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UKRAINE UPDATE: 7 MAY 2024

EU prepares 14th sanctions package on Russia; Putin orders tactical nuclear drills

EU prepares 14th sanctions package on Russia; Putin orders tactical nuclear drills
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo: Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP / Getty Images)

The European Union is proposing to ban political parties, think-tanks and other groups from accepting funding from Russia as part of its next round of sanctions aimed at punishing Moscow over its war on Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s military to carry out combat drills involving tactical nuclear weapons, ramping up his confrontation with the West just a day before his inauguration for a fifth term.

Russia’s army made further incremental gains in its quest to capture a strategically important town of Chasiv Yar in the eastern Donetsk region while missile and drone strikes disrupted power supplies in the north and east of Ukraine.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged to defend Germany’s three Baltic Nato allies in case of a Russian attack and to complete the establishment of a permanent brigade in Lithuania by the end of 2027. 

EU aims to bar Russian funds to parties before European vote

The European Union is proposing to ban political parties, think-tanks and other groups from accepting funding from Russia as part of its next round of sanctions aimed at punishing Moscow over its war on Ukraine. 

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, is recommending that member states agree to the steps as part of its 14th sanctions package, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The measures being discussed include banning the import of Russian helium, tightening export restrictions on manganese ore and other rare-earth components, and prohibiting port access for about 11 shipping vessels suspected of aiding Russia’s war effort, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss confidential matters. 

The proposal, which would also ban four additional media outlets from broadcasting in Europe, needs to be agreed unanimously by the bloc’s 27 member states to enter into force and could still change. Previous packages have required weeks of closed-door negotiations.

European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova said on Sunday that the EU would sanction Voice of Europe, a website accused of spreading pro-Russian disinformation, along with Rossiiskaja Gazeta, Ria Novosti and Izvestia

“We don’t recognise them as media, they are simply Putin’s propaganda tools,” Jourova told Czech public television.

The push to crack down on Russian political funding into the EU comes amid rising concerns about disinformation pushed by Moscow tied to the European Parliament’s elections in early June. France, with the Baltic nations, Poland and the Netherlands, had urged the bloc to sanction Russian election interference, Bloomberg reported previously.  

Putin orders tactical nuclear drills on eve of his new term

President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s military to carry out combat drills involving tactical nuclear weapons, ramping up his confrontation with the West just a day before his inauguration for a fifth term.

The army will carry out exercises in southern Russia to “practise the preparation and use of non-strategic nuclear weapons,” the Defence Ministry said in a Telegram statement on Monday. The drills involving air and naval forces were being held in response to “provocative statements and threats made by certain Western officials”, it said.

Putin has at times brandished the threat of nuclear weapons since his February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, which borders southern Russia. In October, Russia rehearsed its ability to deliver a “massive” retaliatory nuclear strike, including with the launch of ballistic and cruise missiles.

In February, the Russian leader warned the North Atlantic Treaty Organization it risked a nuclear conflict if the alliance were to send troops to Ukraine.

The US and Europe “must understand that we also have weapons that can hit targets on their territory and that all this really threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons, and therefore the destruction of civilisation”, Putin said in his annual State of the Nation Address. 

That threat came after French President Emmanuel Macron refused to rule out sending troops to Ukraine, even as the idea was rebuffed by other Nato allies. Macron on Monday was hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping, who despite growing diplomatic and economic ties with Russia, has warned Putin against the use of nuclear weapons. 

Read more: How serious is Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons?: QuickTake

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Monday blamed Macron and UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron for sparking “an unprecedented spike in tensions”, RIA Novosti reported. Cameron last week said Ukraine had the right to use weapons it receives from Britain to strike Russia

Russia advances towards eastern city, strikes Ukraine’s north

Russia’s army made further incremental gains in its quest to capture a strategically important town of Chasiv Yar in the eastern Donetsk region, while missile and drone strikes disrupted power supplies in the north and east of Ukraine.

Moscow intensified attacks against Chasiv Yar, a hilltop settlement seen as key for Putin’s objective of capturing what was once Ukraine’s industrial heartland. The Kremlin is racing to seize territory before US military aid reaches Kyiv’s troops on the frontline.

“The battles are taking place quite close to the town, already on the outskirts,”  Kyrylo Sazonov, a former Ukrainian political consultant who joined the 41st Separate Mechanised Brigade and is serving in Chasiv Yar, told the 1+1 TV channel.

“Over the last two weeks we see and sense that Russians have a task to occupy Chasiv Yar by May 9th,” he said, referring to the date when Russia celebrates its victory over Germany in World War 2.

Ukraine’s task is to win time to form and prepare reserves while disrupting Russia’s plans, causing maximum losses and exhausting their forces, Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Facebook, after spending two days on the eastern frontline. Russia had numerous advantages in personnel, weapons and military equipment, he said. 

Chasiv Yar is situated on high ground and convenient to defend, Sazonov said. If Ukraine abandoned the town, it would give Russian forces a “direct path” to Kostyantynivka, and further west to Slovyansk, Kramatorsk and Pokrovsk, he said. The “Pokrovsk-Kostyantynivka” road has become a vital supply route for the Ukrainian Army.

Russian forces were storming “well-prepared” Ukrainian positions and trying to bypass the town, he said. “We should admit that the Russians are well prepared too, especially their paratroopers,” he said.

Meanwhile, north of Donetsk, in the Sumy region, attacks damaged a high-voltage power facility, cutting the power supply to 400,000 households, while about 100,000 households had rolling blackouts in neighbouring Kharkiv, the national grid operator Ukrenergo said on Facebook.

Ukraine intercepted 12 of 13 Shahed drones in the Sumy region that were launched from the north at night, the air force said on Telegram. Russia has stepped up attacks across much of Ukraine in recent days as the country celebrates Orthodox Easter

Germany vows to defend Baltic nations in any Russian attack

Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged to defend Germany’s three Baltic Nato allies in case of a Russian attack and to complete the establishment of a permanent brigade in Lithuania by the end of 2027.

“Germany stands firmly at the side of the Baltic states,” Scholz told reporters on Monday during a visit to a German tank battalion stationed in Lithuania, his third trip to the region since taking office in 2021.

Scholz is also meeting counterparts from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia in Riga to discuss closer defence and energy cooperation.  

“We are committed to each other, that is part of the understandings we have reached in Nato,” Scholz said. “And that means that we grant each other protection and that all states can rely on us to defend every inch of their territory.” 

A preliminary command of some 20 German soldiers arrived in Lithuania in April and is set to expand to around 150 personnel by the end of the year. As many as 5,000 soldiers will be permanently stationed at the military bases of Rukla near Kaunas in central Lithuania and Rudninkai near the capital Vilnius and the border with Belarus.

Speaking alongside Scholz, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda urged Germany to speed up the deployment given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and threats against other former Soviet states.

“We can’t afford the luxury of wasting even a minute,” Nausėda warned. DM

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