the use of long-range Atacms to within Ukrainian sovereign territory, the official said. The missiles were used for the first time in recent days to strike Russian troops in southeastern Ukraine, The New York Times reported.

The new law also empowers Biden to seize an estimated $5-billion in Russian assets in US banks and repurpose them to assist Ukraine. Critics have argued any unilateral move to do that without allies would weaken the dollar and hurt demand for US Treasury bonds. 

Russia asset seizure law spurs Yellen praise, dollar angst

Congressional passage on Tuesday of authority granting Biden new powers to seize Russian dollar assets to aid Ukraine has intensified debate over the potential consequences of foreign demand for US Treasuries and use of the dollar.

The so-called Repo provision was added to a $95-billion Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel aid package by House Republican leaders and Biden signed the measure into law on Wednesday. It lets the president transfer Russian government assets to a Ukraine reconstruction fund, with some restrictions requiring coordinated action with allies and a judicial review.

“It is necessary and urgent for our international coalition to unlock the value of immobilised Russian sovereign assets,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. “Congress took an important step in that effort with the passage of the Repo Act, and I will continue intensive discussions with our G7 partners in the weeks ahead on a collective path forward.”

Group of Seven finance chiefs discussed the potential use of frozen Russian assets last week, with officials from Europe — where the vast majority of the holdings sit — expressing continued concern about the legal precedent

Read more: Seize or freeze Russian assets? It’s a fraught debate: QuickTake

Similar angst comes from some US Republicans, who claim the step would undermine demand for Treasuries and, more broadly, the role of the dollar in the global financial system.

“We already have a lot of pressure on American bond markets, between inflation and the deficits that we have so, yeah, I’m concerned about it,” Ohio GOP Senator JD Vance, the Repo Bill’s chief Senate critic, said on Tuesday. “We have to be careful.” 

Vance isn’t alone in his sentiment. Worries about eroding the dollar’s position as the world’s dominant currency surfaced when the US and its allies froze Russia’s assets following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Economists highlighted that the joint nature of the action helped insulate such concerns, however, and the Biden administration has signalled it will continue to act in concert with its partners. 

Russian defence minister weakened by arrest of key ally

The arrest on bribery charges of one of Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu’s closest allies has weakened his position ahead of a potential government shuffle by President Vladimir Putin, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

The detention of Deputy Defence Minister Timur Ivanov may be an attempt to undermine Shoigu, two people close to the Kremlin said, asking not to be identified discussing internal matters. It represents a final warning to Shoigu to improve the ministry’s wartime performance though he’s unlikely to be ousted now, one of the people said.

Still, the case against Ivanov, who was the focus of a corruption investigation by the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s team early in Russia’s war on Ukraine, is a severe blow to Shoigu’s authority, people close to the Defence Ministry and Russian intelligence services said, asking not to be identified because the issue is sensitive.

The scandal has erupted ahead of Putin’s 7 May inauguration for a fifth term as president, with Russia’s war in Ukraine in its third year and showing no sign of ending.  

Putin may carry out a significant government shake-up for the first time since 2020 following his inauguration. Shoigu, who’s been defence minister since 2012, has faced criticism for his handling of the invasion of Ukraine, most vividly from the late Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who led a mutiny last June to try to oust him and army chief Valery Gerasimov.  

Moscow’s Basmanny Court on Wednesday ordered Ivanov to be held in custody for two months while investigations continue. Russia’s Investigative Committee announced the deputy minister’s detention late on Tuesday in Moscow on accusations of accepting an “especially large” bribe exceeding one million roubles ($11,000).

Ivanov denies the bribery allegation, the Interfax news service reported, citing a person familiar that it didn’t identify. He faces as much as 15 years in jail if convicted.

Ivanov, one of 12 deputy defence ministers, has been in the post since May 2016. He’s seen as the second-closest deputy to Shoigu, some people familiar with the situation said. He is under US and European Union sanctions for his role in Russia’s war in Ukraine, and is responsible for property management and infrastructure projects at the defence ministry.

Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation accused Ivanov in 2022 of profiting from construction projects in the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol. 

Sunak, Scholz find common cause on defence

UK-German ties appeared under strain as recently as last month, with British officials lobbying Berlin to send Ukraine more long-range missiles. However, on Wednesday, there was little sign of such tension when Chancellor Olaf Scholz hosted Rishi Sunak on his first trip to Germany as prime minister. 

During a visit in which Sunak was feted with military honours and greeted his German host as mein Freund (my friend), the two leaders went out of their way to show a united front in Europe’s effort to reverse Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and bolster its own security. They talked enthusiastically about shared football stars and pledged to collaborate on “remote-controlled howitzer 155mm wheeled artillery systems”.  

“At this dangerous moment, the bond between our two nations is stronger than ever,” Sunak told reporters at a joint news conference in Berlin. Scholz said the two countries “have a long shared history” and “a similar view of the world”. He also talked of “fond memories” of working with Sunak when the two men were finance ministers of their respective nations.

The meeting between Europe’s two top providers of military aid to Ukraine was timely for both men, who are under pressure at home and abroad to show the continent is doing its part to defend Nato. Donald Trump’s renewed criticism of European defence spending during his campaign for a return to the White House has rekindled concerns about US commitment to support.

Both leaders have struggled to maintain strength on defence while weathering tepid support in the polls. In Britain, Sunak has been accused of not spending enough to ensure the UK military is ready for any future conflict with China and Russia. Scholz, meanwhile, has faced calls to provide Ukraine with more powerful weapons systems, including from the UK, which has privately urged Germany to send the country its long-range Taurus missiles.

In February, Sunak’s former defence secretary Ben Wallace dismissed Scholz as “the wrong man, in the wrong job, at the wrong time”. 

While Scholz doubled down on Wednesday on his insistence that he wouldn’t send the Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine, the two men highlighted things they did agree on. Those included plans for joint procurement of weapons systems such as the Boxer armoured fighting vehicle and collaboration on multinational air-defence projects, such as the German-led European Sky Shield Initiative and the Diamond Initiative. 

“Europe has massively expanded its efforts for defence, we’re witnessing the emergence of a very strong European army for defence, and this is needed so that we can jointly defend our Nato territory,” Scholz said after talks with Sunak.

Sunak, for his part, declined to criticise the Taurus decision, instead suggesting that different countries have “different capabilities” in terms of what they can offer to counter Russia. The two leaders “talked about the importance of getting air defence to Ukraine,” Sunak said, in reference to what has been a key German request from its allies in recent weeks.

Sunak fell back on football — an arena of competition between England and Germany since they were on opposite sides of two world wars — to find common ground.

“The thing that really unites us is our people: The love that Liverpool has for Jurgen Klopp or the love that Munich has for Harry Kane,” the premier said, referring to the German manager of the English club, and the England captain who plays his football in the German Bundesliga.

Moldova charges governor who met Putin with corruption

Moldovan prosecutors filed corruption charges against the pro-Russian leader of an autonomous region as concerns mount about Kremlin efforts to destabilise the nation’s path into the European Union.

Evghenia Gutul, the governor of Moldova’s Gagauzia region, was accused of accepting more than 42 million lei ($2.4-million) in illicit funding from Russia, according to a statement from anti-corruption prosecutors on Wednesday.

The regional leader rejected the accusations, saying in a post on Telegram that the criminal case was “fabricated”. She faces up to seven years in prison or a fine for the violations.

The governor is part of a group of five parties funded by the fugitive oligarch Ilan Shor that formed an anti-European political bloc in Moscow this week. Their aim is to derail the EU agenda of Moldovan President Maia Sandu, who will seek re-election later this year.

Gutul has travelled to Moscow and met Putin this year. She leads Gagauzia, a region in southern Moldova that’s sought increased autonomy from the government in Chisinau. The former Soviet republic already contends with the breakaway region of Transnistria, which along with Gagauzia has sought backing from Moscow.

The Russian government is using an array of measures, including AI-generated deep fakes to bags of cash, to undermine democratic institutions in Moldova, Moldova’s foreign minister, Mihai Popsoi, told Bloomberg in an interview this week. He called the landlocked nation of 2.6 million a “sort of a petri dish of Russian hybrid warfare and election meddling.”

Gutul is charged with accepting funds from an organised criminal group and introducing illicit money into Moldova. On Tuesday, police in the capital, Chisinau, said they confiscated more than 20 million lei following searches at the airport as the Shor-linked group returned from Moscow.  

Russian court freezes JPMorgan assets under $440m claim

A St Petersburg court froze the Russian assets of JPMorgan Chase pending consideration of a lawsuit from the country’s second-largest bank that seeks to recover about $440-million.

VTB Bank filed the suit against JPMorgan and its subsidiaries in the Arbitration Court of St Petersburg and the Leningrad Region on 17 April, according to the court’s database. While court documents didn’t detail the main basis for the suit, they said VTB had requested provisional steps because the defendants were “taking measures to withdraw their assets” from Russia while the state-controlled lender was seeking to recover about $440-million from JPMorgan.

The court agreed to freeze the money in JPMorgan’s Russian accounts, its stake in a Russian subsidiary bank and property rights related to some trademarks. It set the next hearing in the case for 17 July. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    This is a master stroke from the Arab nations, this brings parallel peace talks on similar situations of illegal occupation which both results in conflicts, the hypocrisy played by western Europe will be exposed because the same blue print on territories will have to be applied, what is wrong for Russia cannot be right for Israel.
    Peace talks are much sober than press statements where propaganda is used to calm domestic populations, the aim is to calm conflicted parties.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.