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UKRAINE WRAP | UK's Johnson urges caution over Russia in call to France's Macron

06 May 2022 - 06:19 By TimesLIVE
Service members of pro-Russian troops fire from a tank during fighting in Ukraine-Russia conflict near the Azovstal steel plant in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 5 2022.
Service members of pro-Russian troops fire from a tank during fighting in Ukraine-Russia conflict near the Azovstal steel plant in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 5 2022.
Image: REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

May 06 2022 - 20:19

UK's Johnson urges caution over Russia in call to France's Macron

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday, agreeing to work together more closely on security while urging against any negotiations with Russia that played into its "false narrative".

A British readout on the call said the two leaders, who have endured a strained relationship, had committed to reinvigorate the "Anglo-French relationship".

On Ukraine the readout said Johnson "urged against any negotiations with Russia on terms that gave credence to the Kremlin's false narrative for the invasion, but stressed that this was a decision for the Ukrainian government."

-Reuters

May 06 2022 - 18:54

Shell says in talks to sell Russian retail business

Shell said on Friday it is in talks to sell its network of petrol stations and lubricant plant in Russia as the British company forges ahead with its plans to exit the country following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Ahead of the possible sale, Shell has suspended operations at its filling stations and the Torzhok lubricant plant, Sergey Starodubtsev, the company's head in Russia said in a statement.

He also confirmed that negotiations were underway.

It was unclear who the potential buyer was but sources told Reuters it would most likely be a local company.

Chief Executive Ben van Beurden said on Thursday that Shell was in talks to sell its Russian retail business.

Shell wrote down $3.9 billion post-tax as a result of its decision to exit operations in Russia, which include a stake in a large liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant.

-Reuters

May 06 2022 - 15:10

Ukraine hopes to boost export capacity by 50% in coming months

Ukraine hopes to grow export capacity by 50% in the next few months by expanding facilities on its western border, but it will still be far short of pre-war levels, the deputy infrastructure minister said on Friday.

More than ten seaports carried 75% of Ukraine's foreign trade, but they were closed after the Russian invasion and the country was forced to trade through small Danube river ports and use railway terminals on its western border.

"Western borders and Danube ports today is the only way to export and import. We have already quadrupled the volume of trade through the Danube ports," Yuri Vaskov told a news conference.

He said 3.5-million tonnes of cargo was transported across the western borders by rail alone last month and the national railway operators are developing border terminals for general and liquid cargoes, as well as for reloading from wide to narrow gauge and vice versa.

"All this should lead to the fact that the capacity of the western border should increase by 50% in the next few months," Vaskov said. "But even taking this into account, this (larger capacity) will not be enough even to serve at least half of the volumes that were transported through seaports in peacetime."

Ukraine, a major global grain grower and exporter, has sharply reduced its grain exports since start of the Russian invasion to around 1-million tonnes in April from up to 6-million tonnes before the war.

Reuters

May 06 2022 - 14:22

South African ‘cricket nomad’ refuses to give up on Ukraine

Kobus Olivier knew the bombs would eventually fall.

He had spent 10 anxiety-filled days and sleepless nights anticipating their arrival in his apartment in the quiet suburb of Nyvky, in the western part of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city. He envisioned blood and corpses. He foresaw rubble and ruin. As he peered into the endless void of his imminent future, he fell deeper into the inky blackness of his own dread.

Which is why, in the early hours of February 24, while walking his four dogs after another night of insomnia, the sound of staccato explosions in the near distance brought an unexpected sense of calm.

May 06 2022 - 13:40

Russia hit tops $8bn for European banks pulling back

European banks are counting the rising cost of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as they brace for a wave of defaults and write down the value of their operations in the country. 

Led by Societe Generale SA and UniCredit SpA, the region’s lenders have so far flagged a hit of $8.6bn (R137.3bn) to their earnings from the war. The latest bank to add to the tally, ING Groep NV on Friday said it set aside almost $900m (R14.4bn) to account for risks in the country. Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo SpA is expected to outline its damage later on Friday. 

The economic impact of the war is already cascading across the world as commodity prices spike and corporate supply chains are disrupted. After years of benefiting from rapid growth in Russia, European banks are now asking themselves if it’s still worth doing business in the world’s most sanctioned country. At the same time, they’re divided on how broad the damage to the economy will be, meaning some banks face further costs if defaults spike. 

May 06 2022 - 12:50

Finnish chemical company Kemira exits Russia

Kemira will withdraw from the Russian market and shut down operations in the country as a consequence of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Finnish chemical solutions provider said on Friday.

The company has 45 employees in Russia and its sales in the country accounted for 3% of its revenue in 2021.

Reuters

May 06 2022 - 12:45

Finland is severing oil ties with Russia, trade data show

Finland managed to cut the amount of oil it imports from Russia just after the invasion of Ukraine started in late February. 

The Nordic country imported 70% less crude oil from its eastern neighbour in March, replacing it mainly with imports from Norway, according to data published on Friday by the customs office. The value of oil purchases from Russia fell 45% from a year earlier.

“Finland’s trade relations with Russia are gradually collapsing,” Pasi Kuoppamaki, Helsinki-based chief economist at Danske Bank A/S, wrote in a note.

The large increase in the value of imports will be a “temporary phenomenon,” as Finland is cutting the use of Russian energy, he added. In a separate report, the statistics office said Finland imported 92% of its natural gas from Russia in 2021.

The value of natural gas imports rose by 282% in March to 151.4-million euros ($160m), the customs said. Volume data on imports of natural gas was not immediately available. Gas accounts for just 5% of energy consumed in the Nordic country.

Of European Union countries, Slovakia is the most dependent on Russia for its energy needs, while two thirds of Polish, Lithuanian and Finland’s energy needs come from Russia, according to a recent report by Shell.

Reuters 

May 06 2022 - 12:21

Russia says allegation it is stealing grain from Ukraine likely 'fake'

Information that Russia is stealing grain from Ukraine is likely to be fake, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday, after a UN food agency official said there were signs that Russia had been trucking grain out of occupied regions of its neighbour.

"We have no information, it appears to be fake," Peskov said.

A UN food agency official said on Friday that nearly 25-million tonnes of grain were stuck in Ukraine and unable to leave due to infrastructure challenges and the blockade of ports in the Black Sea. 

Reuters

May 06 2022 - 12:18

Kremlin says Poland might be a source of threat

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that there was hostile rhetoric coming out of Poland, and that Warsaw could be "a source of threat".

Poland has led calls for the EU to toughen sanctions and for the Western Nato alliance to arm Ukraine as it tries to resist Russian forces that have poured into its east.

Polish environment and climate minister Anna Moskwa said on Monday that "Poland is proud to be on Putin's list of unfriendly countries."

Reuters

May 06 2022 - 11:59

Nearly 25-million tonnes of grain stuck in Ukraine: UN food agency

UN food agency official said on Friday that nearly 25-million tonnes of grains was stuck in Ukraine and unable to leave the country due to infrastructure challenges and blocked ports in the Black Sea.

"It's an almost grotesque situation we see at the moment in Ukraine with nearly 25-million tonnes of grain that could be exported but that cannot leave the country simply because of lack of infrastructure, the blockade of the ports," Josef Schmidhuber, FAO Deputy Director, Markets and Trade Division told a Geneva press briefing. 

Reuters

May 06 2022 - 11:15 

Russian finmin expects around $6.5bn in extra oil and gas revenues in May

Russia's finance ministry on Friday said it expects to receive 414-billion roubles ($6.51bn) in additional oil and gas revenues this month, but said revenues in April were 133.1-billion roubles lower than forecast.

Soaring energy prices have boosted inflows to Russia's budget even as Western nations shun and sanction Moscow over its actions in Ukraine and the European Union plans to end the continent's reliance on Russian oil and gas.

Reuters 

May 06 2022 - 11:02

Russian will not use nuclear weapons in Ukraine - foreign ministry

Russia will not use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, foreign ministry spokesman Alexei Zaitsev said on Friday.

Zaitsev told reporters the use of nuclear weapons by Russia — a risk that Western officials have publicly discussed — was not applicable to what Moscow calls its special military operation in Ukraine.

CIA director William Burns said on April 14 that given the setbacks Russia had suffered in Ukraine, "none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons."

Reuters 

May 06 2022 - 10:21

EU offers concessions to Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic on oil embargo - sources

The European Commission has amended a proposal for an embargo on Russian oil to extend the period before it takes effect for Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, two sources told Reuters on Friday.

Under the tweaked proposal, Hungary and Slovakia will continue to be able to buy Russian oil from pipelines until the end of 2024, whereas the Czech Republic could continue until June 2024, provided that it does not get oil via a pipeline from southern Europe earlier, the sources said. 

Reuters

May 06 2022 - 08:50

Russian gas nominations via Ukraine to Europe unchanged - Ifax

Russian gas nominations via Ukraine to Europe stand at 98.7-million cubic metres for Friday, unchanged from Thursday, the Interfax news agency reported citing data from Ukraine's gas pipeline operator.

Reuters 

May 06 2022 - 08:34

Ukraine sets new grain export curbs for Moldova, Romania

Ukraine has imposed temporary restrictions on the supply of grain cargoes by rail in the direction of Moldova and Romania due to a large number of wagons at border crossings, the APK-Infrom consultancy said on Friday.

After its Black Sea ports were blocked by Russia, Ukraine has been forced to use rail as its main route for exporting grain, which often leads to the accumulation of wagons at border crossings.

Earlier, Kyiv suspended grain exports by rail to Poland.

APK-Inform said restrictions in the direction of Romania began on May 4 and from May 5 in the direction of Moldova and Ukraine's Danube ports.

The agriculture ministry said on Thursday that grain exports had reached 46-million tonnes in the 2021/22 July-June season, including 132,000 tonnes so far in May.

Senior agriculture officials said last month that Ukraine exported up to 300,000 tonnes of grain in March, while analyst APK-Inform said the country exported 923,000 tonnes of grain in April.

Ukraine exported up to 6-million tonnes of grain a month before Russia invaded the country. It exported 38.99-million tonnes at this point in the 2020/21 season.

Reuters 

May 06 2022 - 08:31

Russian fighting destroys and damages nearly 400 hospitals, medical centres — Zelenskyy

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has devastated hundreds of hospitals and other medical institutions and left doctors without drugs to tackle cancer or the ability to perform surgery, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

The Ukrainian leader said many places lacked basic antibiotics in eastern and southern Ukraine, the main battlefields.

“If you consider medical infrastructure, as of today Russian troops have destroyed or damaged nearly 400 healthcare institutions: hospitals, maternity wards, outpatient clinics,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to a medical charity group on Thursday.

May 06 2022 - 08:25

Ukraine says new effort to evacuate civilians from Mariupol steel works under way

A senior Ukrainian official said on Friday a new attempt was under way "at the moment" to evacuate civilians trapped with Ukrainian fighters in the Azovstal steel works in the southern city of Mariupol.

Andriy Yermak, the head of the presidential staff, gave no details and it was not immediately clear what stage the new rescue effort was at. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Thursday that a third operation was under way to evacuate civilians from Mariupol and Azovstal.

"The next stage of rescuing our people from Azovstal is under way at the moment. Information about the results will be provided later," Yermak said. 

Reuters 

May 06 2022 - 08:03

Germany to send seven self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine

Germany will deliver seven self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine, on top of five howitzers the Dutch already pledged, German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said on Friday.

The training of Ukrainian troops on the artillery weapons can start next week in Germany, she told reporters in the Slovak town Sliac where she was supposed to meet her Dutch counterpart later today. 

Reuters

May 06 2022 - 07:00

Britain says Russia continued ground assault on Azovstal steel plant for second day

Russian forces in Ukraine's Mariupol continued their ground assault on the Azovstal steel plant for a second day, British military intelligence said in a tweet on Friday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address on Thursday that Russian forces were still storming and shelling the Soviet-era Azovstal plant, where civilians and military forces are sheltering.

Reuters

May 06 2022 - 06:20

US offers assurances to Sweden, Finland over Nato application

The United States is confident it can address any security concerns Sweden and Finland may have about the period of time after they apply for Nato membership and before they are accepted into the alliance, the White House said on Thursday.

Sweden and Finland are concerned they would be vulnerable to Russian threats during an application process, which could take up to a year to be approved by all 30 Nato members.

"We are confident that we could find ways to address any concerns either country may have about the period of time between a Nato membership application and the formal accession to the alliance," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told a briefing.

Both Sweden and Finland are expected to make a decision about whether to apply to join Nato this month.

Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde said after a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday that she had received security assurances, but she did not give any details.

Sweden's defense minister said last month that an application could trigger a number of responses from Russia, including cyber attacks and hybrid measures - such as propaganda campaigns - to undermine Sweden's security. 

Reuters 

May 06 2022 - 06:10

Ukraine's Zelenskyy says Russia has devastated hundreds of hospitals

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has devastated hundreds of hospitals and other institutions and left doctors without drugs to tackle cancer or the ability to perform surgery, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday.

Zelenskyy, in a video address to a medical charity group, said many places lacked even basic antibiotics in eastern and southern Ukraine, the focal points of the fighting.

"If you consider just medical infrastructure, as of today Russian troops have destroyed or damaged nearly 400 healthcare institutions: hospitals, maternity wards, outpatient clinics," he told the gathering.

In areas occupied by Russian forces, he said, the situation was catastrophic. "This amounts to a complete lack of medication for cancer patients. It means extreme difficulties or a complete lack of insulin for diabetes. It is impossible to carry out surgery. It even means, quite simply, a lack of antibiotics."

The Kremlin says it targets only military or strategic sites.

In one of the most widely denounced acts of the war, a maternity hospital was all but destroyed on March 9 in the city of Mariupol.

Russia alleged pictures of the attack were staged and said the site had been used by armed Ukrainian groups. 

Reuters 

May 06 2022 - 06:00

TOM EATON | The great lengths John Steenhuisen will go ... to become trendy

John Steenhuisen has come in for a tremendous amount of criticism and mockery for going on a “fact-finding” trip to Ukraine, but I suspect he’s sleeping relatively easily in his bunker in Kyiv.

By now you will have heard many of the loudest objections, ranging from accusations of selective, Eurocentric concern — he hasn’t gone to find facts in any African or Middle Eastern wars — to dereliction of duty, travelling to the other side of the world while the Cape Flats remain racked by violence.

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