Macron Seeks Bigger Military Budget In ‘War Economy’

File Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron  (Photo by Sergei GUNEYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP)

 

 

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday called for a boost to defence budgets following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying France was now on a “war economy” footing.

Speaking at Eurosatory, a weapons industry fair, Macron said Europe needed “a much larger defence industry” to avoid relying on suppliers elsewhere for its equipment needs.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, France “has entered into a war economy in which I believe we will find ourselves for a long time”.

Macron said he had asked the defence ministry and armed forces chiefs of staff to adjust a six-year framework defence spending plan running to 2025 to the new geopolitical situation, to “match the means to the threats”.

Even before Ukraine, French military spending had gradually increased since Macron came to power in 2017 to reach 41 billion euros ($43 billion) this year, and is currently scheduled to hit 50 billion euros in 2025.

“We didn’t wait for strategic changes to re-invest,” Macron said, but Russia’s war had created “an additional need to move faster and become stronger at a lower cost”.

Macron said that “anybody doubting the urgency of these efforts only needs to look to Ukraine, where soldiers are asking for quality weaponry and they are entitled to a response from us”.

According to Le Monde newspaper, the government’s armament agency DGA is considering a draft law that would allow the requisitioning of civilian equipment or civilian factories to make weapons.

As European governments bolster defence budgets, they need a larger EU-based defence industry to meet the new military needs, Macron said.

“Let’s not repeat the errors of the past going forward,” he said. “Spending large sums on purchases from elsewhere is not a good idea.”

Europe needs a defence industry that is “much stronger and much more ambitious” than now, he said, “or we will create our own future dependencies”.

A European fighter plan project is, according to experts, currently running about a decade late, while a new French-German battle tank project, MGCS, is not expected to be operational for nearly another two decades.

Russia Strikes Depot In West Ukraine, Battle For Severodonetsk Rages

A member of the Ukrainian troops stands on an armoured vehicle moving towards the front line in the city of Lysychansk in the eastern Ukraine region of Donbas on June 9, 2022. AFP

 

Russian forces said Sunday they had struck a site in western Ukraine storing large amounts of weapons supplied by the United States and European countries, as the battle intensified for the key eastern city of Severodonetsk.

The strike on the town of Chortkiv, a rare attack by Russia in the relatively calm west of Ukraine, left 22 people injured, the regional governor said.

Meanwhile, the situation in Severodonetsk was “extremely difficult”, after the Russian army destroyed a second bridge into the city and was heavily bombarding the last one, regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said.

Away from the battlefield, the head of the European Commission on Saturday promised it would provide a clear signal by the end of next week on Ukraine’s bid to become a candidate to join the European Union.

“Ukraine has achieved a lot in the past ten years and much still needs to be done. Our opinion will reflect this carefully,” Ursula von der Leyen said after a surprise trip to the capital Kyiv.

READ ALSO: Ex-British Soldier Killed In Ukraine War

Despite reservations among some member states, EU leaders are expected to approve the bid at a summit later this month, although with strict conditions attached.

“The challenge will be to come out of the (EU) council with a united position, which reflects the enormity of these historic decisions,” von der Leyen said as she travelled back to Poland.

Ukraine’s geopolitical vulnerability has been laid bare by Russia’s February 24 invasion, which has killed thousands, sent millions fleeing and reduced swathes of the country to rubble.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday that it was a “decisive time”.

“Russia wants to ruin European unity, wants to leave Europe divided and wants to leave it weak. The entirety of Europe is a target for Russia. Ukraine is only the first stage in this aggression,” he said.

Extremely difficult

The United States and EU have sent weapons and cash to help Ukraine fend off the Russian advance, alongside punishing Moscow with unprecedented economic sanctions.

Russia’s defence ministry said the strike on Chortkiv destroyed a “large depot of anti-tank missile systems, portable air defence systems and shells provided to the Kyiv regime by the US and European countries”.

Regional governor Volodymyr Trush said that four missiles fired from the Black Sea had partially destroyed a military installation in the town, about 140 kilometres (85 miles) from the border with Romania, on Saturday evening.

Residential buildings were also damaged and 22 people were hurt, all of them — including seven women and a 12-year-old — taken to hospital, he said in a Facebook post.

It was a rare attack in western Ukraine, with the east and south of the country have borne the brunt of Russian firepower.

The cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, which are separated by a river, have been targeted for weeks as the last areas still under Ukrainian control in the region of Lugansk.

“The situation in Severodonetsk is extremely difficult,” said Lugansk governor Gaiday on Sunday, adding that by attacking the bridges, Russian forces wanted to cut off the city completely.

“Most likely, today or tomorrow, they will throw all reserves to capture the city and also possibly in other directions to cut and fully control the road” southwest to Bakhmut.

He said the Azot chemical plant was being shelled, with fighting around the area.

About 800 civilians have taken refuge in the plant’s bunkers, according to the tycoon whose company owns the facility.

 Crisis and famine

The war has caused a spike in the global prices of energy — Russia is a major producer of oil and gas — and basic foodstuffs.

Before the war, Russia and Ukraine produced 30 per cent of the global wheat supply, but the grain is stuck in Ukraine’s ports and Western sanctions have disrupted exports from Russia.

Addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore on Saturday, Zelensky warned of an acute food crisis, adding that the “shortage of foodstuffs will inexorably lead to political chaos”.

Also Saturday, Gaiday cited reports of Russians loading trucks with Ukrainian wheat and taking it to Russian-controlled areas.

At the summit, Zelensky urged international pressure to end the blockade, speaking to delegates including Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe, who on Sunday reiterated Beijing’s position on the crisis.

“On the Ukrainian crisis, China has never provided any material support to Russia,” he said, adding that it supported peace negotiations and hoped “NATO will have talks with Russia”.

Delicious

The sanctions against Moscow have hit the Russian economy and also caused major Western brands to leave the country, with US fast-food chain McDonald’s selling its businesses there.

Its iconic restaurant on Moscow’s Pushkin Square — where the very first McDonald’s opened its doors to long queues and great fanfare in January 1990 — was set to reopen Sunday under new ownership.

It was named “Vkusno i tochka” (“Delicious. Full Stop”), Oleg Paroyev, the boss of the new group, told a press conference.

Separately, Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom announced that the connection between the Zaporizhzhia plant, now part of Russian-held territory in the south, and the UN’s nuclear watchdog had been restored after a month and a half.

The Russian shelling of the plant — the largest in Europe — had sparked international outrage and fears over Ukraine’s 15 operational reactors.

Energoatom said the Russians had cut off the mobile phone operator at the site on May 30, but the connection with the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had finally been restored on Friday.

The IAEA said this week it was planning to visit the Zaporizhzhia plant to carry out essential safety work.

However, Energoatom said that such a trip would legitimise Russia’s control of the site, and said a visit would only be possible once Ukraine regained control.

AFP

Ex-British Soldier Killed In Ukraine War

The file photo of a soldier used to illustrate the story.

 

A British former soldier has been shot and killed in Ukraine, his family said Sunday, praising him as a “hero”.

Jordan Gatley is the second Briton reported to have died fighting alongside Ukrainian forces against Russian invaders.

In a post on Facebook, his father Dean Gatley said his son had left the British Army in March and went to Ukraine “after careful consideration”.

READ ALSO: Russian MPs Vote To Quit European Court Of Human Rights

Gatley said his son was killed in the city of Severodonetsk, in eastern Ukraine, which has been under heavy Russian attack.

His Ukrainian comrades had praised “his wealth of knowledge, his skills as a soldier and his love of his job”, the father said.

“He truly was a hero and will forever be in our hearts.”

Asked about Gatley’s death, a foreign ministry spokesperson said: “We are supporting the family of a British man who has died in Ukraine.”

After fierce criticism from the UK military, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was forced to backtrack after initially giving her blessing for Britons to go and fight in Ukraine.

In April, the government said one UK citizen had been killed in Ukraine and another was missing, with both reportedly involved in fighting against Russian forces.

The dead man was named by British media as military veteran Scott Sibley.

Another two Britons are facing the death penalty after they were captured and convicted as mercenaries by a pro-Russian court in eastern Ukraine.

AFP

Ukraine War ‘Will Have No Winner,’ UN Says On 100th Day Of Fight

A view of the city of Mariupol on June 2, 2022, amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine.
STRINGER / AFP

 

The United Nations said Friday there would be no victor from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the conflict entered its 100th day and Moscow’s forces pressed deeper into the eastern Donbas region.

“This war has and will have no winner. Rather, we have witnessed for 100 days what is lost: lives, homes, jobs and prospects,” Amin Awad, Assistant Secretary-General and United Nations Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine, said in a statement.

After being repelled from around the capital, President Vladimir Putin’s troops have set their sights on capturing eastern Ukraine, prompting warnings the war could drag on.

Some of the fiercest fightings is now centred on Severodonetsk in the Donbas region, 80 per cent of which the Russians have seized, but Ukrainian forces are putting up stiff resistance.

READ ALSO: Russia Controls ‘About 20 Percent’ Of Ukraine – Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Thursday that Ukrainian forces had had some success in the battle for the industrial hub, which is in the Lugansk region.

“But it is still too early. It is the toughest area at the moment,” he added.

Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said on Telegram that “for 100 days, they have been levelling everything”, accusing the Russians of destroying hospitals, schools and roads.

“But we are only getting stronger. Hatred of the enemy and faith in our victory make us unbreakable.”

Since Russia’s February 24 invasion, thousands of people have been killed and millions forced to flee, while Zelensky says up to 100 Ukrainian soldiers are dying every day on the battlefield.

Severodonetsk’s Azot factory, one of Europe’s biggest chemical plants, was targeted by Russian soldiers who fired on one of its administrative buildings and a warehouse where methanol was stored.

 ‘Shelling getting stronger’

Ukrainian troops were still holding an industrial zone, Gaiday said, a situation reminiscent of Mariupol, where a huge steelworks was the southeastern port city’s last holdout until Ukrainian troops finally surrendered in late May.

The situation in Lysychansk — Severodonetsk’s twin city, which sits just across a river — also looked increasingly dire.

About 60 per cent of infrastructure and housing had been destroyed, while the internet, mobile network and gas services had been knocked out, said the city’s mayor Oleksandr Zaika.

“The shelling is getting stronger every day,” he said.

In the city of Sloviansk, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Severodonetsk, residents said there were constant bombardments by Russian troops.

“It’s very difficult here,” said paramedic Ekaterina Perednenko, 24, who only returned to the city five days ago but realises that she will have to leave again.

“Shooting is everywhere, it’s scary. No water, electricity or gas,” she said.

And in Mykolaiv in the south, Russian shelling killed at least one person and injured several others, Ukrainian military officials said late Thursday.

 Financial squeeze

Led by the United States, Western nations have pumped arms and military supplies into Ukraine to help it survive the onslaught.

Bridget Brink, the new US ambassador to Kyiv, promised Thursday that the United States would “help Ukraine prevail against Russian aggression,” after presenting her credentials to Zelensky.

Earlier this week, the United States announced that it was sending more advanced Himar multiple rocket launch systems to Ukraine.

The mobile units can simultaneously fire multiple precision-guided munitions at targets up to 80 kilometres away.

They are the centrepiece of a $700 million package that also includes air-surveillance radar, ammunition, helicopters and vehicles.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Washington of “adding fuel to the fire,” although US officials insist Ukraine has promised not to use them to strike inside Russia.

Beyond sending arms to Ukraine, Western allies have also sought to choke off Russia’s financial lifeline in a bid to get Putin to change course.

Ramping up an already long list of embargoes, the United States blacklisted Putin’s money manager and a Monaco company that provides luxury yachts to Moscow’s elite.

Across the Atlantic, EU nations agreed on new sanctions that would halt 90 per cent of Russian oil imports to the bloc by the end of the year.

 Oil move disappoints

Russia warned that European consumers would be the first to pay the price for the partial oil embargo.

Major crude producers agreed to boost output by about 50 per cent more a month in an effort to calm an overheated market and ease pressure on inflation.

But the move disappointed investors, and prices rose following the announcement.

The war risks triggering a global food crisis, as Ukraine is one of the world’s top grain producers.

It was already translating into higher costs for essentials from cereals to sunflower oil to maize, with the poorest among the hardest hit.

The head of the African Union, Senegalese President Macky Sall, is to visit Russia on Friday for talks with Putin.

The visit is aimed at “freeing up stocks of cereals and fertilisers, the blockage of which particularly affects African countries”, along with easing the Ukraine conflict, Sall’s office said.

 

Ukraine War: Buhari Calls For Global Cooperation To Avert Looming Food Crisis

A file photo of President Muhammadu Buhari.

 

As the war between Russia and Ukraine rages, President Muhammadu Buhari has called for global cooperation to avert a looming food crisis.

He made the call on  Wednesday in Madrid, Spain at the Royal Palace during an audience with his Royal Majesty King Felipe VI in continuation of his visit to the country.

“The two leaders canvassed a global action to stem the food problem, especially in wheat production occasioned by the ongoing war in Ukraine, urging world leaders to take concrete actions to avert the crisis,” a statement by presidential spokesman Femi Adesina said.

READ ALSO: Buhari Hails Pope’s Appointment Of Bishop Okpaleke As Cardinal

In a separate meeting with President Pedro Sanchez, President Buhari said Nigeria looked forward to increasing bilateral relations between both nations.

This is even as he commended his Spanish counterpart for his leadership qualities and contributions in the war against terror in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in Mali, and looked forward to cooperation in the area.

The two leaders discussed areas of cooperation in which Agreements and Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) were signed.

In his remarks, President Sanchez stressed that as a major partner of Spain in Africa, Nigeria was a country that his people really wanted to have a stronger partnership with going forward.

He hailed President Buhari for his leadership roles in Africa, especially in the area of strengthening democratic ideals. Currently, Spain is the largest importer of Nigerian gas and the third-largest importer of Nigerian crude, and with the visit, the two leaders hoped for bigger trade relations.

At the end of the visit, nine Agreements and Memoranda of Understanding were signed, namely: Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters; Transfer of Sentenced Persons; Extradition; Economic and Commercial Cooperation; Tourism. Others were on Sports; Health; the Fight Against COVID-19; and Science and Innovation.

Eurozone Inflation Soars To New Record Over Ukraine War

 

Eurozone inflation accelerated to another record high in May, data showed Tuesday, as the war in Ukraine stoked energy and food prices and threatened to flatline the economy.

The EU’s Eurostat data agency said that the increase in consumer prices in the 19 countries that use the euro reached 8.1 percent compared to the year before, up from 7.4 percent in April.

The uninterrupted rise in prices heaped pressure on the European Central Bank to speed up interest rate rises for the first time in over a decade.

The ECB has said it plans to hike interest rates in July in order to cool the pressure on prices and is expected to officially end its bond-buying stimulus policies as early as next week.

By raising rates, the ECB would be playing catch-up with other major central banks that have already made moves to tame inflation that has spread globally.

The US Federal Reserve raised rates by an unusually large 50 basis points at the beginning of May, while the Bank of England sealed its fourth consecutive hike.

The chief economist of the European Central Bank, Philip Lane, indicated on Monday that interest rates in the eurozone will rise more cautiously, going up by 0.25 percent in July and again in September.

This would lift the ECB’s bank deposit rate out of negative territory, meaning lenders would no longer pay to park their excess cash at the central bank.

The ECB had previously argued that sharp leaps in consumer prices, driven also by the waning effect of Covid-19 pandemic, were likely to let up, downplaying the inflationary threat.

Russia’s war in Ukraine disrupted that view, worsening already disrupted supply chains and throwing up new shortages in essential material from wheat to metals.

This remained that case in May with energy prices spiking by a hair-raising 39.2 percent from a year earlier. Food prices went up by 7.5 percent.

– Energy crunch –

Western economies including Germany — the eurozone’s biggest — are scrambling to wean themselves off Russian energy, which will also have its effects on inflation.

The EU on Monday agreed to ban two-thirds of its oil dependency by the end of the year — and German and Polish pledges to voluntarily forgo pipeline deliveries could push the cut to 90 percent — which could put still more upward pressure on prices.

The ban on Russian oil swiftly hit the market price for oil which means “that risks (to inflation) are skewed once again to the upside”, said Oxford Economics in a note.

“We think headline inflation will peak in the second quarter but will slow only gradually throughout 2022,” it added.

Policymakers will also be keeping an especially close eye on wages for fear pay increases to help workers meet high prices could stoke inflation further.

Despite the challenges, Lane on Monday stood by the ECB’s assessment that inflation in the eurozone would find its way back to its two percent target in the medium term.

Meanwhile, fears of negative or zero growth in Europe will be fuelled by data showing the French economy contracted 0.2 percent in the first quarter from the previous three months, in a downward revision.

The European Commission this month sharply cut its eurozone growth forecast for 2022 to 2.7 percent, but warned the outlook was highly uncertain because of the war in Ukraine.

959 Ukrainian Soldiers Surrendered At Azovstal Since Monday – Russia

Ukrainian soldiers ride on a self-propelled howitzer on a road in Kharkiv region on May 17, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine. SERGEY BOBOK / AFP

 

Russia’s defence ministry said Wednesday that 959 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered this week at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol.

“Over the past 24 hours, 694 militants surrendered, including 29 wounded,” the ministry said in its daily briefing on the conflict. “In total since May 16, 959 militants surrendered, including 80 wounded.”

It said those requiring medical treatment were taken to a hospital in the town of Novoazovsk in Russian-controlled territory.

Kyiv is hoping to exchange the surrendered Ukrainian fighters, but Russia has yet to confirm whether they will be part of a prisoner swap.

Last month, Moscow claimed control of Mariupol after a weeks-long siege, but hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers remained holed up in underground tunnels beneath the huge Azovstal industrial zone, blocked by Russian troops.

Kyiv’s defence ministry has said it would do “everything necessary” to rescue the undisclosed number of personnel that remains in the steelworks but admitted there was no military option available.

AFP

Ukrainian Town Of New York Comes Under Russian Assault

Russian soldiers and volunteers distribute bread in Mariupol on April 12, 2022, as Russian troops intensify a campaign to take the strategic port city across eastern Ukraine.  AFP

 

The four-year-old recognised the low whistle of the Russian artillery shell hurtling toward the Ukrainian town of New York long before his mother had a chance to grab his hand.

“Here comes one,” the boy said matter-of-factly a few long moments before the blast of an exploding building echoed across the small town with the big American name.

His exhausted 28-year-old mother did not even bother to duck.

Valeria Kolakevych has heard so many shells whizz overhead in the third month of Russia’s offensive that she knows instinctively how close each will land while it is still in the air.

“It was terrible,” Kolakevych said, without skipping a beat in her story about a round of fire that had badly damaged four neighbouring houses the previous night.

“And the most terrible thing is that there was nothing there — just civilians,” she said as another artillery shell blew something up near the upper end of the hilly street.

The second impact forced her 11-year-old daughter to utter a soft yelp and cover her ears. The little boy followed his sister’s lead and hunched closer to the ground.

Kolakevych took her children’s hands and walked off as more blasts rang out from fields that once made up the de facto border between government territory and lands overseen by Moscow-backed insurgents in Ukraine’s industrial east.

 Shooting from three sides

Russia’s February 24 invasion has reignited fighting along fronts that froze over once Ukraine’s eight-year separatist conflict in the east settled into a dreary stalemate after claiming 14,000 lives.

Russia initially prioritised seizing Kyiv and Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv in the north.

Setbacks in both have put the onus on Russian and pro-Kremlin separatist forces to break through from a southern flank that stretches from Crimea to the destroyed city of Mariupol further east.

This has spelled trouble for New York — a town of 10,000 mostly Russian speakers that attempted a fresh start last year by dropping its Soviet name Novgorodske and adopting one first chosen by its German settlers in the 1800s.

Locals say there’s no record of how the town first got its name. It was changed under the Soviet Union in 1951 and back again last year after an activist campaign.

Residents say artillery fire began pelting New York a month ago and has grown heavier by the day.

“It is getting really bad. There was a bit of shooting here and there before but it did not really bother us,” seamstress Valentyna Kanebalotskaya said while moving her belongings to her daughter’s house in a slightly safer part of town.

“But now they are shooting at us from the west, east and south,” the 71-year-old said.

Abandoned military base

Ukraine’s stretched forces are sending in their biggest guns and toughest units to hold off a Russian advance on two important cities in the northeastern corner of the front.

But the Ukrainian military presence verges on non-existent within the confines of New York itself.

A naked mannequin inexplicably stands next to the open door of an abandoned military base filled with sandbags on one of the town’s main roads.

A few forlorn soldiers appear to represent the main defence of a central square that has been bombed repeatedly in the past week.

“You see that crater — a Russian jet did that,” a soldier who agreed to be identified as Oleksandr said, showing off a yawning hole in the dirt road.

Behind it stood the broken frame of a large factory and a chain of other ruined buildings comprising the town’s industrial district.

 Chemical danger

Oleksandr’s main worry is that the Russians might accidentally hit a neighbourhood plant that manufactures a raw material for paints and plastics called phenol.

“That is a very frightening thing. Just one direct hit and it would react like a chemical weapon,” the 36-year-old soldier said.

“It rolls along the ground and its consequences are very tragic.”

Both sides have accused the other of planning chemical attacks — a charge that appears at least partially aimed at deflecting blame in case someone accidentally hits a hazardous site with stray fire.

Yet residents appear more worried about more immediate problems, such as a lack of running water and gas. Some of the Russian speakers even blame the artillery attacks on Ukraine.

“The Ukrainians come in to fire from the hills here and then leave. And then all of us get shelled,” said pensioner Yelena Valeryanova.

She and many other Russian speakers use patronymics instead of last names when talking to reporters out of fear of retribution from local Ukrainian officials.

“The Donetsk (separatists) treat us better,” she said.

AFP

EU Cuts Eurozone Growth Forecast As Ukraine War Bites

A logo for the European Union

 

The European Commission on Monday sharply cut its eurozone growth forecast for 2022 to 2.7 percent, blaming skyrocketing energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The war also spurred the EU’s executive to revisit its eurozone inflation prediction for 2022, with consumer prices forecast to jump by 6.1 percent year-on-year, much higher than the earlier forecast of 3.5 percent.

“There is no doubt that the EU economy is going through a challenging period due to Russia’s war against Ukraine, and we have downgraded our forecast accordingly,” EU executive vice president Valdis Dombrovskis said.

“The overwhelming negative factor is the surge in energy prices, driving inflation to record highs and putting a strain on European businesses and households,” he added.

The EU warned that the course of the war was highly uncertain and that the risk of stagflation -– punishing inflation with little or no growth — remained a real risk going forward.

If Russia, the EU’s main energy supplier, should cut off its oil and gas supply to Europe completely, the commission warned that the forecast would worsen considerably.

“Our forecast is subjected to very high uncertainty and risks,” EU commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told reporters.

“Other scenarios are possible under which growth may be lower and inflation higher than we are projecting today. In any case, our economy is still far from a normal situation,” he said.

For the EU as a whole, including the eight countries that do not use the euro as their currency, the commission had also forecast growth of four percent in February, but has now cut this to 2.7 percent, the same level as for the eurozone.

The sharp reduction in expectations is in line with the forecast made in mid-April by the International Monetary Fund, which predicted 2.8 percent growth for the eurozone this year.

The EU’s warning for the months ahead lands as the European Central Bank is increasingly expected to increase interest rates in July to tackle soaring inflation.

Critics warn that this could put a brake on economic activity just when the economy faced the headwinds from the war in Ukraine.

US Temporarily Suspends Tariffs On Ukraine Steel Imports

Smoke rises above the Azovstal steel plant in the city of Mariupol on April 29, 2022, amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine. Andrey BORODULIN / AFP

 

The United States on Monday suspended for one year the tariffs imposed on Ukrainian steel imports, a move designed to help the war-torn nation’s economy.

In the wake of the dramatic evacuation of civilians sheltering in a steel plant in Mariupol after Russian forces bombarded the port city, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo hailed the importance of the industry that continues to operate and employ one in every 13 Ukrainians, providing them with an “economic lifeline.”

“We can’t just admire the fortitude and spirit of the Ukrainian people — we need to have their backs and support one of the most important industries to Ukraine’s economic well-being,” Raimondo said in a statement.

“For steel mills to continue as an economic lifeline for the people of Ukraine, they must be able to export their steel.”

The 25 percent tariff on steel was imposed in March 2018 to protect domestic industry, although a handful of countries were exempted.

Lawmakers and business leaders had called on US President Joe Biden to remove the duties to help ease the economic blow to the Ukrainian economy.

Raimondo said the move was “a signal to the Ukrainian people that we are committed to helping them thrive in the face of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s aggression.”

Ukraine accounts for only about one percent of US steel imports, according to the Commerce Department.

American firms purchased 218,000 tonnes of steel from Ukraine in 2019, but that figure was down to only about 100,000 tonnes last year.

AFP

Russia Expels Eight Japanese Diplomats Over Ukraine

A photo combination of the Japanese and Russian flags.

 

Moscow said Wednesday it was expelling eight Japanese diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to expulsions by Tokyo over the conflict in Ukraine.

Accusing Tokyo of pursuing an “openly hostile anti-Russian course,” the foreign ministry said in a statement that the Japanese diplomats must leave by May 10, in a reciprocal answer to Japan’s expulsion of eight Russian diplomats.

It accused Tokyo of “taking steps that were unprecedented in modern Russian-Japanese relations” and “abandoning friendly, constructive relations with Russia”.

READ ALSORussia Cuts Gas Supplies To Poland, Bulgaria Over Ukraine

Earlier this month Japan expelled the eight Moscow diplomats and announced it will end imports of Russian coal over the military campaign in Ukraine.

Japan has marched in lockstep with Western allies on sanctions against Russia since the start of the conflict on February 24.

Tokyo has complex relations with Moscow, with attempts to sign a post-World War II peace treaty hampered by a long-running dispute over islands that Japan says are “illegally occupied” by Russia.

Russia and the West have imposed a series of tit-for-tat measures over the conflict, including diplomatic expulsions and travel bans.

AFP

UN Chief Requests Meetings With Putin, Zelensky

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

 

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has asked to meet with the presidents of Russia and Ukraine in their respective capitals, a UN spokesman said Wednesday.

As the war in Ukraine rages, Guterres made the request in letters sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, said spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

The United Nations has been largely marginalized in the crisis since the Russian invasion began on February 24, in part because the war has divided the UN Security Council permanent members: the United States, France, Britain, China and Russia.

China has refused to condemn the invasion, depicting Russia as a victim of Western efforts to weaken it.

With the letters he sent on Tuesday, Guterres sought to spur dialogue to end the war.

“At this time of great peril and consequence, he would like to discuss urgent steps to bring about peace in Ukraine,” Dujarric said.

Guterres has had little contact with Zelensky since the war began, speaking with him just once by telephone, on March 26.

Putin has not taken Guterres’s phone calls, or had any contact with him, since the UN chief stated that the invasion violated the UN charter.

AFP