World

UKRAINE UPDATE: 9 FEBRUARY 2024

Russia targets Kyiv’s power network; UK expels envoy in spy saga

Russia targets Kyiv’s power network; UK expels envoy in spy saga
A man surveys the damage of a house that was hit during a Russian missile strike in Krasylivka, Kyiv region, Ukraine, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, May 8, 2024. (Photo: Reuters / Thomas Peter)

Russia resumed attacks on Ukraine’s electricity production and distribution network after a two-week pause, targeting facilities across the nation including the capital and Lviv in the west near the border with Poland.

The UK expelled a top Russian envoy and imposed new restrictions on the country’s diplomats, in one of the most high-profile responses yet to what allied officials described as a coordinated espionage campaign to weaken support for Ukraine. 

European Union member states have tentatively approved a plan to use the profits generated by Russian sovereign assets frozen in the bloc to support Ukraine’s recovery and military defence. 

Russia resumes ‘massive’ attacks on Ukraine’s power network

Russia resumed attacks on Ukraine’s electricity production and distribution network after a two-week pause, targeting facilities across the nation including the capital and Lviv in the west near the border with Poland.

Ukrainian air defence systems intercepted 39 out of 55 missiles and 20 out of 21 Shahed drones, Air Force chief Mykola Oleshchuk said on Telegram. Russia used cruise and ballistic weapons including the Kinzhal hypersonic missile.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the attacks “massive” in a post on X that pointed out that they came as countries mark the anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany at the end of World War 2. They were launched the day after Russian President Vladimir Putin was inaugurated for another term. 

Two people were injured in the Kyiv region, and a child was hurt in the Kirovohrad region, the national police said on Telegram. Seven others, including five children, were also wounded in another Russian attack around noon local time in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, according to local authorities.

Power generation and transmission facilities in six regions including Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk in the west were struck, Energy Minister German Galushchenko said on Facebook.

“The enemy wants to take away from us the capacity to produce and transmit sufficient electricity,” Galushchenko said. 

Ukraine’s largest power producer DTEK said that three of its thermal power plants were attacked, causing “serious damage to equipment”. This was the fifth drone and missile barrage aimed at DTEK facilities in the past month and a half, it said. 

Ukrainian railways also suffered during the barrage, for the first time this month after several attacks in April. The train from Kyiv to Kherson was stopped in Mykolayiv due to damage at the main station in Kherson.

Russian forces continued small territorial gains in eastern Luhansk and the Donetsk region and continued assaults near the strategically important town of Chasiv Yar, according to the Institute for the Study of War and Ukrainian military bloggers. 

UK expels Russian envoy in pushback against spying surge

The UK expelled a top Russian envoy and imposed new restrictions on the country’s diplomats, in one of the most high-profile responses yet to what allied officials described as a coordinated espionage campaign to weaken support for Ukraine. 

Home Secretary James Cleverly announced the actions in Parliament on Wednesday, saying the UK would deport Russia’s defence attaché on the grounds that he was an undeclared spy. He said it would also limit the amount of time the country’s diplomats can spend in the UK, as well as strip some Russian-owned properties — including its defence section in London’s Highgate area and a 19th-century country house south of the capital — of diplomatic protections.  

The actions come in response to a suspected arson attack against Ukrainian-linked properties in East London and other espionage activities in Britain and Europe, Cleverly said. 

“Over a number of years, we have witnessed Russia and its intelligence services engage in yet more open and more brazen attempts to undermine our security, harm our people and interfere in our democracies,” Cleverly told the House of Commons. “These activities bear all the hallmarks of a deliberate campaign by Russia designed to bring the war home across Europe and undermine our collective resolve to support Ukraine in its fight. It will not work.”

The Russian Embassy in London issued a statement saying the UK’s reasons for the new restrictions were “baseless and even ridiculous”, and pledged an appropriate response. 

EU backs plan to tap profits from Russian assets to aid Ukraine

European Union member states have tentatively approved a plan to use the profits generated by Russian sovereign assets frozen in the bloc to support Ukraine’s recovery and military defence.

Under the plan agreed to by EU ambassadors on Wednesday, most of the proceeds generated from 15 February onwards would be transferred to the European Peace Facility, a mechanism that reimburses weapons supplied to Kyiv, and to the EU budget’s Ukraine facility. 

The agreement comes after months of haggling between member states amid worries about possible legal challenges, retaliation from Russia and risk to the stability of the euro. It now needs to be formally adopted by member states.  

About $280-billion in assets have been immobilised by the Group of Seven nations since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, with more than two-thirds of those held in the EU. The vast majority of the funds has been held through the Belgium-based settlement giant Euroclear, where they have generated about €3.9-billion in net profit since last year.

Some €159-billion of frozen Russian assets have generated a net profit of €557-million from that date, according to Euroclear’s first-quarter financial results.

Profits generated before 15 February will be retained by the clearing house to manage any risks such as those stemming from court cases. The plans include an emergency mechanism to release more funds should the costs of those risks balloon. 

Putin wants Russians to live longer as demographic crisis grows

Putin set a goal for Russians to live longer even as the country’s population is set to shrink in a deepening demographic crisis that’s been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and his war in Ukraine.

Putin ordered the government to develop policies for raising life expectancy to 81 years in Russia by 2036, up from 73.4 years last year, in a new decree on national development goals.

The decree updates a goal Putin set in 2020 for life expectancy to rise to 78 years by 2030. The 71-year-old president was inaugurated on Tuesday for his fifth term to 2030 and can potentially rule until 2036.

Putin’s targets were “unrealistic without stopping the war and sharply tightening the screws on strong alcohol and cigarettes, as well as doubling healthcare spending”, independent demographer Alexei Raksha said on his Telegram channel. The number of births in Russia last year was the lowest this century, according to his estimates.  

Putin has warned for years that Russia’s shrinking population threatens its political and economic future. Fertility rates in the world’s largest country by area plunged in the 1990s during the economic shock that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The government has poured billions into programmes aiming to boost the birth rate by offering payments to women who have more children. Still, it’s had little effect in reversing the demographic decline. 

Ukraine energy trader plans European expansion to boost supplies

The trading arm of Ukrainian energy company DTEK plans to hire more staff and enter the liquefied natural gas (LNG) market in a bid to forge closer ties with the rest of Europe. 

D.Trading seeks to add as many as 12 people to buy and sell power, gas and fuels by the end of the year, Chief Executive Officer Ivan Geliukh said in an interview. The firm currently employs about 60 traders in four offices from Kyiv to Amsterdam. Longer term, an LNG desk will also be established. 

Expanding its activity on the continent will help deepen Ukraine’s links to the wider energy market and boost supply security of both electricity and gas in the war-torn country. At the same time, the high volatility in those markets offers the chance of big profits from trading. 

“Our plan is to contribute to energy security in Europe,” Geliukh said. “At the moment we have a big portfolio of customers in Ukraine, so the next step for us is building the team and developing our capabilities across the region.”

One of the tasks of his expanded team will be to improve links between energy infrastructure in Ukraine and the main grid on the continent. The nation has more storage capacity than any other country on the continent west of Russia, but continuous attacks by its neighbour are increasing the possibility that fuel will get stranded there.

A move into the LNG market would also replicate efforts by some of the world’s biggest commodity merchants. Traders including Vitol Group are expanding in the market for the super-chilled fuel as Europe replaces Russian pipeline gas supplies and transitions away from dirtier fossil fuels. DM

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