With oil prices slumping, OPEC+ producers weigh more production cuts
The major oil-producing countries led by Saudi Arabia and Russia are wrestling with whether to make another cut in supply to the global economy as the OPEC+ alliance struggles to prop up sagging oil prices that have been a boon to U.S. drivers and helped ease inflation worldwide. The 23-member group is meeting Sunday at OPEC headquarters in Vienna after sending mixed signals about possible moves. Saudi Arabia, dominant among the oil cartel's members, has warned speculators that they might get burned by betting on lower prices. Russia, the leader of the non-OPEC allies, has indicated no change to output is expected. The decision comes amid uncertainty about when the slow-growing global economy will regain its thirst for fuel for travel and industry, and with producers counting on oil profits to bolster their coffers. Oil prices have fallen even after OPEC+ slashed 2 million barrels per day in October, angering U.S. President Joe Biden by threatening higher gasoline prices a month before the midterm elections. Then, several OPEC members led by the Saudis made a surprise cut of 1.16 million barrels a day in April. International benchmark Brent crude climbed as high as $87 per barrel but has given up its post-cut gains and been loitering below $75 per barrel in recent days. U.S. crude has dipped below $70. Those lower prices have helped U.S. drivers as the summer travel season kicks off, with prices at the pump averaging $3.55, down $1.02 from a year ago, according to auto club AAA. Falling energy prices also helped inflation in the 20 European countries that use the euro drop to the lowest level since before Russia invaded Ukraine. The U.S. recently replenished its Strategic Petroleum Reserve — after Biden announced the largest release from the national reserve in American history last year — in an indicator that U.S. officials may be less worried about OPEC cuts than in months past. The Saudis, on the other hand, need sustained high oil revenue to fund ambitious development projects aimed at diversifying the country's economy. The International Monetary Fund estimates the kingdom needs $80.90 per barrel to meet its envisioned spending commitments, which include a planned $500 billion futuristic desert city project called Neom. That may have been one motivation behind Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman's warning to speculators that they will be "ouching" if they keep betting on lower oil prices. Bin Salman's pointed comment isn't necessarily a prelude to a cut at Sunday's meeting, said James Swanston, Middle East and North Africa economist at Capital Economics. "Our expectation is that OPEC+ will stick with current output quotas," he said, adding that "there have been signs that the government may be readying to live with lower oil prices and running budget deficits." On top of that, Russia may find current prices to its liking because its oil is finding eager new customers in India, China and Turkey. Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine have forced Russian oil to sell at discounts of around $53 to $57 per barrel. At those prices, Moscow's shipments avoid triggering the $60 price cap imposed by the Group of Seven major democracies to try to limit oil profits flowing into Russia's war chest. The price ceiling allows the world's No. 3 oil producer to keep supplying non-Western customers to avoid a global shortage that would drive up prices for everyone. Insurers and shipping companies largely based in Western countries are barred from handling Russian oil if it is priced above the cap. Russia has found ways to evade the limits through "dark fleet" tankers, which tamper with transponders showing their locations or transfer oil from ship to ship to disguise its origin. An OPEC+ "production cut could push the price of Russian oil above the G7 price cap of $60 per barrel, which would make it difficult to transport and thus to sell the oil," commodity analyst Carsten Fritsch at Commerzbank wrote in a research note. "Russia appears to be doing good business at the current price level." The International Energy Agency said in its April oil market report that Russia has not completely followed through on its announcement to extend a voluntary cut of 500,000 barrels per day through the end of the year. In fact, Russia's total exports of oil and refined products such as diesel fuel rose in April to a post-invasion high of 8.3 million barrels per day. That is in spite of a near-total boycott from the European Union, formerly Russia's biggest customer. Analysts say OPEC+ faces conflicting pressures. A cut could support prices or send them higher, with demand expected to pick up later this year. "The impact of higher oil prices on the global economy will weigh heavily on the ministers' minds," said Jorge Leon, senior vice president of oil market research at Rystad Energy. "High oil prices would fuel inflation in the West right when central banks are starting to see inflation gradually recede." "This could prompt central banks to continue increasing interest rates, a detrimental move for the global economy and oil demand," Leon wrote in a research note.
Russia says drones damage Moscow buildings in pre-dawn attack, blames Ukraine
Russian air defenses stopped eight drones converging on Moscow, officials said Tuesday, in an attack that authorities blamed on Ukraine, while Russia pursued its relentless bombardment of Kyiv with a third assault on the city in 24 hours. The Russian defense ministry said five drones were shot down and the systems of three others were jammed, causing them to veer off course. It called the incident a "terrorist attack" by the "Kyiv regime." The attack caused "insignificant damage" to several buildings, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said. Two people received medical attention for unspecified injuries but did not need hospitalization, he said in a Telegram post. Residents of two high-rise buildings damaged in the attack were evacuated, Sobyanin said. Andrei Vorobyov, governor of the wider Moscow region, said some of the drones were "shot down on the approach to Moscow." Ukraine made no immediate comment on the attack, which would be one of its deepest and most daring strikes into Russia since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than 15 months ago. The attacks have raised questions about the effectiveness of Russia's air defense systems. A senior Russian lawmaker, Andrei Kartapolov, told Russian business news site RBC that "we have a very big country and there will always be a loophole where the drone can fly around the areas where air defense systems are located." Kartapolov said the purpose of the attacks was to unnerve the Russian people. "It's an intimidation act aimed at the civilian population," RBC quoted him as saying. "It's designed to create a wave of panic." Moscow residents reported hearing explosions before dawn. Police were seen working at one site of a crashed drone in southwest Moscow. An area near a residential building was fenced off, and police put the drone debris in a cardboard box before carrying it away. At another site, apartment windows were shattered and there were scorch marks on the building's front. It was the second reported attack on Moscow. Russian authorities said two drones targeted the Kremlin earlier this month in what they portrayed as an attempt on President Vladimir Putin's life. Ukrainian drones have reportedly flown deep into Russia several times. In December, Russia claimed it had shot down drones at airfields in the Saratov and Ryazan regions. Three soldiers were reported killed in the attack in Saratov, which targeted an important military airfield. Earlier, Russia reported shooting down a Ukrainian drone that targeted the headquarters of its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol in Russia-annexed Crimea. In Ukraine, Russia launched a pre-dawn air raid on Kyiv, killing at least one person and sending the capital's residents again scrambling into shelters. At least 20 Shahed explosive drones were destroyed by air defense forces in Kyiv's airspace in Russia's third attack on the capital in the past 24 hours, according to early information from the Kyiv Military Administration. Overall, Ukraine shot down 29 of 31 drones fired into the country, most in the Kyiv area, the air force later added. Before daylight, the buzzing of drones could be heard over the city, followed by loud explosions as they were taken down by air defense systems. In the overnight attacks on Kyiv, one person died and seven were injured, according to the municipal military administration. A high-rise building in the Holosiiv district caught fire after being hit by debris either from from drones being hit or interceptor missiles. The building's upper two floors were destroyed, and there may be people under the rubble, the Kyiv Military Administration said. More than 20 people were evacuated. Resident Valeriya Oreshko told The Associated Press in the aftermath that even though the immediate threat was over, the attacks had everyone on edge. "You are happy that you are alive, but think about what will happen next," the 39-year-old said. A resident who gave only her first name, Oksana, said the whole building shook when it was hit. "Go to shelters, because you really do not know where it (the drone) will fly," she advised others. "We hold on." Elsewhere in the capital, falling debris caused a fire in a private house in Darnytskyi district and three cars were set alight in Pechersky district, according to the military administration. The series of attacks that began Sunday included a rare daylight attack Monday that left puffs of white smoke in the blue skies. On that day, Russian forces fired 11 ballistic and cruise missiles at Kyiv at about 11:30 a.m., according to Ukraine's chief of staff, Valerii Zaluzhnyi. All of them were shot down, he said. Debris from intercepted missiles fell in Kyiv's central and northern districts during the morning, landing in the middle of traffic on a city road and also starting a fire on the roof of a building, the Kyiv military administration said. At least one civilian was reported hurt. The Russian Defense Ministry said it launched a series of strikes early Monday targeting Ukrainian air bases with precision long-range air-launched missiles. It claimed the strikes destroyed command posts, radars, aircraft and ammunition stockpiles, but didn't say anything about hitting cities or other civilian areas.
Russia launched 'largest drone attack' on Ukrainian capital before Kyiv Day; 1 killed
Ukraine's capital was subjected to the largest drone attack since the start of Russia's war, local officials said, as Kyiv prepared to mark the anniversary of its founding on Sunday (May 28, 2023). At least one person was killed. Russia launched the "most massive attack" on the city overnight Saturday with Iranian-made Shahed drones, said Serhii Popko, a senior Kyiv military official. The attack lasted more than five hours, with air defense reportedly shooting down more than 40 drones. A 41-year-old man was killed and a 35-year-old woman was hospitalized when debris fell on a seven-story nonresidential building and started a fire, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said. Ukraine's air force said that Saturday night was also record-breaking in terms of Shahed drone attacks across the country. Of the 54 drones launched, 52 were shot down by air defense systems. Read more: Russian prime minister says pressure from West is strengthening ties with China In the northeastern Kharkiv province, regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said a 61-year-old woman and a 60-year-old man were killed in two separate shelling attacks. Kyiv Day marks the anniversary of Kyiv's official founding. The day is usually celebrated with live concerts, street fairs, exhibitions and fireworks. Scaled-back festivities were planned for this year, the city's 1,541st anniversary. The timing of the drone attacks was likely not coincidental, Ukrainian officials said. "The history of Ukraine is a long-standing irritant for the insecure Russians," Ukraine's chief presidential aide, Andriy Yermak, said on Telegram. Read more: The cyber gulag: How Russia tracks, censors and controls its citizens "Today, the enemy decided to 'congratulate' the people of Kyiv on Kyiv Day with the help of their deadly UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles)," Popko also wrote on the messaging app. Local officials in Russia's southern Krasnodar region said that air defense systems destroyed several drones as they approached the Ilsky oil refinery. Drone attacks against Russian border regions have been a regular occurrence since the start of the invasion in February 2022, with attacks increasing last month. Earlier this month, an oil refinery in Krasnodar was attacked by drones on two straight days. Read more: Russia fights alleged incursion from Ukraine for 2nd day, reports more drone attacks
Russian prime minister says pressure from West is strengthening ties with China
Pressure from the West is strengthening Russia's ties with China, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said in a meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing Wednesday. Mishustin's visit comes as Russia is increasingly turning to China for diplomatic and economic support amid growing isolation over its invasion of Ukraine. Also Read: G7 urges China to press Russia to end war in Ukraine, respect Taiwan's status, fair trade rules In opening remarks at his meeting Wednesday with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, Mishustin did not mention the 15-month-old war that China, in deference to Moscow, has refused to criticize, focusing instead on economic cooperation between the neighbors that have partnered in challenging the U.S. lead in global affairs. Relations between the two countries are "at an unprecedented high level," influenced by the "increased turbulence in the international arena and the pattern of sensational pressure from the collective West," Mishustin said. Also Read; New sanctions: How effective are they in stopping Russia's invasion of Ukraine? China says it is a neutral party between Russia and Ukraine and wants to help broker an end to the conflict. But it has blamed the West for provoking Moscow and has maintained strong diplomatic and trade ties with Russia in opposition to sanctions against it. China's special envoy met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other government officials during talks in Kyiv this month. The visit followed a phone call last month between the Ukrainian leader and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that Zelenskyy described as "long and meaningful" and which marked the first known contact between the two since the Russian invasion began. Also Read: The cyber gulag: How Russia tracks, censors and controls its citizens Beijing released a peace plan in February but Ukraine's allies largely dismissed it, insisting that Putin must withdraw his forces. Zelenskyy's own 10-point peace plan includes a tribunal to prosecute war crimes committed by Russia. While sidestepping the conflict, Mishustin emphasized Russia's role as a provider of oil and gas to China and their bonds formed as initial allies among communist nations. "The peoples of Russia and China cherish their history, rich culture and traditions. We support the further development of our culture, exchanges and communication," Mishustin said.
The cyber gulag: How Russia tracks, censors and controls its citizens
When Yekaterina Maksimova can't afford to be late, the journalist and activist avoids taking the Moscow subway, even though it's probably the most efficient route. That's because she's been detained five times in the past year, thanks to the system's pervasive security cameras with facial recognition. She says police would tell her the cameras "reacted" to her — although they often seemed not to understand why, and would let her go after a few hours. "It seems like I'm in some kind of a database," says Maksimova, who was previously arrested twice: in 2019 after taking part in a demonstration in Moscow and in 2020 over her environmental activism. For many Russians like her, it has become increasingly hard to evade the scrutiny of the authorities, with the government actively monitoring social media accounts and using surveillance cameras against activists. Even an online platform once praised by users for easily navigating bureaucratic tasks is being used as a tool of control: Authorities plan to use it to serve military summonses, thus thwarting a popular tactic by draft evaders of avoiding being handed the military recruitment paperwork in person. Rights advocates say that Russia under President Vladimir Putin has harnessed digital technology to track, censor and control the population, building what some call a "cyber gulag" — a dark reference to the labor camps that held political prisoners in Soviet times. It's new territory, even for a nation with a long history of spying on its citizens. "The Kremlin has indeed become the beneficiary of digitalization and is using all opportunities for state propaganda, for surveilling people, for de-anonymizing internet users," said Sarkis Darbinyan, head of legal practice at Roskomsvoboda, a Russian internet freedom group the Kremlin deems a "foreign agent." RISING ONLINE CENSORSHIP AND PROSECUTIONS The Kremlin's seeming indifference about digital monitoring appeared to change after 2011-12 mass protests were coordinated online, prompting authorities to tighten internet controls. Some regulations allowed them to block websites; others mandated that cellphone operators and internet providers store call records and messages, sharing the information with security services if needed. Authorities pressured companies like Google, Apple and Facebook to store user data on Russian servers, to no avail, and announced plans to build a "sovereign internet" that could be cut off from the rest of the world. Many experts initially dismissed these efforts as futile, and some still seem ineffective. Russia's measures might amount to a picket fence compared to China's Great Firewall, but the Kremlin online crackdown has gained momentum. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, online censorship and prosecutions for social media posts and comments spiked so much that it broke all existing records. According to Net Freedoms, a prominent internet rights group, more than 610,000 web pages were blocked or removed by authorities in 2022 -– the highest annual total in 15 years — and 779 people faced criminal charges over online comments and posts, also a record. A major factor was a law, adopted a week after the invasion, that effectively criminalizes antiwar sentiment, said Net Freedoms head Damir Gainutdinov. It outlaws "spreading false information" about or "discrediting" the army. Human Rights Watch cited another 2022 law allowing authorities "to extrajudicially close mass media outlets and block online content for disseminating 'false information' about the conduct of Russian Armed Forces or other state bodies abroad or for disseminating calls for sanctions on Russia." SOCIAL MEDIA USERS 'SHOULDN'T FEEL SAFE' Harsher anti-extremism laws adopted in 2014 targeted social media users and online speech, leading to hundreds of criminal cases over posts, likes and shares. Most involved users of the popular Russian social media platform VKontakte, which reportedly cooperates with authorities. As the crackdown widened, authorities also targeted Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Telegram. About a week after the invasion, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were blocked in Russia, but users of the platforms were still prosecuted. Marina Novikova, 65, was convicted this month in the Siberian city of Seversk of "spreading false information" about the army for antiwar Telegram posts, fining her the equivalent of over $12,400. A Moscow court last week sentenced opposition activist Mikhail Kriger to seven years in prison for Facebook comments in which he expressed a desire "to hang" Putin. Famous blogger Nika Belotserkovskaya, who lives in France, received a nine-year prison term in absentia for Instagram posts about the war that the authorities claimed spread "fakes" about the army. "Users of any social media platform shouldn't feel safe," Gainutdinov said. Rights advocates worry that online censorship is about to expand drastically via artificial intelligence systems to monitor social media and websites for content deemed illicit. In February, the government's media regulator Roskomnadzor said it was launching Oculus — an AI system that looks for banned content in online photos and videos, and can analyze more than 200,000 images a day, compared with about 200 a day by humans. Two other AI systems in the works will search text materials. In February, the newspaper Vedomosti quoted an unidentified Roskomnadzor official as lamenting the "unprecedented amounts and speed of spreading of fakes" about the war. The official also cited extremist remarks, calls for protests and "LGBT propaganda" to be among banned content the new systems will identify. Activists say it's hard to know if the new systems are operating and their effectiveness. Darbinyan, of the internet freedom group, describes it as "horrible stuff," leading to "more censorship," amid a total lack of transparency as to how the systems would work and be regulated. Authorities could also be working on a system of bots that collect information from social media pages, messenger apps and closed online communities, according to the Belarusian hacktivist group Cyberpartisans, which obtained documents of a subsidiary of Roskomnadzor. Cyberpartisans coordinator Yuliana Shametavets told AP the bots are expected to infiltrate Russian-language social media groups for surveillance and propaganda. "Now it's common to laugh at the Russians, to say that they have old weapons and don't know how to fight, but the Kremlin is great at disinformation campaigns and there are high-class IT experts who create extremely effective and very dangerous products," she said. Government regulator Roskomnadzor did not respond to a request for comment. EYES ON — AND UNDER — THE STREETS In 2017-18, Moscow authorities rolled out street cameras enabled by facial recognition technology. During the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities were able to trace and fine those violating lockdowns. Vedomosti reported in 2020 that schools would get cameras linked to a facial recognition system dubbed "Orwell," for the British writer of the dystopian novel "1984," with his all-seeing character, "Big Brother." When protests over the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny erupted in 2021, the system was used to find and detain those attending demonstrations, sometimes weeks later. After Putin announced a partial mobilization for Ukraine last year, it apparently helped officials round up draft evaders. A man who was stopped on the Moscow subway after failing to comply with a mobilization summons said police told him the facial recognition system tracked him down, according to his wife, who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because she feared retaliation. In 2022, "Russian authorities expanded their control over people's biometric data, including by collecting such data from banks, and using facial recognition technology to surveil and persecute activists," Human Rights Watch reported this year. Maksimova, the activist who repeatedly gets stopped on the subway, filed a lawsuit contesting the detentions, but lost. Authorities argued that because she had prior arrests, police had the right to detain her for a "cautionary conversation" — in which officers explain a citizen's "moral and legal responsibilities." Maksimova says officials refused to explain why she was in their surveillance databases, calling it a state secret. She and her lawyer are appealing the court ruling. There are 250,000 surveillance cameras in Moscow enabled by the software — at entrances to residential buildings, in public transportation and on the streets, Darbinyan said. Similar systems are in St. Petersburg and other large cities, like Novosibirsk and Kazan, he said. He believed the authorities want to build "a web of cameras around the entire country. It sounds like a daunting task, but there are possibilities and funds there to do it." 'TOTAL DIGITAL SURVEILLANCE' Russia's efforts often draw comparisons with China, where authorities use digital surveillance on a vast scale. Chinese cities are blanketed by millions of cameras that recognize faces, body shapes and how people walk to identify them. Sensitive individuals are routinely tracked, either by cameras or via their cellphones, email and social media accounts to stifle any dissent. The Kremlin seems to want to pursue a similar path. In November, Putin ordered the government to create an online register of those eligible for military service after efforts to mobilize 300,000 men to fight in Ukraine revealed that enlistment records were in serious disarray. The register, promised to be ready by fall, will collect all kinds of data, "from outpatient clinics to courts to tax offices and election commissions," political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya said in a commentary for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. That will let authorities serve draft summonses electronically via a government website used to apply for official documents, like passports or deeds. Once a summons appears online, recipients cannot leave Russia. Other restrictions -– like suspension of a driver's license or a ban on buying and selling property -– are imposed if they don't comply with the summons within 20 days, whether they saw it or not. Stanovaya believes these restrictions could spread to other aspects of Russian life, with the government "building a state system of total digital surveillance, coercion and punishment." A December law mandates that taxi companies share their databases with the successor agency of the Soviet KGB, giving it access to travelers' dates, destinations and payment. "The cyber gulag, which was actively talked about during the pandemic, is now taking its real shape," Stanovaya wrote.
Russia fights alleged incursion from Ukraine for 2nd day, reports more drone attacks
Russian troops and security forces fought for a second day Tuesday against an alleged cross-border raid that Moscow blamed on Ukrainian military saboteurs but which Kyiv portrayed as an uprising against the Kremlin by Russian partisans. Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the Belgorod region on the Ukraine border, said forces continued to sweep the rural area around the town of Graivoron, where the alleged attack on Monday took place. Ten civilians were wounded in the attack, he said, and one died during evacuation. Gladkov urged residents of the area who evacuated on Monday to stay put and not come back to their homes just yet. "We will let you know immediately ... when it is safe," Gladkov said. "Security agencies are carrying out all the necessary actions. We're waiting for the counterterrorism operation to be over." Also Read: Russia alleges border incursion by Ukrainian saboteurs; Kyiv claims they are disgruntled Russians It was impossible to independently verify who was behind the attack or what its aims were, and disinformation has been one of the weapons of the almost 15-month war. While it is not the first time Russia has alleged an incursion by Ukrainian saboteurs, it is the first time the operation to counter the raid has continued for a second day, highlighting the struggles Moscow is facing amid its bogged-down invasion of Ukraine and embarrassing the Kremlin. The British Defense Ministry said Russian security forces "highly likely" clashed with partisans in at least three locations within Belgorod. "Russia is facing an increasingly serious multi-domain security threat in its border regions, with losses of combat aircraft, improvised explosive device attacks on rail lines, and now direct partisan action," it said in a tweet on Tuesday. In addition to the alleged incursion, Gladkov reported multiple drone attacks on Graivoron and other settlements of the Belgorod region on Monday night. The attacks resulted in no casualties, but damaged buildings and caused a fire. On Tuesday morning, two more drones were shot down by the region's air defense systems. Also Read: New sanctions: How effective are they in stopping Russia's invasion of Ukraine? According to Gladkov, an elderly woman died during evacuation, and two more people were wounded "in the settlements the enemy entered." That brought the total number of those wounded during the attack to 10. Gladkov first reported on Monday afternoon that a Ukrainian Armed Forces saboteur group entered Graivoron, a town about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the border with Ukraine. The town also came under Ukrainian artillery fire, he said. He later announced a counterterrorist operation in the area, and said that authorities were imposing special controls, including personal document checks, and stopping the work of companies that use "explosives, radioactive, chemically and biologically hazardous substances." Ukrainian officials blamed the incident on Russian guerrilla groups bent on changes at the Kremlin. Ukraine intelligence representative Andrii Cherniak said Russian citizens belonging to murky groups calling themselves the Russian Volunteer Corps and the "Freedom of Russia" Legion were behind the assault. Also Read: ‘Exhaust them’: Why Ukraine has fought Russia for every inch of Bakhmut, despite high cost The Russian Volunteer Corps claimed in a Telegram post it had crossed the border into Russia again, after claiming to have breached the border in early March. The Russian Volunteer Corps describes itself as "a volunteer formation fighting on Ukraine's side." Little is known about the group, and it is not clear if it has any ties with the Ukrainian military. The same is true for the "Freedom of Russia" Legion. The Belgorod region in southwest Russia, just like its neighboring Bryansk region and several others, has witnessed sporadic spillover from the 15-month war, with its border towns and villages regularly coming under shelling and drone attacks.
New sanctions: How effective are they in stopping Russia's invasion of Ukraine?
The U.S. and other Group of Seven nations rolled out a new wave of global sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine as they met Friday during a summit in Japan. The sanctions target hundreds of people and firms — including those helping Russia to evade existing sanctions and export controls. Some of the sanctions focus on additional sectors of Russia's economy, including architecture, construction and transportation. After 15 months of war, the allied nations are still aiming at new targets for financial penalties that block, freeze and seize access to international funds. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the newest sanctions will tighten the grip on Russian President Vladimir Putin's "ability to wage his barbaric invasion and will advance our global efforts to cut off Russian attempts to evade sanctions." Also Read: Ukraine’s Zelenskyy at center of last day of high-level diplomacy as G7 looks to punish Russia But there are limits to how much impact they can have. A look at the sanctions dynamics: WHAT'S IN THE NEWEST ROUND? The U.K imposed sanctions on 86 people and companies, including parties connected to the theft and resale of Ukrainian grain. It also banned the import of diamonds from Russia. The European Union, too, plans to restrict trade in Russian diamonds. The U.S. hit individuals and organizations across 20 countries, focusing on people and firms helping the Kremlin evade existing sanctions to procure technology. The Commerce Department added 71 firms to its list, and the State Department put 200 people, firms and vessels on its blocked list. Also Read: Ukrainian president meets with world leaders at G7 as Russia claims a key victory in the war Additionally, new U.S. reporting requirements were issued for people and firms that have any interest in Russian Central Bank assets. The purpose is to "fully map holdings of Russia's sovereign assets that will remain immobilized in G7 jurisdictions until Russia pays for the damage it has caused to Ukraine," the Treasury Department said. HOW EFFECTIVE HAVE THE SANCTIONS BEEN SO FAR? While the U.S. and other G7 nations have turned Russia into the most sanctioned country in the world, some foreign policy experts question the effectiveness of the financial penalties and point to Russia's maneuvers to evade them and press its war effort. Maria Snegovaya, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Russia has demonstrated "a remarkable degree of adaptability to Western sanctions." She added that the war is "relatively cheap" for Russia to prosecute, amounting to up to an estimated 5% of GDP. Also Read: Ukraine says troops still engaging Russian forces in Bakhmut after Moscow announces victory in city "That is easily manageable for Russia in the next couple of years at least, and the cumulative effect of sanctions is just not strong enough to radically alter that," she said. U.S. officials defend the effectiveness of the sanctions, and argue that they are not designed to work immediately. Along with imposing individual sanctions, the U.S. and allies have frozen Russian Central Bank funds, restricted Russian banks' access to SWIFT — the dominant system for global financial transactions — and imposed a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian oil and diesel. The Treasury Department on Friday in a new progress report said the price cap has been successful in suppressing Russian oil revenues. It cited Russian Ministry of Finance data showing that the Kremlin's oil revenues from January to March of this year were more than 40% lower than in the same period last year. "Despite widespread initial market skepticism around the price cap, market participants and geopolitical analysts have now acknowledged that the price cap is accomplishing both of its goals," the Treasury Department report. WHY ARE THE US AND ITS ALLIES STILL FINDING NEW TARGETS? Treasury officials say that as sanctions are imposed, Russian intelligence keeps looking for ways to get around them, requiring constant adjustments. Newer sanction efforts have been dedicated to the evaders and the "facilitators" of evasion, who help Russia acquire supplies and technology. "We know the Kremlin is actively seeking ways to circumvent these sanctions," Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo said earlier this year. "One of the ways we know our sanctions are working is the Kremlin has tasked its intelligence services, such as the FSB and GRU, to find ways to get around them." Among other things, U.S. officials say, Moscow has turned to North Korea and Iran to resupply the Russian military with drones and surface-to-surface missiles. WHAT MORE IS THERE TO SANCTION? Treasury officials say future targets could include newly identified firms and people connected to supply chains that help Russia gain materials for the war, front companies that help Russia evade sanctions and rogue actors from North Korea and Iran. For the past month, Treasury officials Brian Nelson and Liz Rosenberg have traveled across Europe and Central Asia to press countries that do business with the Kremlin to cut off financial ties because of the war on Ukraine. They are also increasingly sharing intelligence between countries and firms to spot evasion. There are also calls for the U.S. and allies to confiscate and transfer Russia's central bank funds to Ukraine for the war effort. "The G7 countries must sustain and augment their efforts, including by confiscating frozen reserves of the Central Bank of Russia to help fund Ukraine's reconstruction," said Jeffrey J. Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
‘Exhaust them’: Why Ukraine has fought Russia for every inch of Bakhmut, despite high cost
The nine-month battle for Bakhmut has destroyed the 400-year-old city in eastern Ukraine and killed tens of thousands of people in a mutually devastating demonstration of Ukraine's strategy of exhausting the Russian military. The fog of war made it impossible to confirm the situation on the ground Sunday in the invasion's longest battle: Russia's defense ministry reported that the Wagner private army backed by Russian troops had seized the city. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, said Bakhmut was not being fully occupied by Russian forces. Regardless, the small city has long had more symbolic than strategic value for both sides. The more meaningful gauge of success for Ukrainian forces has been their ability to keep the Russians bogged down. The Ukrainian military has aimed to deplete the resources and morale of Russian troops in the tiny but tactical patch of the 1,500-kilometer (932-mile) front line as Ukraine gears up for a major counteroffensive in the 15-month-old war. "Despite the fact that we now control a small part of Bakhmut, the importance of its defense does not lose its relevance," said Col.-Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, the Commander of Ground Forces for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. "This gives us the opportunity to enter the city in case of a change in the situation. And it will definitely happen." Also Read: Ukraine says troops still engaging Russian forces in Bakhmut after Moscow announces victory in city About 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of the Russian-held regional capital of Donetsk, Bakhmut was an important industrial center, surrounded by salt and gypsum mines and home to about 80,000 people before the war, in a country of more than 43 million. The city, named Artyomovsk after a Bolshevik revolutionary when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, was known for its sparkling wine produced in underground caves. It was popular among tourists for its broad tree-lined avenues, lush parks and stately downtown with imposing late 19th century mansions. All are now reduced to a smoldering wasteland. Fought over so fiercely by Russia and Ukraine in recent months has been the urban center itself, where Ukrainian commanders have conceded that Moscow controlled more than 90%. But even now, Ukrainian forces are making significant advances near strategic roads through the countryside just outside, chipping away at Russia's northern and southern flanks by the meter (yard) with the aim of encircling Wagner fighters inside the city. Also Read: Ukraine’s Zelenskyy at center of last day of high-level diplomacy as G7 looks to punish Russia "The enemy failed to surround Bakhmut. They lost part of the heights around the city. The continuing advance of our troops in the suburbs greatly complicates the enemy's presence," said Hanna Maliar, Ukraine's deputy defense minister. "Our troops have taken the city in a semi-encirclement, which gives us the opportunity to destroy the enemy." Ukrainian military leaders say their months-long resistance has been worth it because it limited Russia's capabilities elsewhere and allowed for Ukrainian advances. Also Read: Ukrainian president meets with world leaders at G7 as Russia claims a key victory in the war "The main idea is to exhaust them, then to attack," Ukrainian Col. Yevhen Mezhevikin, commander of a specialized group fighting in Bakhmut, said Thursday. Russia has deployed reinforcements to Bakhmut to replenish lost northern and southern flanks and prevent more Ukrainian breakthroughs, according to Ukrainian officials and other outside observers. Russian President Vladimir Putin badly needs to claim victory in Bakhmut city, where Russian forces have focused their efforts, analysts say, especially after a winter offensive by his forces failed to capture other cities and towns along the front. Some analysts said that even Ukraine's tactical gains in the rural area outside urban Bakhmut could be more significant than they seem. Also Read: Zelenskyy says ‘Bakhmut is only in our hearts’ after Russia claims controls of Ukrainian city "It was almost like the Ukrainians just took advantage of the fact that, actually, the Russian lines were weak," said Phillips O'Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews. "The Russian army has suffered such high losses and is so worn out around Bakhmut that ... it cannot go forward anymore." Ukrainian forces in the outskirts of Bakhmut and in the city bore relentless artillery attacks until a month ago. Then, Ukrainian forces positioned south of the city spotted their chance for a breakthrough after reconnaissance drones showed the southern Russian flank had gone on the defensive, Col. Mezhevikin said. After fierce fighting for weeks, Ukrainian units had made their first advance in the vicinity of Bakhmut since it was invaded nine months ago. In all, nearly 20 square kilometers (eight square miles) of territory were recaptured, Maliar said in an interview last week. Hundreds of meters (yards) more have been regained almost every day since, according to Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesman for Ukraine's Operational Command East. "Previously we were only holding the lines and didn't let Russians advance further into our territory. What has happened now is our first advance (since the battle started)," Maliar said. Victory in Bakhmut does not necessarily bring Russia any closer to capturing the Donetsk region — Putin's stated aim of the war. Rather, it opens the door to more grinding battles in the direction of Sloviansk or Kostiantynivka, 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, said Kateryna Stepanenko, a Russia analyst at the U.S.-based think tank Institute for the Study of War. Satellite imagery released this week shows infrastructure, apartment blocks and iconic buildings reduced to rubble. In the last week, days before Russia announced that the city had fallen into their control, Ukrainian forces retained only a handful of buildings amid constant Russian bombardment. Outnumbered and outgunned, they described nightmarish days. Russia's artillery dominance is so overwhelming, accompanied by continuous human waves of mercenaries, that defensive positions could not be held for long. "The importance of our mission of staying in Bakhmut lies in distracting a significant enemy force," said Taras Deiak, a commander of a special unit of a volunteer battalion. "We are paying a high price for this." The northern and southern flanks regained by Ukraine are located near two highways that lead to Chasiv Yar, a town 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Bakhmut that serves as a key logistics supply route, one dubbed the "road of life." Ukrainian forces passing this road often came under fire from Russians positioned along nearby strategic heights. Armored vehicles and pickup trucks driving toward the city to replenish Ukrainian troops were frequently destroyed. With the high plains now under Ukrainian control, its forces have more breathing room. "This will help us design new logistic chains to deliver ammunition in and evacuate the injured or killed boys," said Deiak, speaking from inside the city on Thursday, two days before Russia claimed it controlled the city. "Now it is easier to deliver supplies, rotate troops, (carry out) evacuations."
Ukraine says troops still engaging Russian forces in Bakhmut after Moscow announces victory in city
Ukrainian soldiers were still engaging Russian forces in fierce battles in and around Bakhmut on Sunday, military officials said, hours after Moscow and the private army Wagner announced that their troops had taken full control of the eastern city. The fog of war made it impossible to confirm the situation on the ground in the invasion's longest battle, and a series of comments from Ukrainian and Russian officials added confusion to the matter. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar even went so far as to say that Ukrainian troops "took the city in a semi-encirclement." "The enemy failed to surround Bakhmut, and they lost part of the dominant heights around the city," Malyar said. "That is, the advance of our troops in the suburbs along the flanks, which is still ongoing, greatly complicates the enemy's presence in Bakhmut." Also Read: Ukraine’s Zelenskyy at center of last day of high-level diplomacy as G7 looks to punish Russia Her comments came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, at the Group of Seven summit in Japan, appeared to suggest that Bakhmut had fallen. When asked if the city was in Ukraine's hands, Zelenskyy said: "I think no, but you have to -- to understand that there is nothing, They've destroyed everything. There are no buildings. It's a pity. It's tragedy." Zelenskyy's press secretary later walked back those comments. Also Read: Ukrainian president meets with world leaders at G7 as Russia claims a key victory in the war And the spokesman for Ukraine's Eastern Group of Forces, Serhii Cherevaty, said that the Ukrainian military is managing to hold positions in the vicinity of Bakhmut. "The president correctly said that the city has, in fact, been razed to the ground. The enemy is being destroyed every day by massive artillery and aviation strikes, and our units report that the situation is extremely difficult. "Our military keep fortifications and several premises in the southwestern part of the city. Heavy fighting is underway," he said. It was only the latest flip-flopping of the situation in Bakhmut after eight months of intense fighting. Also Read: Zelenskyy says ‘Bakhmut is only in our hearts’ after Russia claims controls of Ukrainian city Only hours earlier, Russian state new agencies reported that President Vladimir Putin congratulated "Wagner assault detachments, as well as all servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces units, who provided them with the necessary support and flank protection, on the completion of the operation to liberate Artyomovsk," which is Bakhmut's Soviet-era name. Russia's Defense Ministry also said that Wagner and military units "completed the liberation" of Bakhmut. At the G-7 in Japan, Zelenskyy stood side by side with U.S. President Joe Biden during a news conference. Biden announced $375 million more in aid for Ukraine, which included more ammunition, artillery and vehicles. "I thanked him for the significant financial assistance to (Ukraine) from (the U.S.)," Zelenskyy tweeted later. The new pledge came after the U.S. agreed to allow training on American-made F-16 fighter jets, laying the groundwork for their eventual transfer to Ukraine. Biden said Sunday that Zelenskyy had given the U.S. a "flat assurance" that Ukraine wouldn't use the F-16s jets to attack Russian territory. Many analysts say that even if Russia was victorious in Bakhmut, it was unlikely to turn the tide in the war. The Russian capture of the last remaining ground in Bakhmut is "not tactically or operationally significant," a Washington-based think tank said late Saturday. The Institute for the Study of War said that taking control of these areas "does not grant Russian forces operationally significant terrain to continue conducting offensive operations," nor to "to defend against possible Ukrainian counterattacks." In a video posted on Telegram, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said the city came under complete Russian control at about midday Saturday. He spoke surrounded by about a half-dozen fighters, with ruined buildings in the background and explosions heard in the distance. Russian forces still seek to seize the remaining part of the Donetsk region still under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified areas. It isn't clear which side has paid a higher price in the battle for Bakhmut. Both Russia and Ukraine have endured losses believed to be in the thousands, though neither has disclosed casualty numbers. Zelenskyy underlined the importance of defending Bakhmut in an interview with The Associated Press in March, saying its fall could allow Russia to rally international support for a deal that might require Kyiv to make unacceptable compromises. Analysts have said Bakhmut's fall would be a blow to Ukraine and give some tactical advantages to Russia but wouldn't prove decisive to the outcome of the war. Bakhmut, located about 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of the Russian-held regional capital of Donetsk, had a prewar population of 80,000 and was an important industrial center, surrounded by salt and gypsum mines. The city, which was named Artyomovsk after a Bolshevik revolutionary when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, also was known for its sparkling wine production in underground caves. Its broad tree-lined avenues, lush parks and stately downtown with imposing late 19th-century mansions — all now reduced to a smoldering wasteland — made it a popular tourist destination. When a separatist rebellion engulfed eastern Ukraine in 2014 weeks after Moscow's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, the rebels quickly won control of the city, only to lose it a few months later. After Russia switched its focus to the Donbas following a botched attempt to seize Kyiv early in the February 2022 invasion, Moscow's troops tried to take Bakhmut in August but were pushed back. The fighting there abated in autumn as Russia was confronted with Ukrainian counteroffensives in the east and the south, but it resumed at full pace late last year. In January, Russia captured the salt-mining town of Soledar, just north of Bakhmut, and closed in on the city's suburbs. Intense Russian shelling targeted the city and nearby villages as Moscow waged a three-sided assault to try to finish off the resistance in what Ukrainians called "fortress Bakhmut." Mercenaries from Wagner spearheaded the Russian offensive. Prigozhin tried to use the battle for the city to expand his clout amid the tensions with the top Russian military leaders whom he harshly criticized. "We fought not only with the Ukrainian armed forces in Bakhmut. We fought the Russian bureaucracy, which threw sand in the wheels," Prigozhin said in the video on Saturday. The relentless Russian artillery bombardment left few buildings intact amid ferocious house-to-house battles. Wagner fighters "marched on the bodies of their own soldiers" according to Ukrainian officials. Both sides have spent ammunition at a rate unseen in any armed conflict for decades, firing thousands of rounds a day. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said that seizing the city would allow Russia to press its offensive farther into the Donetsk region, one of the four Ukrainian provinces that Moscow illegally annexed in September.
Ukraine’s Zelenskyy at center of last day of high-level diplomacy as G7 looks to punish Russia
World leaders ratcheted up pressure Sunday on Russia for its war against Ukraine, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the center of a swirl of diplomacy on the final day of the Group of Seven summit of rich-world democracies. Zelenskyy's in-person attendance at one of the world's premier diplomatic gatherings is meant to galvanize attention on his nation's 15-month fight against Russia. Even before he landed Saturday on a French plane, the G7 nations had unveiled a slew of new sanctions and other measures meant to punish Moscow and hamper its war-fighting abilities. Ukraine is the overwhelming focus of the summit, but the leaders of Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada and Italy, as well as the European Union, are also working to address global worries over climate change, AI, poverty, economic instability and nuclear proliferation. Also Read: Ukrainian president meets with world leaders at G7 as Russia claims a key victory in the war Two U.S. allies — South Korea and Japan — continued efforts Sunday to improve ties that have often been hurt by lingering anger over issues linked to Japan's brutal 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol visited a memorial to Korean victims, many of them slave laborers, of the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing. Washington wants the two neighbors, both of which are liberal democracies and bulwarks of U.S. power in the region, to stand together on a host of issues, including rising aggression from China, North Korea and Russia. Bolstering international support is a key priority as Ukraine prepares for what's seen as a major push to take back territory seized by Russia in the war that began in February last year. Zelenskyy's visit to the G7 summit closely followed the United States agreeing to allow training on potent American-made fighter jets, which lays the groundwork for their eventual transfer to Ukraine. Also Read: Zelenskyy says ‘Bakhmut is only in our hearts’ after Russia claims controls of Ukrainian city "Japan. G7. Important meetings with partners and friends of Ukraine. Security and enhanced cooperation for our victory. Peace will become closer today," Zelenskyy tweeted after his arrival. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that President Joe Biden and Zelenskyy would have direct engagement at the summit. On Friday, Biden announced his support for training Ukrainian pilots on U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, a precursor to eventually providing those aircraft to Ukraine. "It is necessary to improve (Ukraine's) air defense capabilities, including the training of our pilots," Zelenskyy wrote on his official Telegram channel after meeting Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, one of a number of leaders he talked to. Zelenskyy also met on the sidelines of the summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, their first face-to-face talks since the war, and briefed him on Ukraine's peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country before any negotiations. India, the world's largest democracy, has avoided outright condemnation of Russia's invasion. While India maintains close ties with the United States and its Western allies, it is also a major buyer of Russian arms and oil. Summits like the G7 are a chance for leaders to put pressure on one another to align or redouble their diplomatic efforts, according to Matthew Goodman, an economics expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. "Zelenskyy's presence puts some pressure on G7 leaders to deliver more — or explain to him directly why they can't," he said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the G7 summit for aiming to isolate both China and Russia. "The task has been set loudly and openly: to defeat Russia on the battlefield, but not to stop there, but to eliminate it as a geopolitical competitor. As a matter of fact, any other country that claims some kind of independent place in the world alignment will also be to suppress a competitor. Look at the decisions that are now being discussed and adopted in Hiroshima, at the G7 summit, and which are aimed at the double containment of Russia and China," he said. The G7, however, has vowed to intensify the pressure. "Russia's brutal war of aggression represents a threat to the whole world in breach of fundamental norms, rules and principles of the international community. We reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes to bring a comprehensive, just and lasting peace," the group said in a statement. Another major focus of the meetings was China, the world's No. 2 economy. There is increasing anxiety that Beijing, which has been steadily building up its nuclear weapons program, could try to seize Taiwan by force, sparking a wider conflict. China claims the self-governing island as its own and regularly sends ships and warplanes near it. The G7 said they did not want to harm China and were seeking "constructive and stable relations" with Beijing, "recognizing the importance of engaging candidly with and expressing our concerns directly to China." They also urged China to pressure Russia to end the war in Ukraine and "support a comprehensive, just and lasting peace." China's Foreign Ministry said that "gone are the days when a handful of Western countries can just willfully meddle in other countries' internal affairs and manipulate global affairs. We urge G7 members to ... focus on addressing the various issues they have at home, stop ganging up to form exclusive blocs, stop containing and bludgeoning other countries." The G7 also warned North Korea, which has been testing missiles at a torrid pace, to completely abandon its nuclear bomb ambitions, "including any further nuclear tests or launches that use ballistic missile technology," the leaders' statement said. The green light on F-16 training is the latest shift by the Biden administration as it moves to arm Ukraine with more advanced and lethal weaponry, following earlier decisions to send rocket launcher systems and Abrams tanks. The United States has insisted that it is sending weapons to Ukraine to defend itself and has discouraged attacks by Ukraine into Russian territory. "We've reached a moment where it is time to look down the road again to say what is Ukraine going to need as part of a future force, to be able to deter and defend against Russian aggression as we go forward," Sullivan said. Biden's decisions on when, how many, and who will provide the fourth-generation F-16 fighter jets will be made in the months ahead while the training is underway, Biden told leaders. The G7 leaders have rolled out a new wave of global sanctions on Moscow as well as plans to enhance the effectiveness of existing financial penalties meant to constrain President Vladimir Putin's war effort. Russia is now the most-sanctioned country in the world, but there are questions about the effectiveness. Russia had participated in some summits with the other seven countries before being removed from the then-Group of Eight after its 2014 annexation of Crimea. The latest sanctions aimed at Russia include tighter restrictions on already-sanctioned people and firms involved in the war effort. More than 125 individuals and organizations across 20 countries have been hit with U.S. sanctions. Kishida has twice taken leaders to visit to a peace park dedicated to the tens of thousands who died in the world's first wartime atomic bomb detonation. Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in parliament, wants nuclear disarmament to be a major focus of discussions. The G7 leaders also discussed efforts to strengthen the global economy and address rising prices that are squeezing families and government budgets around the world, particularly in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The group reiterated its aim to pull together up to $600 billion in financing for the G7's global infrastructure development initiative, which is meant to offer countries an alternative to China's investment dollars.