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Updated: May 23, 2022 at 1:58PM

Russian soldier jailed for life in first war crimes trial of Ukraine war

Russian serviceman Vadim Shishimarin attends a court hearing in the Solomyansky district court in Kyiv, Ukraine, 23 May 2022. Russian serviceman Vadim Shishimarin, 21, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the killing of an unarmed 62-year-old civilian man near Chupakha village in the Sumy area in late February 2022. A court in Kyiv ruled on the day that Shishimarin has been found guilty of war crimes and handed a life sentence. Ukraine held the first war crimes trial amid the Russian invasion. EPA-EFE/OLEG PETRASYUK

By: Reuters

KYIV, May 23 (Reuters) - A Ukrainian court sentenced a Russian soldier to life in prison on Monday for killing an unarmed civilian in the first war crimes trial arising from Russia's invasion.

adim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old tank commander, had pleaded guilty to killing 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov in the northeastern Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka on Feb. 28, four days after the invasion.

Judge Serhiy Agafonov said Shishimarin, carrying out a “criminal order” by a soldier of higher rank, had fired several shots at the victim’s head from an automatic weapon.

“Given that the crime committed is a crime against peace, security, humanity and the international legal order … the court does not see the possibility of imposing a (shorter) sentence,” he said.

Shishimarin, wearing a blue and grey hooded sweatshirt, watched proceedings silently from a reinforced glass box in the courtroom and showed no emotion as the verdict was read out.

He stood with head bowed throughout the proceedings, listening to a translator.

The trial, which began only last week, has huge symbolic significance for Ukraine and an international lawyer told Reuters it could be the first of many.

Kyiv has accused Russia of atrocities and brutality against civilians during the invasion and said it has identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes. Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes while it carries out what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

The Kremlin did not immediately comment on the verdict. It has previously said that it has no information about the trial and that the absence of a diplomatic mission in Ukraine limits its ability to provide assistance.

 

BAR SET ‘VERY HIGH’

Ukrainian state prosecutors said Shishimarin and four other Russian servicemen stole a car to escape after their column was targeted by Ukrainian forces.

After driving into Chupakhivka, the soldiers saw Shelipov riding a bicycle and talking on his phone. Shishimarin was ordered to kill Shelipov to prevent him reporting on their location, the prosecutors said.

In court last week, Shishimarin acknowledged he was to blame and asked the victim’s widow to forgive him.

The court reached its verdict five days after holding its first full hearing. In contrast, the International Criminal Court has not handed down a single life sentence and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia sentenced only six people to life imprisonment.

Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, said the verdict was “not surprising” and could be the first part of “a large puzzle also involving Ukrainian soldiers being held in Russia.”

“If this is the baseline trial … it sets the bar very high,” he said. “For most other war crimes cases in Ukraine I suspect we’ll see similar sentences because this is the baseline trial.”

By Pavel Polityuk

(Additional reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Tomasz Janowski)

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Ukraine says 87 killed in strike on barracks, worst military loss of war

Fresh graves of people who died during the ongoing fighting in Ukraine, at a cemetery in the village of Staryi Krym, outskirts of Mariupol, Donetsk Oblast, 21 May 2022 (issued 22 May 2022). The Chief spokesman of the Russian Defense Ministry, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said on 20 May that the long-besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol was under full Russian army control. EPA-EFE/ALESSANDRO GUERRA

By: Reuters

KYIV/MARIUPOL, May 23 (Reuters) - Kyiv ackowledged its worst military losses from a single attack of the Ukraine war on Monday, saying 87 people had been killed last week when Russian forces struck a barracks housing troops at a training base in the north.

The announcement that scores had been killed in a single strike demonstrated Russia’s ability to inflict huge losses on Ukraine, even far from the front. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy disclosed the toll during a speech on Monday by video link to business leaders in Davos, Switzerland.

Ukraine had previously said at least eight people were killed in the May 17 attack, while giving few details. The toll was more than double the number killed in a similar attack on a Ukrainian training base in Yaraviv in the west in March.

“History is at a turning point… This is really the moment when it is decided whether brute force will rule the world,” Zelenskiy said in his address, calling for maximum economic sanctions on Russia.

In the latest fighting at the battlefront, Ukraine said on Monday it had held off a Russian assault on Sievierodonetsk, an eastern city that has become the main target of Moscow’s offensive since it finally seized Mariupol last week.

Russian forces tried to storm Sievierodonetsk but were unsuccessful and retreated, Zelenskiy’s office said. The city, on the Siverskiy Donets River, has been the main Russian target in recent days as Moscow tries to encircle Ukrainian forces and fully capture Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.

With Moscow having captured Mariupol last week after a three-month siege but losing territory elsewhere, the war in Ukraine is entering what some Western military analysts describe as a new phase: a major Russian push to capture the eastern region known as the Donbas, before Moscow is expected to shift to defending and imposing its rule over territory it controls.

In Kyiv, a court handed down a life prison sentence on a Russian soldier who had pleaded guilty to killing a Ukrainian civilian at the first war crimes trial of the conflict. The Kremlin complained that it was not permitted to defend its citizen. Read full story

In Mariupol, where hundreds of Ukrainian fighters finally laid down their arms last week after a nearly three-month siege, Russian mine clearing teams were combing through the ruins of the giant Azovstal steel plant.

A huge armoured bulldozer painted with a white letter “Z”, symbol of Russia’s assault, pushed debris to the side as a small group of soldiers picked their way through the wreckage with metal detectors.

“The task is huge. The enemy planted their own landmines, we had also planted anti-personnel mines while blocking the enemy. So we’ve got some two weeks of work ahead of us,” said a Russian soldier, going by the nomme de guerre Babai. He said his crew had destroyed more than 100 explosives over two days so far.

Ukraine has been trying to secure a prisoner swap for fighters who surrendered at the steel plant last week. The leader of pro-Russian separatists in control of the area said they would be tried by a tribunal, but a Russian deputy foreign minister was quoted as saying Moscow could discuss a swap.

An aide to Mariupol’s Ukrainian mayor, operating outside the city, said remaining residents were now in danger of disease as sewers overflow amid the ruins. Ukraine believes tens of thousands of people died in the siege of the city of more than 400,000 people.

 

‘WIPING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH’

Russia has focused its “special military operation” on the east since its troops were driven out of the area around the capital Kyiv and the north at the end of March.

Since last month, Moscow has said its main effort is capturing all of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, together known as the Donbas, which Russia claims on behalf of separatists.

Despite pouring its forces into those areas and launching massive artillery bombardments, it has made only small territorial gains, meanwhile continuing to lose territory in a Ukrainian counter-attack further north around Kharkiv.

But the full capture of Mariupol last week gives Russia its biggest victory for months. Its forces now control a largely unbroken swathe of the east and south, freeing up more troops to join the main Donbas fight.

In recent days it has launched a series of assaults to capture Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost part of a Ukrainian-held pocket of the Donbas and one of the last parts of Luhansk province still outside Russia’s grip.

Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russia was using scorched earth tactics and “wiping Sievierodonetsk from the face of the earth”. Moscow was trying to advance from three directions, to overrun Sievierodonetsk, cut off a highway south of it and cross the river further west.

Some Western military experts say Russia may soon be running out of combat power to wage offensive operations and could have to shift in coming weeks to defending territory. The arrival of more Western weapons would strengthen Kyiv for a future counterattack.

“As their eastern offensive loses momentum, the Russians will inevitably have to transition to a defensive strategy in Ukraine. And in doing so, the Russian Army will confront a new range of difficult challenges ahead,” tweeted Mick Ryan, a retired Australian major general and defence analyst. “The Ukrainian Army will be able to decide where and when it engages the Russians.”

Britain’s ministry of defence said Moscow had probably endured losses in three months in Ukraine on par with its losses over nine years in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“A combination of poor low-level tactics, limited air cover, a lack of flexibility, and a command approach which is prepared to reinforce failure and repeat mistakes has led to this high casualty rate, which continues to rise in the Donbas offensive,” it said.

By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in Kyiv and Reuters journalists in Mariupol; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Ukraine rejects concessions as Russians attack in east and south

epa09828818 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a virtual address to Congress, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, 16 March 2022. EPA-EFE/DREW ANGERER / POOL

By: Reuters

KYIV, May 22 (Reuters) - Ukraine ruled out a ceasefire or any territorial concessions to Moscow as Russia stepped up its attack in the eastern and southern parts of the country, pounding the Donbas and Mykolaiv regions with air strikes and artillery fire.

  • Ukraine rules out ceasefire, concessions
  • Russia launches assault in Luhansk, Mykolaiv
  • Ukraine must decide own future, Polish president says

By Conor Humphries and Max Hunder

Kyiv’s stance has become increasingly uncompromising in recent weeks as Russia experienced military setbacks while Ukrainian officials grew worried they might be pressured to sacrifice land for a peace deal.

“The war must end with the complete restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Andriy Yermak, Ukraine’s presidential chief of staff said in a Twitter post on Sunday.

Polish President Andrzej Duda offered Warsaw’s backing, telling lawmakers in Kyiv on Sunday that the international community had to demand Russia’s complete withdrawal and that sacrificing any territory would be a “huge blow” to the entire West.

“Worrying voices have appeared, saying that Ukraine should give in to (President Vladimir) Putin’s demands,” Duda said, the first foreign leader to address the Ukrainian parliament in person since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. Read full story

“Only Ukraine has the right to decide about its future,” he said.

Speaking to the same parliamentary session, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy renewed a plea for stronger economic sanctions against Moscow.

“Half-measures should not be used when aggression should be stopped,” he said.

Shortly after both finished speaking, an air raid siren was heard in the capital, a reminder that the war raged on even if its front lines are now hundreds of kilometres away.

Zelenskiy said at a news conference with Duda that 50 to 100 Ukrainians are dying every day on the war’s eastern front in what appeared to be a reference to military casualties.

Russia is waging a major offensive in Luhansk, one of two provinces in Donbas, after ending weeks of resistance by the last Ukrainian fighters in the strategic southeastern port of Mariupol.

The heaviest fighting focused around the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, interior ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko told Ukrainian television on Sunday.

The cities form the eastern part of a Ukrainian-held pocket that Russia has been trying to overrun since mid-April after failing to capture Kyiv and shifting its focus to the east and south of the country.

Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of Luhansk, said in a local television interview that Russia was using “scorched-earth” tactics in the region.

“They are wiping Sievierodonetsk from the face of the earth,” he said.

Russian shelling and “heavy fighting” near Sievierodonetsk has continued, but the invading forces failed to secure the nearby village Oleksandrivka, a Ukrainian military statement said.

Russia’s defence ministry said on Sunday its forces pummelled Ukrainian command centres, troops and ammunition depots in Donbas and the Mykolaiv region in the south with air strikes and artillery. Read full story

On Sunday evening, multiple explosions were heard throughout the city of Mykolaiv, Mayor Oleksandr Senkevich said in a social media post.

Reuters was unable to independently verify those battlefield reports.

Russian-backed separatists already controlled parts of Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk before the invasion, but Moscow wants to seize the remaining Ukrainian-held territory in the region.

Ukraine’s military said seven civilians were killed and eight injured during Russian attacks in Donetsk on Sunday. Numbers for Luhansk were not disclosed.

 

NO CONCESSIONS, NO CEASEFIRE

Ukraine’s lead negotiator, Zelenskiy adviser Mykhailo Podolyakruled out any territorial concessions and rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire, saying it meant Russian troops would stay in occupied territories, which Kyiv could not accept.

“The (Russian) forces must leave the country and after that the resumption of the peace process will be possible,” Podolyak said in an interview with Reuters on Saturday, referring to calls for an immediate ceasefire as “very strange.”

Concessions would backfire because Russia would use the break in fighting to come back stronger, he said. Read full story

Recent calls for an immediate ceasefire have come from U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. Read full storyRead full story

The end of fighting in Mariupol, the biggest city Russia has captured, gave Putin a rare victory after a series of setbacks in nearly three months of combat.

The last Ukrainian forces holed up in Mariupol’s vast Azovstal steelworks have surrendered, the Russian defence ministry said on Friday. Ukraine has not confirmed that developmentbut a commander of one of the units in the factory said in a video that the troops had been ordered to stand down.Read full story

Full control of Mariupol gives Russia command of a land route linking the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014, with mainland Russia and parts of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists.

 

RUSSIA CUTS GAS TO FINLAND

Russian state gas company Gazprom GAZP.MM said on Saturday it had halted gas exports to Finland after Helsinki refused to pay in roubles. Read full story

Moscow cut off Bulgaria and Poland last month after they rejected similar terms.

Along with sanctions, Western nations have stepped up weapons supplies and other aid to Ukraine, including a new $40 billion package from the United States. Read full story

Moscow says Western sanctions and aid for Kyiv amount to a “proxy war” by Washington and its allies.

Putin calls the invasion a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of radical anti-Russian nationalists. Ukraine and its allies have dismissed that as a baseless pretext for the war, which has killed thousands of people in Ukraine and displaced millions.

 

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Max Hunder, Tom Balmforth in Kyiv, David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Lidia Kelly in Melbourne, Ron Popeski and Reuters bureaux; Writing by Richard Pullin, Doina Chiacu, Tomasz Janowski and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Frances Kerry, Frank Jack Daniel, Daniel Wallis and Paul Simao)

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Ukraine top of the agenda in Davos as business leaders gather

The Logo of the WEF is pictured prior the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, 19 January 2020 (reissued 26 August 2020). (Photo: EPA-EFE/GIAN EHRENZELLER)

By: Reuters

DAVOS, Switzerland, May 22 (Reuters) - Russia would normally have its own "house" at the World Economic Forum as a showcase for business leaders and investors.

By Sabine Siebold

This year the space on the dressed-up main street in Davos has been transformed by Ukrainian artists into a “Russian War Crimes House”, portraying images of misery and devastation.

Russia has denied allegations of war crimes in the conflict.

Ukraine is top of the agenda for the four-day meeting of global business leaders, which kicks off in earnest on Monday with a video address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

This is the world’s most influential economic platform, where Ukraine has something to say,” Zelenskiy said in his daily video address on Sunday night.

As the WEF meeting emerges from a coronavirus pandemic hiatus of more than two years, a deferral from January to May means that attendees are surrounded by spring flowers and verdant slopes rather than navigating icy streets.

But not only the weather is different in 2022, with Russian politicians, executives and academics entirely absent.

Russian institutions such as its sovereign wealth fund, state banks and private companies have in previous years thrown some of the most glitzy parties, serving black caviar, vintage champagne and foie gras.

They even hired Russia’s most prominent musicians and pop stars to perform for top chief executives.

 

MARKET MELTDOWN

Aside from the Ukraine crisis, the post-pandemic recovery, tackling climate change, the future of work, accelerating stakeholder capitalism and harnessing new technologies are among the topics scheduled for discussion at Davos.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg are among the leaders due to address the meeting.

On the business agenda, discussions are likely to focus on the souring state of financial markets and the global economy.

After a sharp bounceback from the downturn triggered two years ago by the onset of the pandemic, there are now myriad threats to that recovery, leading the International Monetary Fund to downgrade its global growth forecast for the second time since the year began. Read full story

Inflation due to hobbled supply chains emerged as a problem last year, particularly in the U.S. economy.

That has been compounded since the beginning of 2022 by events including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and waves of COVID-19 lockdowns across China that have stalled a recovery.

 

‘DEFINE TOMORROW’

The Ukrainian artists are hoping to get their message of fighting for a better future to world leaders in Davos.

Visitors are confronted by images such as a badly burned man in Kharkiv after Russian shelling and a film made up of thousands of pictures of dead civilians and bombed houses.

“This is a place where all influencers and all decision-makers of the world come together,” the artistic director of the PinchukArtCentre in Kyiv, Bjorn Geldhof, told Reuters TV.

“What is happening in Ukraine will define tomorrow.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm the country and rid it of radical anti-Russian nationalists.

Ukraine and its allies have dismissed that as a baseless pretext for the nearly three-month war, which has killed thousands of people, displaced millions and shattered cities

While the WEF meeting may not be back to pre-pandemic levels, with Zurich’s airport expecting the number of flights to be about two-thirds of previous levels, its return comes as a welcome relief to the ski resort’s hotels and restaurants.

“It is another step back to normality,” Samuel Rosenast, spokesperson for the local tourism board, said last week.

 

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Dmitry Zhdannikov, Dan Burns, Tara Oakes; Additiona reporting by Maria Starkova in Lviv; Editing by Alexander Smith and Paul Simao)

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Zelensky hints at level of casualties in Donbas; Poland’s president addresses legislators in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) and Polish President Andrzej Duda attend a joint press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on 22 May 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / SERGEY DOLZHENKO)

By: Bloomberg

In a rare instance of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hinting at the level of casualties the nation’s troops are incurring, he said as many as 100 Ukrainian soldiers could be dying each day in severe fighting in the Donbas, currently the main focus of Russia’s invasion.

As many as 100 Ukrainian soldiers may be dying each day in severe fighting in the Donbas, currently the main focus of Russia’s invasion, President Volodymyr Zelensky said. 

Poland’s president said he “will not rest until Ukraine becomes a full-fledged member” of the European Union as he addressed lawmakers in Kyiv and met with Zelensky. Hours later, a French official said it may take Ukraine 20 years to join the EU, consistent with recent comments from French President Emmanuel Macron. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg and the leaders of Finland and Sweden, on Saturday, 21 May. He reiterated his reservations about the Nordic nations’ bids to join the military alliance. US President Joe Biden signed into law a $40-billion US aid package for Ukraine. 

Key developments

Zelensky says Ukraine suffers high casualties in Donbas

As many as 100 Ukrainian soldiers may be dying each day in the most severe battles in the country’s east, President Volodymyr Zelensky told reporters in a joint press conference on Sunday, 22 May, with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda. 

It was a rare instance of Zelensky hinting at the level of casualties the nation’s troops are incurring. He made the comment after being asked whether he plans to lift a ban on leaving Ukraine for men of conscription age. 

In his address to the nation on Saturday, 21 May, Zelensky described the situation in the Donbas as “really hard”. 

Ukraine’s EU entry may take 20 years, says France

The exhaustive process for Ukraine to join the European Union may take 15 to 20 years, said Clement Beaune, France’s junior minister for Europe. 

“If we were to say that Ukraine is going to join the EU in six months, or a year, or two, we would be lying,” Beaune said in an interview on Radio J on Sunday, 22 May. “It will be long, very long. I don’t want to sell illusions or lies.” 

Beaune’s comment was consistent with one from French President Emmanuel Macron, who said this month that the stringent process of bringing Ukraine into the EU could take decades, and suggested the formation of a “parallel European community”. That idea is expected to be debated at an EU summit in late June. 

Poland’s Duda says unity with Ukraine can’t be shaken

Polish President Andrzej Duda drew repeated ovations as he described unshakable unity between Poland and Ukraine in an address to the Parliament in Kyiv.

“Only Ukraine has the right to decide about its own future,” Duda said, adding that there are “voices in Europe” asking Kyiv to cave in to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “If, for some kind of peace of mind, Ukraine is sacrificed, it will be a big blow not only for Ukraine, but also for the entire western community,” he said. 

Duda, the first foreign head of state to address Ukrainian lawmakers in person since Russia’s invasion almost three months ago, said he was committed to ensuring that Ukraine is granted EU candidate status as quickly as possible.

Poland says Norway should share oil profits windfall 

Norway should share the “gigantic” profits it’s recently made as a result of higher oil and gas prices, especially with Ukraine, said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Morawiecki, answering a question about his government’s energy policy on Sunday, 22 May, at a meeting of a youth group, said coal-reliant Poland plans to switch to renewables and nuclear energy, while shedding oil and gas deliveries from Russia and at some point from the Middle East as well. 

Read more: Polish PM Calls on Norway to Share Oil and Gas Profits Windfall

Russian troops focus on Severodonetsk, US analysts say

Russian forces intensified efforts to encircle and capture Severodonetsk in Ukraine’s Luhansk region on Saturday, 21 May, and will likely continue to do so as efforts on other axes of advance, including Izyum, remain largely stalled, according to the Institute for the Study of War. 

Troops may also be assembling in certain areas of Zaporizhia and Kherson Oblasts to prepare for further offensive operations on the southern axis, the US military think tank said. 

The UK defence ministry said Moscow had likely deployed BMP-T Terminator tanks to the Severodonetsk area, adding that “their presence suggests that the Central Grouping of Forces is involved in this attack.” The unit suffered heavy losses near Kyiv in the first phase of Russia’s invasion. 

 

 

 

Aeroflot back to the future as its operations shrink

Russia’s Aeroflot PJSC succeeded over the past two decades in transforming itself from a punchline about Communist-era service into an award-winning international carrier flying one of the youngest fleets in the world. 

It now faces a future that looks more like its Soviet past and, with its Boeing and Airbus jets cut off from parts and service, it is shifting its focus to domestic routes and locally produced planes as the impact from unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia becomes clearer.

Aeroflot “will be a shadow of itself,” said Christopher Granville of London-based consultancy TS Lombard. “This is a mirror for the Russian economy as a whole.”

Serbia’s Vucic to discuss Russian gas with Putin

Serbian President Aleksandr Vucic will likely speak to his Russian counterpart on Wednesday, 25 May, or Thursday, 26 May, to discuss gas supplies, TV Pink reported, citing an interview with Vucic. 

The country is focused on three aspects: volume, price and reliability of supplies, Vucic told TV Pink. 

Kuleba calls for ‘clear goals’ as path to victory

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said on Twitter that “setting clear goals” and building policies to that end was the first step for Ukraine to emerge victorious. 

Russia may swap Ukraine’s Mariupol defenders for Putin ally

Russia “will explore” swapping some of Ukraine’s defenders of the port city of Mariupol for Viktor Medvedchuk, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Interfax news agency reported, citing senior lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, a member of the Russian negotiating team that took part in peace talks with Kyiv.

“We will study the possibility,” Slutsky said on Saturday, 21 May, in Donetsk, a eastern Ukrainian city occupied by Russia, according to Interfax. 

Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian politician and a businessperson, was put under arrest after prosecutors accused him of high treason and terrorist financing. Putin called the case political, and Medvedchuk denies wrongdoing. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky offered to swap Medvedchuk for captured Ukrainian soldiers last month.

 

 

 

Energy expert’s fateful question to Putin

“I started to ask a question, I mentioned the word ‘shale’,” Daniel Yergin, vice chairperson of S&P Global, recalled of a 2013 encounter with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “And he started shouting at me, saying shale’s barbaric.”

US shale oil and gas have had a much bigger impact on geopolitics than people recognise, the energy expert says in a new podcast. It’s posed a threat to Putin in multiple ways, especially as US natural gas went on to compete with Russia’s in Europe.

Read more: How an energy expert triggered Vladimir Putin with one word

Zelensky urges help to unblock Ukraine’s ports

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged partners to help reopen ports and clear the way for about 22 million tonnes of grain and sunflower exports now being blocked by Russia. 

“There will be a second crisis in the world after the energy crisis” if the Black Sea ports were not unblocked, Zelensky said during a media conference with António Luís Santos da Costa, Portugal’s prime minister. 

His comments echo those of Sara Menker, CEO of Gro Intelligence, who told a UN briefing this week that price increases for major food crops this year — driven in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — have “made an additional 400 million people food insecure”. Attempting to export Ukraine’s grain through Europe via rail is “not enough”, she said.  

Biden signs $40bn US aid package for Ukraine

As expected, US President Joe Biden signed the $40-billion aid package passed by a wide bipartisan majorities in Congress on Saturday, 21 May.

The funds, intended to support Ukraine until September, are significantly larger than the $33-billion Biden requested last month. Its passage by overwhelming margins in the Senate on Thursday, 19 May, and the House last week was seen as a sign of popular support in the US for Ukraine’s efforts against Russia’s invasion. 

Biden, who is in Seoul, praised Congress earlier in the week for approving the spending, saying the funds “will allow us to send even more weapons and ammunition to Ukraine, replenish our own stockpile, and support US troops stationed on Nato territory”. DM

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World’s tennis bosses wrong to punish Wimbledon for its Ukraine war stance

(Photo: Unsplash)

By: Derek Laud

Why does sport seem to still think it should be above moral value judgements? I thought we had settled this question during the apartheid struggle in South Africa. Obviously not. The decision of the Association of Tennis Professionals and Women’s Tennis Association to withdraw ranking points for Wimbledon this year shames us all, and shows that some who should know better have learnt nothing about the importance of international solidarity.

While I understand the universal application of human rights is still a “work in progress”, the West has a duty to lead the field in this imperative global endeavour. The Western cultural construct of human rights provides inherent and inalienable rights for all, regardless of culture or religion.

That is why the forthcoming remembrance of the killing of George Floyd on 25 May will be honoured by millions around the world who didn’t even know him. This contextualisation is how most of us feel about human rights, especially when these rights are violated.

The incomprehensible decision of the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) and WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) to withdraw ranking points from this year’s Wimbledon is in direct response to the decision of the All England Tennis and Croquet Club (to give it its correct title) to ban Russian and Belarusian tennis players from entering the tournament, which starts on 27 June.

This decision is due to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. The UK government’s well-judged condemnation of this unprovoked invasion nudged Wimbledon to take a stand itself. The UK is not alone in speaking up for the Ukrainian people. The EU has done an exemplary job in this respect too. Both know human rights matter and that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.

Not all are happy about Wimbledon’s stance. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic (not known for his good judgement), are among some of the leading tennis players objecting to Wimbledon’s decision. I don’t doubt they believe this is a principled stand. And so principled is it we won’t be seeing their names in this year’s draw, passing up the possibility of picking up the winner’s cheque for £1.7-million? I think not. See you both there, chaps.

A wake-up call for Health Department heads: Children are dying because of horrendous state of our public hospitals

Ranking points

In effect, what the decision of the ATP/WTA means is giving protected ranking points to a small number of players from states engaged in the illegal attempt to occupy Ukraine, and denying several hundred who are not, the possibility of advancing their careers with more ranking points for winning a round or more at the championships.

This is why this decision should be scrutinised thoroughly. It’s not just a piece of administrative tidying up. It is a significant intervention that tells the world that citizens from rogue states will have the protection of the ATP and WTA to rely upon in the face of the most outrageous breaches of international law.

One of my most favourite players is Russian and I shall miss seeing him very much indeed. In fact, he would have been a firm favourite to pick up the winner’s trophy. Daniel Medvedev is both talented, clever and extremely funny. But the greater good is more important than Medvedev’s participation. I suspect he would agree.

Petty administrative decisions about rankings defy the simplest of common sense tests. People are being murdered for goodness’ sake. Does this not matter to the ATP or WTA?

Wimbledon is the most famous and prestigious Grand Slam of them all. It’s the best organised and most efficiently run tennis tournament in the world. It is the tournament all players dream of winning from childhood, irrespective of where they were born or under which flag they play.

Wimbledon deserves support

I have covered Wimbledon as a journalist for more than a decade. I know the tournament well. I have the fond memory of picking up the media trophy there myself in a silly sideshow that happens in the second week of the slam itself. Wimbledon deserves our support now more than ever. It must remain resolute and keep the ban in place.

Sport transcends national boundaries. It is also nonpolitical, and rightly so. But what sport isn’t devoid of is moral judgement.  Because of the uniqueness of sport, wherever I am in the world, people know who Serena Williams is, or Wayne Rooney.

Once upon a time, years ago, I visited Angola. I was there on a parliamentary delegation with leading experts from the UK parliament on foreign policy. When the locals asked us where we came from and we answered “The UK”, the response was immediate: “Ah, Madam Thatcher” or “I support Chelsea?” Why was this?

This was because Margaret Thatcher stood for something. She resonated with strong and principled statesmanship. And Chelsea are simply good at what they do. Both inspired people to lead their lives based on strong moral foundations. You can’t inspire anyone with silence. Can you imagine watching Chelsea versus Liverpool with the volume off?

Silence is complicity

A few more tennis players should give this deep reflection. Silence is complicity. Complicity made Hitler and Nazi Germany possible in 1939.  Russia has already invaded Crimea and was allowed to get away with it. It is now trying the same tactic on Ukraine and mustn’t be allowed to succeed. The West failed to stand up to Putin. The invasion is the fault of the West. As Thatcher once said, “…you must find your courage in the heat of the battle and not at the post-mortem”. Wimbledon has found its courage and world sport should come out, one by one, and support it.

This is about a test of leadership, as much as right and wrong. It’s about fundamental notions of human rights. Both matter equally because you can’t have one without the other, but leadership comes first and, in a timely leak, it is being reported the British royal family are housing Ukrainian refugees. Human rights isn’t a plaything. Its foundations are rooted in hard-fought-for rights that are centuries old.

Tennis is a world sport governed by rules — codes of conduct — enforced for the common good. International sovereign states with a rule of law, free and fair elections, democratic accountability and parliamentary scrutiny have it in their means to temporarily ban ATP and WTA tournaments in their countries. Maybe they should.

As for the ATP and WTA, you are undermining international law. I know you are trying your best but, frankly, your best isn’t good enough. DM

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US bill to counter ‘malign’ Russian activities in Africa could see continent caught in crossfire

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) shakes hands with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (right) during the BRICS summit in Johannesburg on 26 July 2018. (Photo: Epa-Efe / Alexey Nikolsky / Sputnik / Kremlin)

By: Peter Fabricius for ISS TODAY

A new Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act to punish states that back certain Russian actions could have major implications for African countries, including South Africa. 

A United States (US) bill that would oblige Washington to punish African governments that abet Russian ‘malign’ activities on the continent is sailing through Congress. 

The Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act passed the House of Representatives on 27 April by a huge, bipartisan 419-9 majority and is now sure to be passed by the Senate and become law soon. It would direct the US Secretary of State “to develop and submit to Congress a strategy and implementation plan outlining United States efforts to counter the malign influence and activities of the Russian Federation and its proxies in Africa.”

The bill broadly defines such malign activities as those that “undermine United States objectives and interests.” The Secretary of State would have to monitor the actions of Russia’s government and its ‘proxies’ — including private military companies (clearly Wagner is in the sights) and oligarchs. 

The government would have to counter such activities effectively, including through US foreign aid programmes. It would need to “hold accountable the Russian Federation and African governments and their officials who are complicit in aiding such malign influence and activities.”

The bill was introduced to Congress on 31 March and was clearly a response to Russia’s 24 February invasion of Ukraine. Several other punitive laws aimed at Russia — including one directing the administration to gather evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine — were introduced at about the same time. 

New York Democrat Gregory Meeks, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the bill was designed to thwart Russian president Vladimir Putin’s efforts to “pilfer, manipulate and exploit resources in parts of Africa to evade sanctions and undermine US interests,” and to finance his war in Ukraine. 

Meeks also presented the bill as supportive of Africa, intended to protect “all innocent people who have been victimised by Putin’s mercenaries and agents credibly accused of gross violations of human rights in Africa, including in the Central African Republic and Mali.” It is specifically in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali that Wagner has been accused of committing human rights violations to prop up dubious governments and thwart Western interests.

Some African governments suspect there’s more at play than protecting “fragile states in Africa,” as Meeks put it. “Why target Africa?” one senior African government official asked. “They’re obviously unhappy with the way so many African countries voted in the General Assembly and their relatively non-aligned position.”

It is true that proportional to other regions, more African states didn’t support the United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution of 3 March, condemning Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine. Twenty-seven African governments voted for the resolution. Just one — Eritrea — voted against, while 17 abstained and the rest were absent. 

Does that mean the new US bill is designed, at least partly, to punish Africa for its relative lack of support for the US-led effort to punish Russia? Perhaps. Though the sponsors would say it targets Africa because that is where Russia and its proxies have been most active.

And some of the actions that the bill enjoins could benefit Africa. It targets Russian efforts to “manipulate African governments and their policies, as well as the public opinions and voting preferences of African populations.”

What the authors seem to have in mind here are, for instance, the purported efforts by alleged Russian government proxies to bribe candidates in the last Madagascar elections, and the activities in Africa of the Association for Free Research and International Cooperation (Afric). This is a Russian election observation organisation, ostensibly independent, but which appears to be run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the man widely known as Putin’s chef and believed to run Wagner.

Western intelligence agencies and others believe both Wagner and Afric are proxy operations for Putin’s government, with a mission to frustrate Western activities in Africa and elsewhere. These agencies contend that Afric’s actual function is to counter election monitoring by Western and local monitors, thereby giving credence to the likes of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front. Afric did indeed deliver a positive judgement of the last elections in Zimbabwe. 

On the flip side of this injunction, the bill urges the US government to strengthen democratic institutions, improve government transparency and accountability, improve standards related to human rights, labour, anti-corruption initiatives, fiscal transparency, monitoring natural resources and extractive industries, and “other tenets of good governance”.

But what about the bill’s intention to thwart Russian efforts to “invest in, engage, or otherwise control strategic sectors in Africa, such as mining and other forms of natural resource extraction and exploitation, military basing and other security cooperation agreements, and information and communications technology”? Does that mean any African country where a Russian company invests will fall foul of this legislation? Or will it only apply to investments that advance Putin’s supposedly nefarious ambitions? 

Two potentially controversial case studies in South Africa spring to mind. One is the lucrative United Manganese of Kalahari mine in South Africa, owned by Putin’s oligarch chum Viktor Vekselberg — but with 22% held by the ruling African National Congress’s (ANC) own corporation, Chancellor House. 

This dodgy investment is probably keeping the cash-strapped ANC financially afloat. And it’s been speculated that that is the real reason for the government’s controversial ‘non-aligned’ stance on the Ukraine war. 

Another case study could be the joint venture between African Rainbow Minerals — owned by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s brother-in-law Patrice Motsepe — with Russia’s Norilsk Nickel in the potentially lucrative Nkomati nickel mine.

How the US will see such investments is unclear. However, what is emerging is not so much a picture of the US targeting Africa because it voted the wrong way at the UN. Instead, it seems Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a new Cold War psychosis — and that all other considerations will henceforth be subordinated to the imperatives of that conflict. 

Michael McCaul, senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who co-sponsored the bill, hinted at this on 4 May. He told a congressional committee considering several anti-Russia bills: “We must make every state choose between doing business with the free world or with the war criminal.”

So the danger then, as now, is that Africa will get caught in the crossfire. DM

Peter Fabricius, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Consultant.

First published by ISS Today.

 

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