What’s new on the war front?
Diplomatic efforts to end the war in Ukraine are stepping up, with Ukrainian and Russian negotiators set to talk again after both sides cited progress over the weekend, while high-level U.S. officials are talking to European and Chinese counterparts. Putin claims that there is movement in the talks. Whether that means he thinks Ukraine will surrender is uncertain.
Struggling to make advances, and faced with losses in Ukraine, Russia has appealed to China for military equipment and support to sustain its invasion of Ukraine, senior US officials have said. With the country’s economy struggling from increased sanctions, Moscow has turned to Beijing for aid. The Financial Times reported that Russia had sought military equipment and other assistance. Despite Beijing seeking to portray itself as an honest broker, Washington has been alarmed by the reports of Russia’s plea to China. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN that Washington was watching closely to see to what extent Beijing provided economic or material support to Russia, and would impose consequences if that occurred.
“We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing, that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions evasion efforts or support to Russia to back-fill them,” he said.
The war is, however, becoming increasingly nasty, and fears of Russian use of chemical weapons appear to be justified. The Indian newspaper, NDTV reports that a senior Ukrainian police officer has accused Russian forces of launching phosphorus bomb attacks in the eastern region of Lugansk. International law prohibits the use of white phosphorus shells in heavily populated civilian areas, but allows them in open spaces to be used as cover for troops.
Oleksi Biloshytsky, head of police in Popasna, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Lugansk city, said late Saturday that Russian forces had used the chemical weapon in his area. “It’s what the Nazis called a ‘flaming onion’ and that’s what the Russcists (amalgamation of ‘Russians’ and ‘fascists’) are dropping on our towns. Indescribable suffering and fires,” he wrote on Facebook.
Reuters also reports this, but stresses that the comments are not yet verified.
Putin: not a happy bunny!
Russia’s leader recently placed the head of the FSB’s foreign service and his deputy under house arrest after blaming them for intelligence failings that saw his army handed a series of embarrassing defeats in Ukraine, it has been claimed.
Andrey Soldatov, a respected author on the Russian secret services, said sources inside the FSB told him that Sergey Orestovich Beseda,head of the FSB’s foreign service, has reportedly been placed under house arrest after the intelligence service took the blame for the war’s progress. Anatoly Bolyukh, deputy head of the 5th Service of the Federal Security Service and head of the operational information department, has also reportedly been arrested. Soldatov said Putin is ‘truly unhappy’ with the agency – which he ran before becoming president.
He reportedly blames his intelligence agencies for misleading him over the extent of Ukraine’s resistance to Russian attack, giving him intelligence which assured him ahead of the invasion that Ukraine was weak, riddled with neo-Nazi groups, that Russian forces would face only token resistance from the Ukrainian army and that Ukrainians themselves were eager to be rid of their leaders.
Putin’s reasons given for the arrests are the embezzlement of funds allocated for subversive and undercover work in Ukraine, as well as the deliberately false information about the political situation in Ukraine.
What about global food supplies? An oligarch speaks . . .
The war in Ukraine is a tragedy that must be stopped or there will be a global food crisis, as fertiliser prices worldwide are already too high for many farmers, Russia’s coal and fertiliser king Andrei Melnichenko said: “One of the victims of this crisis will be agriculture and food,” said Melnichenko, who founded EuroChem, one of Russia’s biggest fertiliser producers, which moved to Zug, Switzerland, in 2015, and SUEK, Russia’s top coal producer. “The war has already led to soaring prices in fertilisers which are no longer affordable to farmers,” he said, adding that food supply chains already disrupted by COVID-19 were now even more distressed, and that the situation would lead to even higher food inflation in Europe and likely food shortages in the world’s poorest countries.
One would be more inclined to listen to Melnichenko if he were not one of Russia’s leading oligarchs, and close to Putin, who warned last Thursday that food prices would rise globally due to soaring fertiliser prices if the West created problems for Russia’s export of fertilisers – which account for 13% of world output.
(Russia is a major producer of potash, phosphate and nitrogen containing fertilisers – major crop and soil nutrients. EuroChem, which produces nitrogen, phosphates and potash, says it is one of the world’s top five fertiliser companies.)
The European Union has sanctioned Melnichenko for Russia’s invasion. It said his attendance at a Kremlin meeting with Putin and 36 businessmen organised by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs showed he was “one of the leading businessmen involved in economic sectors.” Other oligarchs sanctioned, including Oleg Deripaska, claim that Putin won’t listen to them and the EU and US are wrong to think that they might be able to influence him. As for Melnichenko,among other assets, Italian police last week seized his yacht – the 143-metre Sailing Yacht A – which has a price tag of 530 million euros: hitting him where it hurts.. One doubts if Melnichenko gives a tuppenny toss about the fate of millions in Africa, but he’s clearly a bit miffed at losing his little boat.
Russian and Ukrainian officials gave their most upbeat assessments yet of progress in their talks on the war, suggesting there could be positive results within days. Talks via video are due to start at 10:30 a.m. Kyiv time (0830 GMT).There’s been no let up in violence, however, with Russian missiles hitting a large Ukrainian base near the border with NATO member Poland on Sunday and bombardments continuing around the country. Ukraine reported renewed air strikes on an airport in the west, heavy shelling on Chernihiv northeast of the capital and attacks on the southern town of Mykolayiv, where officials said nine people were killed. Ukraine’s forces counter-attacked in Mykolayiv and the eastern Kharkiv region, an Interior Ministry official said.Kyiv authorities said they were stockpiling two weeks worth of essential food items for the 2 million people who have not yet fled the capital. Mariupol has still not managed to evacuate its citizens, and the situation there is grim. The pregnant woman seen in a picture being removed from the destroyed hospital on a stretcher is reported to have died with her unborn child.
Russia’s defence ministry has admitted responsibility for a rocket attack on the International Centre for Peacekeeping and Security, a military base, near the Polish border on Sunday.The death toll from the attack has now risen to 35 people. US secretary of state Antony Blinken condemned the attack, saying the brutality must stop.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will discuss the war with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at talks in Ankara on Monday, his office said.
The discussion will come as both countries press on with efforts to secure a ceasefire 19 days into Russia’s invasion, Reuters reported.
Nato member Turkey shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea and has good ties with both. It has said the invasion is unacceptable and voiced support for Ukraine, but has also opposed sanctions on Moscow, while offering to mediate. Ukraine said on Sunday it was working with Turkey and Israel as mediators to set a place and framework for talks with Russia, after Turkey hosted the foreign ministers of the warring nations for the first high-level talks last week.
Monday’s visit will mark Scholz’s first trip to Turkey since taking office in December 2021 and comes amid efforts by Germany to engage withPutin to end Moscow’s invasion. Germany and France have taken leading roles within the European Union to end the war.
“Aside from bilateral ties, an exchange of views is expected to be held on other regional and international issues, primarily Ukraine and Turkey-EU relations,” the Turkish Presidency said.
Turkey says it can facilitate peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, but says that a ceasefire and humanitarian corridors are needed first.
And in the UK?
Johnson is completely out of these high level negotiations. Zelensky talks to him, like he talks to all other leaders, keeping his lines of communications open but the UK has effectively been sidelined other than in its roles as a NATO member and a member of the G7. The real work is all being done elsewhere, between other people, which is probably (given the fact that Johnson is compromised by his ties to the Russian-backed facilitators of Brexit, and, potentially, his ties to Lebedev and other Russian oligarchs) just as well.
Words from Zelensky, still doing his all to inspire the people of Ukraine
“We are going through the worst ordeal in our history. In our lives,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a late night video speech. “We protect the most precious thing we have. We must hold on. We must fight. And we will win. I know that. I believe in that.”