UKRAINE WRAP | Russian parliament backs tougher penalties for 'crimes against the state'

05 July 2022 - 05:53
By TimesLIVE
A Ukrainian national flag is placed over the graves of brothers, Denys Hrynchuk and Oleksandr Hrynchuk on June 27 2022 in Bila Krynytsia, Ukraine. Oleksandr Hrynchuk, 33, was killed on June 21 in the Luhansk region. The Hrynchuk family had earlier lost their younger son, Denys, who was killed while serving in the army in the Donetsk region, shortly after the start of the Russian invasion.
Image: Alexey Furman/Getty Images A Ukrainian national flag is placed over the graves of brothers, Denys Hrynchuk and Oleksandr Hrynchuk on June 27 2022 in Bila Krynytsia, Ukraine. Oleksandr Hrynchuk, 33, was killed on June 21 in the Luhansk region. The Hrynchuk family had earlier lost their younger son, Denys, who was killed while serving in the army in the Donetsk region, shortly after the start of the Russian invasion.

July 5 2022 - 20:34

Swiss give cool reply to Ukraine call for seizing Russian assets

Switzerland has given a cool response to calls from Ukraine's prime minister to use frozen assets of ultra-wealthy Russians to help fund his country's $750 billion reconstruction project.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal told a conference in Lugano that $300-500 billion of Russian assets had been frozen by the United States, European Union and Britain, money he said could help rebuild wrecked schools, hospitals and homes.

"We propose to find (a) formula to create national and international legislation for (creating the) possibility of confiscation of frozen assets in case of unprovoked aggression," Shmygal said, referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Such a step would improve global security by deterring unprovoked and unjustified aggression, he told a news conference as the two-day recovery conference wrapped up.

But Switzerland, which in May reported 6.3 billion Swiss francs ($6.50 billion) of frozen Russian assets, has resisted an automatic handover of wealth. The country, which has adopted EU sanctions against Russians, has long been a popular destination for Moscow's elite and a holding place for Russian wealth.

Swiss President Ignazio Cassis said it was important to protect individuals against the power of the state and to create a legal basis for confiscating funds.

"According to the rules we have in the vast majority of democracies..., we can freeze assets, we can freeze in order to clarify where these assets are from," Cassis told reporters.

But questions about the links between the money and the war in Ukraine and about the proportionality of measures also needed to be addressed, Cassis said.

"Now we can take a decision which is perfect for Ukraine but we create the possibility to take the same decision in many other possibilities and...give much more power to the state and away from the citizen."($1 = 0.9688 Swiss francs)


July 5 2022 - 18:13

Russian parliament backs tougher penalties for 'crimes against the state'

Russia's parliament backed a bill on Tuesday providing for jail terms of up to eight years on those found to cooperate in secret with international organisations, part of a package of new "crimes against state security".

Russia has already branded political opponents of President Vladimir Putin "extremists" and shut them down and jailed their leaders. Many dissidents have fled into exile during the crackdown, which has intensified over the past two years. Russia's most prominent human rights group was shut down this year for failing to properly register as a foreign agent.

Since sending troops into Ukraine in February, Moscow has further restricted dissent, including imposing jail terms of up to 15 years for reporting that diverges from official accounts of its "special military operation". Virtually all independent media have since been shut.

The package of amendments to the criminal code, which passed its second of three readings in the State Duma lower house on Tuesday, would impose a sentence of up to eight years for "confidential cooperation" with foreign organisations, or sharing information that could be used against Russia.

It introduces a maximum four-year term for "repeated public demonstration of symbols of Nazism and extremist organisations".

Russians who take part in military action "contrary to the interests of the Russian Federation" could be jailed for up to 20 years.

The bill would "improve the effectiveness of the system for detecting, preventing and suppressing criminal activities carried out to undermine the foundation of the constitutional system, the country's defence capabilities and state security", an explanatory note attached to it says.

In recent years, Moscow has applied the "extremist" label to the Anti-Corruption Foundation of Putin's most prominent political opponent, Alexei Navalny. Other organisations banned as extremists include the Jehovah's Witnesses, and groups linked to ethnic Crimean Tatars that oppose Russia's 2014 annexation of the peninsula.


July 5 2022 - 15:56

West should do more to unblock Ukraine's ports, official says

Western partners should do more to help unblock Ukraine's Black Sea ports to release exports of grain, metals and mining products, a Ukrainian official told Reuters on Tuesday, warning the country's finances were increasingly precarious.

Logistics problems linked to the war with Russia, notably at seaport Odesa, hit exports, causing currency inflows to Ukraine to drop to around $2.5bn per (R41.35bn) month from around $7bn (R115.77bn) before the war, Rostyslav Shurma, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office, said on the sidelines of the Ukraine Recovery Conference.

"We are in the process with the United Nations trying to unblock this process, but I think we need much more decisive steps from our Western partners to unblock the Black Sea," he said, seeking strong security guarantees for seaports.

He said the Ukrainian economy had shrunk by 30-40% already since Russia attacked the country on February 24 and it was essential for Ukraine to have access to funding.

"It's really critical to get $5bn per month because otherwise, within a month or two, it will be really difficult to keep the whole system in balance," Shurma said. "The cost of money to Ukraine will be enormously high and no project will pay back the cost of funds for Ukraine," he said, adding Kyiv needed political support to keep a lid on funding costs.

British foreign secretary Liz Truss told Reuters on Monday Britain was doing what it could to restart the Ukrainian economy and get grain exports out of Odesa.

After the war ends, Ukraine's economy could reinvent itself as an important supplier of green energy — with a potential of up to 50 gigawatts — and food to Europe, and could become an alternative to China as a production hub, Shurma said. 


July 5 2022 - 15:53

Russian strikes kill at least one in Ukrainian city of Sloviansk - police

Russian forces struck a market in the city of Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, killing a woman and wounding at least three other people, police said.

A Reuters reporter on the scene saw yellow smoke billowing up from an auto supplies shop, and flames engulfed rows of market stalls as firefighters tried to extinguish the blaze. It was not immediately clear what munitions had been used in the attack on the frontline city in the Donetsk region, or how many people had been at the market when it was hit.

Police said the market had been closing for the day, but that some shops had still been open.

"Together with police we are documenting the shelling of the city," prosecutor Oleksandr Bakumenko, who was at the market after the attack and wore a vest that read "war crimes investigator", told Reuters.

Sloviansk Mayor Vadym Lyakh said on Facebook that the city had come under mass shelling and urged residents to stay in shelters.

Tuesday was the eighth anniversary of Ukraine recapturing Sloviansk from Russian proxy forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic.

Russia has secured almost complete control of the neighbouring Luhansk region and is turning its attention to Sloviansk as a gateway to capture the rest of the Donetsk region. It has fired several missile salvos into Sloviansk in recent days. In a residential neighbourhood on another side of the city, several houses were damaged and fire fighters were tackling flames in a burning house where a missile hit on Tuesday afternoon. Rescue workers said at least two people had been taken to hospital from that strike.

Military spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told a briefing that Russian forces were focusing their efforts on the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, firing artillery along the entire front line. He said Ukraine's army was trying to prevent Russia from creating conditions to launch an assault on Sloviansk. 


July 5 2022 - 14:28

Russia shells Ukraine’s Donetsk after seizing Luhansk region

Russian forces struck targets across Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region on Tuesday to prepare the path for an expected armoured thrust to try to take more territory as the five-month-old war entered a new phase.

The strikes, reported by the region’s local governor and the Russian military, followed Moscow’s capture of the Ukrainian city of Lysychansk on Sunday, a move that handed it total control of the Luhansk region, one of its main war aims.

Taking full control of Donetsk, the other region in Donbas, the industrialised eastern part of Ukraine that has become the stage of the biggest battle in Europe in generations, is another goal of what Moscow calls its “special military operation”.

July 5 2022 - 12:57

Duma gives first approval to laws moving Russia towards war economy

Russian lawmakers on Tuesday gave the first stamp of approval to two bills that would authorise the government to oblige businesses to supply the military with goods and their employees to work overtime to support Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The initiatives come more than four months into what Russia calls its "special military operation," which has prompted Western countries to impose a wave of sanctions against Moscow.

One of the bills — approved in a first reading by the State Duma, the lower house of parliament — said the state could impose "special economic measures" during military operations, requiring firms to supply goods and services to the military at the demand of the Russian government.

An explanatory note attached to the bill said the military needed new materials and weapons repairs to pursue its Ukraine campaign: "The need to promptly meet these requirements, especially in the context of sanctions against Russia and Russian legal entities, will require us to temporarily focus our efforts on certain sectors of the economy ... and organise the supply of resources through state defence procurement."

A second bill, also adopted in its first reading, would amend the labour code to grant the government the right to regulate working hours and determine off-days at given companies. This could mean the government could compel employees of businesses providing goods to the military to work at night, on weekends and holidays, and without annual leave.

Both bills were introduced to the State Duma by the Russian government. They still need to undergo second and third readings, be reviewed by the upper house of parliament and be signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law.


July 5 2022 - 12:54

Russian defence minister: conscripts not being sent to Ukraine - TASS

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that conscripts were not being sent to Ukraine to fight in Russia's "special military operation", the Russian state news agency TASS reported.

Though President Vladimir Putin had previously said that draftees would not be deployed to Ukraine, the defence ministry admitted in March that a number of conscripts had seen action in the conflict zone.Russia conscripts around 400,000 young men annually for one year's compulsory military service, and their treatment is a sensitive political issue.


July 5 2022 - 12:33

IKEA reopens for online fire sale in Russia before market exit

IKEA will open for business for a final time in Russia on Tuesday, with customers permitted to buy goods in an online-only fire sale before the Swedish furniture company winds down its operations in a market to which it hopes one day to return.

"From July 5 for a few weeks you can buy IKEA goods only on," IKEA said on its Russian website. "Goods will be on sale for as long as they are in stock."

It was not possible to add items to the online basket as of 12.30pm in Moscow.

"For technical reasons, accepting orders through the basket on the website is temporarily unavailable," IKEA said on its website. "We are working on solving the problem."

IKEA took down an earlier message that read: "At the moment we are processing received orders manually."

Selling surplus inventory and generating revenue in Russia may raise eyebrows, given the public and political pressure on companies not to do business there. IKEA still operates 14 malls in the country under the MEGA brand, though it said it is exploring options for its 17 furniture stores there which remain closed.

IKEA said last month it would sell factories, close offices and reduce its 15,000-strong workforce in the country as it did not expect to resume sales in the foreseeable future. Its owner Ingka Group said in June it was open to returning to Russia one day, but that conditions were not in place right now. IKEA has said it will continue to pay its nearly 15,000 staff in Russia until the end of August.

Footage obtained by the Baza Telegram channel last week showed people sprinting through an IKEA store as employees were permitted to return and use their 15% discount.


July 5 2022 - 11:24

Kremlin: no decision taken on switching Russian LNG sales to roubles

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that no decision had been made on whether to switch sales of Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG) to roubles. Speaking to reporters, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that no presidential orders were currently planned on the proposal, which would see certain countries pay for LNG in roubles. Russia's Gazprom could propose expanding its roubles-for-gas scheme for pipeline gas to include LNG, the Interfax news agency quoted a senior manager as saying on Monday. — Reuters

July 5 2022 - 11:22

Russian-held part of south Ukraine aims to sell grain to Middle East: TASS

Russian-imposed authorities in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, which is partly under Russian control, said on Tuesday that an agreement had been reached to sell grain abroad, mainly to the Middle East, Russian state news agency TASS said.

The countries involved are mainly Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, TASS reported, citing Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of the Russian-installed administration of the Zaporizhzhia region.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of stealing Ukrainian grain. Moscow denies this.


July 5 2022 - 10:55

Russia plans railway link with Donbas, TASS reports

Russia plans to launch a railway link between its southern Rostov region and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, state news agency TASS reported on Tuesday, citing the Rostov region government. Russia established full control of Luhansk region on Sunday and is fighting to drive Ukrainian government forces out of Donetsk. — Reuters

July 5 2022 - 10:53

Turkey threatens to veto Sweden and Finland’s Nato bids

Turkey is threatening to veto Nato membership for Sweden and Finland, even as the military alliance prepared to formally pave the way for the two Nordic countries to join.

Turkey will not ratify membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for the applicants if they don’t fulfil their promises to combat terrorism and extradite suspects under a memorandum of understanding reached at an alliance summit in Madrid last week, foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday.

“They have to comply with this document, if they don’t then we won’t allow them to join Nato,” Cavusoglu told NTV television.

All 30 allies are due to sign accession protocols for Sweden and Finland at a ceremony in Brussels on Tuesday, making the countries formal invitees and allowing them access to almost all Nato meetings. The protocol then has to be ratified by allies’ parliaments before the countries become members. Despite the Madrid agreement, Turkey’s lingering threat could still complicate the membership process.


July 5 2022 - 10:28

CLYDE RUSSELL | Russia boosts coal exports despite sanctions

Much of the focus on sanctions on Russia’s commodity exports is on crude oil and natural gas, but coal is perhaps the best example of the challenges facing those seeking to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

Russia is the world’s fourth-largest coal exporter behind Australia, Indonesia and SA, and has the ability to supply both the Atlantic and Pacific basins.

Europe, the main buyer of Russian coal, has proposed a ban on imports but it has yet to be fully implemented, while Japan also plans to end purchases from Russia.

July 5 2022 - 10:20

13,000 of Elon Musk’s Starlink internet devices in Ukraine

Elon Musk’s satellite internet service Starlink has been vital in keeping parts of Ukraine affected by the Russian invasion, including the front lines, connected, the country’s minister for digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

There more than 13,000 Starlink satellite Internet devices operating in Ukraine and Ukrainian officials are in daily contact with Musk’s representatives, Fedorov said.


July 5 2022 - 10:17

WNBA star Griner pleads with Biden to get her out of Russia: AP

WNBA player Brittney Griner wrote to President Joe Biden, pleading with him to bring her and other Americans detained in Russia back home. Griner told Biden in the letter that she is “terrified I might be here forever”, according to the Associated Press. A representative for Griner delivered the letter to the White House, according to the AP. The representative, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Bloomberg News.

“On July 4, our family normally honours the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War veteran,” the Phoenix Mercury centre wrote, according to AP. “It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”

Griner, a two-time Olympic Gold medalist, faces a drug smuggling charge in Russia, where she could serve as many as 10 years in prison if convicted. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said last week that the US considers Griner to be wrongfully detained and that officials are actively working to resolve her case.

The WNBA player was detained in Moscow in February after police accused her of illegally trying to import hash oil into the country in vape cartridges. Griner’s wife, Cherelle, has called her “a political pawn.” A trial in Moscow began on Friday, the latest in a series of cases involving Americans held by Russian authorities amid deteriorating relations.

In June, a Russian court sentenced another American, Marc Fogel, a former US diplomat and teacher in Moscow, to 14 years after convicting him of smuggling cannabis. He said he was carrying marijuana for medical purposes.


July 5 2022 - 06:00

Japan wants Russia to explain gas project move

Japan called on Russia to provide more details about a presidential decree that would transfer rights to the Sakhalin-2 natural gas project to a new Russian company. 

President Vladimir Putin’s forces closed in on their goal of capturing Ukraine’s eastern region of Luhansk as the country’s troops withdrew from the city of Lysychansk, the last Kyiv-controlled redoubt in the area.

The Russian leader made a public display of the seizure and told military commanders to give soldiers who had captured the city a rest.


July 5 2022 - 05:56

Putin’s war throws crucial EU vote on ‘green’ gas into doubt

European lawmakers are under pressure from Ukraine to block plans to treat gas as a green asset, plunging into serious doubt an EU Parliament vote that not long ago seemed set to endorse the proposal.

The vote is set to take place on Wednesday, and was supposed to mark the easy passage of a New Year’s proposal by the European Commission to include gas and nuclear energy in the EU’s so-called green taxonomy. But Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — and the energy crisis it fanned — has upended that process. 

Just last week, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany called on European lawmakers to reject the Commission’s proposal, warning that it would benefit Russia and perpetuate European reliance on its gas supplies.


July 5 2022 - 05:51

After losing Luhansk, Ukraine forces regather for defence of Donetsk

Russian forces set their sights on their next objectives in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk province, after President Vladimir Putin claimed victory in neighbouring Luhansk province as the the five-month long war entered a new phase.

The capture of the city of Lysychansk on Sunday completed the Russian conquest of Luhansk, one of two regions in Donbas, the industrialised eastern region of Ukraine that has become the site of the biggest battle in Europe in generations.

Both sides have suffered heavy casualties in the fight for Luhansk, particularly during the siege of the twin cities of Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk. Both cities have been left in ruins by the relentless Russian bombardment.