Fri. Oct 7th, 2022
Ukrainian flag in blue and yellow, wrapped over sky and grain

What is happening in the war?

Artillery pounded key cities in Ukraine, as its president urged the West to act decisively in imposing new and tougher sanctions being readied against Russia in response to civilian killings widely condemned as war crimes. Western sanctions over Russia’s invasion gained new impetus this week when dead civilians shot at close range were found in the town of Bucha after it was retaken from Russian forces. India condemned the killings of civilians in Bucha and called for an independent investigation, having earlier declined to explicitly criticize the invasion of Ukraine by its long-time partner Russia.

Pope Francis condemned “the massacre of Bucha” and kissed a Ukrainian flag sent from the town where tied bodies shot at close range littered the streets after Russian troops withdrew and bodies poked out of a mass grave at a church. Ukrainian officials say between 150 and 300 bodies might be in a mass grave by a church in Bucha, north of the capital Kyiv. Although Russia has claimed that the photographs of corpses are staged, satellite images taken weeks ago show bodies of civilians on a street in the town, a private U.S. company said.

Reuters reporters saw at least four victims shot through the head in Bucha, one with their hands tied behind their back. Residents have recounted cases of several others slain, some shot through their eyes and one apparently beaten to death and mutilated.

Russian forces last week pulled back from positions outside the capital Kyiv and shifted their assault to the south and east, and Ukraine’s general staff said the north-eastern city of Kharkhiv, the country’s second-largest, also remained under attack.

Russian artillery pounded the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Kharkhiv on Wednesday as the West prepared more sanctions against Moscow in response to civilian killings that Kyiv and its allies have called war crimes.

Authorities in the eastern region of Luhansk on Wednesday urged residents to get out “while it is safe” from an area that Ukraine also expects to be the target of a new offensive.

Since launching an invasion that has uprooted a quarter of Ukraine’s population, Russia has failed to capture a single major city.

Mariupol

The besieged southern port of Mariupol has been under almost constant bombardment since the early days of the invasion that began on Feb. 24, trapping tens of thousands of residents without food, water or power.

“The humanitarian situation in the city is worsening,” British military intelligence said on Wednesday.

“Most of the 160,000 remaining residents have no light, communication, medicine, heat or water. Russian forces have prevented humanitarian access, likely to pressure defenders to surrender.”

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said authorities would try to evacuate trapped civilians through 11 humanitarian corridors on Wednesday, though people trying to leave the besieged city of Mariupol would have to use their own vehicles.

EU

Hungary’s foreign ministry summoned Ukraine’s ambassador over what it called offensive comments from Kyiv regarding Budapest’s stance on Russia’s invasion. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said yesterday that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán feared Russia’s influence and would have to choose between Moscow and the “other world”. Orban has just been “re-elected” for a fourth term: he is effectively a dictator. He is pro-Putin, and is at odds with the rest of the EU because of it: the one good thing about his stance is that previously he and Poland’s Duda, who is also right wing and aspires to the type of “illiberal democracy” Orbán boasts that he has in Hungary, were thick as thieves in their opposition to the EU’s liberal stance on e.g. gay rights, and women’s rights, and were causing problems for the EU thereby. Orbán’s cosying up to Russia, has, however, alienated Poland, which fears Russia far more than it loves Hungary, and has consequently decided it is much better off snuggling back into the EU fold, than standing out in the open with Hungary.

Today, however, Reuters is carrying a little extra detail from Viktor Orbán’s press conference which could be significant for the future. The Hungarian prime minister, fresh from winning his fourth consecutive election, told reporters Hungary must strengthen its alliance with Poland as it is a strategic alliance within the European Union.

Crucially, in response to a question about a disciplinary procedure flagged by the European Commission yesterday, Orban said Hungary would wait to see the EU’s letter, but “will not give in” to pressure to support an expansion of sanctions against Russia to oil and gas shipments, as that was a “red line” for Hungary.

The European Commission said yesterday it was launching a rule-of-law disciplinary procedure against Hungary.

More sanctions

Western sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, described as a “special military operation” by Moscow and the biggest assault on a European nation since World War Two, gained new impetus this week after dead civilians shot at close range were found in the northern town of Bucha after it was retaken from Russian forces. Moscow denied targeting civilians there and called the evidence presented a forgery staged by the West to discredit it.

New sanctions set to be unveiled Wednesday are in part a response to Bucha, the White House said. Coordinated between Washington, the Group of Seven advanced economies and the European Union, the measures will target Russian banks and officials and ban new investment in Russia, the White House said.

Proposed EU sanctions would ban buying Russian coal, prevent Russian ships from entering EU ports, and suspend nearly 20 billion euros ($21.77 billion) worth of trade. EU executive chief Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc was working on banning oil imports as well as part of a plan to end its dependence on Russian energy. read more

Europe obtains about a third of its natural gas from Russia and Ukraine says banning Russian gas is vital to securing a deal to end the war in peace talks.

After an impassioned address to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Zelenskiy said new sanctions against Russia “must be commensurate with the gravity of the occupiers’ war crimes,” calling it a “crucial moment” for Western leaders.

New Zealand said on Wednesday it would impose a 35% tariff on all imports from Russia and extend export bans on industrial products connected to strategic Russian industries.

“The images and reports emerging of atrocities committed against civilians in Bucha and other regions of Ukraine is abhorrent and reprehensible,” Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in a statement.

The United States has agreed to provide an additional $100 million in assistance to Ukraine, including Javelin anti-armour systems, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

NATO

The Guardian reports that ne of the questions that NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has been asked by reporters at this press conference in Brussels is whether NATO needs to change their approach and strategy given that he has said the war in Ukraine will be a long haul. He told reporters:

“First of all, this war must end now, and President Putin end it by withdrawing its troops and forces, and under stop attacking independent sovereign countries like Ukraine and sit down in in good faith and to find a political solution. But at the same time, we have to be realistic and and realise that this may last for a long time, for many months, or even years.

I also believe that, regardless of when the war ends, this has long term implications for our security. Because we have seen the brutality. We have seen the willingness by President Putin to use military force to reach his objectives.

The invasion of Ukraine was a wake up call. But that happened in 2014. So we have actually, since 2014, implemented the biggest reinforcements of our collective defence.

So, NATO was actually quite well prepared when Russia invaded Ukraine for the second time, and on the day of the invasion, we activated our defence plans and deployed thousands of additional troops in the eastern part of the alliance.”

One of the topics of the NATO meeting is a “New Strategic Concept”. Secretary general of NATO Jens Stoltenberg explained that it would “address the new security reality we are faced with.”

He told reporters:

“The strategic concept will be the roadmap for NATO. How to address a more dangerous world, and how to make sure that we continue to protect and defend all NATO allies. In the strategic concept, we need to address the security consequences of Russia’s aggressive actions, the shifting global balance of power, the security consequences of a much stronger China, and the challenges Russia and China are imposing together to a rules based international order of democratic values.

We will set out the strategy for how to deal with cyber, hybrid, and terrorism, and also the security consequences of climate change.”

He also told reporters that NATO had supported Ukraine over many months, with both training and equipment, which has been making a real difference on the ground. He said:

“Since the invasion, Allies have stepped up their support. I also expected ministers, when they meet today and tomorrow, will discuss how we can further support Ukraine. Allies are providing both anti-tank, anti-air or air defence systems, but also different kinds of advanced weapon systems. and also both light and heavier weapon systems to Ukraine.”

He went on to say that he did not want to detail “exactly what kind of weapons equipment Allies are providing”, but that “the totality is significant.”

UN General Assembly

The 193-member UN General Assembly will vote on Thursday whether to suspend Russia from the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council. Reuters reports that diplomats have said that the US is pushing for the vote.

A two-thirds majority of voting General Assembly members in New York can suspend a country for committing gross and systematic violations of human rights. Russia is in its second year of a three-year term on the 47-member Human Rights Council. In the last UN General Assembly, 140 members – a more than two-thirds majority – voted to censure Russia, but a sizeable block of countries – 38 – abstained. Five countries voted for Russia. In theory the motion may be carried, but in this case, Hungary, which last time voted for the motion to censure, could be an abstainer this time given Orbán’s recent comments.

That’s all on the news today: I’ll be covering some UK news tomorrow.

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