Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 133: UN says nearly 9mn people crossed Ukrainian borders since war broke out

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Ex-president: Pursuing Russia for war crimes could result in nuclear war

Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian President, invoked the possibility of nuclear war if the International Criminal Court (ICC) moves to punish Moscow for alleged crimes in Ukraine.

“The idea to punish a country that has the largest nuclear arsenal is absurd in and of itself,” Medvedev, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, said on messaging app Telegram.

“And potentially creates a threat to the existence of mankind,” he added.

Medvedev, who was Putin’s stand-in president between 2008 and 2012, is now deputy head of the Security Council.

He accused the United States of wanting to put Moscow in front of international tribunals, while itself never facing punishment for its own wars which, according to him, caused 20 million deaths worldwide.

Ukraine says Russia’s claims about destroying 2 US-supplied rocket systems is false information

Ukraine accused Russia of spreading false information after Moscow claimed it had destroyed two US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.

“Russian propagandists are actively spreading false information about the alleged destruction of the American HIMARS artillery system,” Ukraine’s Joint Forces Task Force said in a statement Wednesday, adding, “We emphasize that this message does not correspond to reality and is nothing but a fake.”

Earlier Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed it has destroyed the HIMARS Multiple Launch Rocket Systems during an air strike in the Donetsk region.

“High-precision air-launched missiles destroyed two US-made HIMARS multiple launch rocket launchers and two of their ammunition depots,” the Russian defense ministry said in a briefing on Wednesday.

The United States has committed to sending in eight HIMARS to Ukraine, and at least four of HIMARS have already entered the fight against Russia.

Use of not just the HIMARS, but also other Western-supplied weaponry has been linked to an increasing number of strikes deeper into Russian lines, as most have longer ranges and more precise accuracy than some of the Soviet-era equipment Ukraine was fielding at the start of the war.

“The HIMARS artillery systems provided by the American partners constantly inflict a devastating hit on strategically important points of the enemy, which leads to colossal losses of the equipment, personnel and support of the occupying forces,” Ukraine’s Joint Forces Task Force added in its statement.

Mariupol port operating at full capacity

The port of Mariupol in Russian-controlled territory of Ukraine is operating at full capacity, the TASS news agency reported, citing port officials.

Russia captured Mariupol on Ukraine’s southern coast in May after months of fierce fighting for control of the city.

Over 8.79 million people crossed border from Ukraine since February 24: UN

More than 8.79 million people have crossed the border from Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in late February, the UN refugee agency has announced.

On its website, the agency said 8.793 million people had made the crossing since February 24.

Russia’s parliament passes sweeping wartime economic controls

Russia’s parliament has rushed through two bills imposing strict controls on the economy, requiring businesses to supply goods to the armed forces and obliging employees at some firms to work overtime.

Once signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, the bills will allow the government to introduce “special economic measures” during what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

“In the context of operations carried out by the armed forces of the Russian Federation outside of Russia, including on the territory of Ukraine, there is a need to repair weapons, military equipment and provide the armed forces with material and technical means,” says an explanatory note to one of the bills.

West responsible for civilian deaths in Ukraine: Russia

The West should be aware of its responsibility for the deaths of civilians in both Donbass and Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday.

During a press briefing in Vietnam, Lavrov was asked to comment on Kiev’s allegations that Russian forces are shelling their own cities to disrupt the supplies of Western weapons to Ukraine.

“Well, in short, they lie,” the foreign minister noted.

He added that the Russian Defense Ministry presents the real facts on a daily basis, and that the West should acknowledge its own responsibility, “no matter what [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky and his team are saying.”

Since the launch of the military operation in Ukraine, Moscow has warned the US and its allies against “pumping up” Ukraine with weapons, saying it will only prolong the conflict and lead to serious long-term problems in the future.

Lavrov said the West “must be aware of its responsibility” for the deaths of civilians, as Kiev uses the weapons supplied from abroad as “a means of intimidation. This is state terror.”

Earlier this month, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhail Podoliak claimed that Russian forces are shelling their own cities near the Ukrainian border in order “to accuse Ukraine of shelling Russian cities and disrupt the supply of Western weapons.”

The Western countries providing Ukraine with weapons have made it clear that the arms should not be used to conduct attacks on Russian territory.

Since the launch of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, the sides have accused each other of targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Russia likely to attack Sloviansk: City official

Russia is likely to try and mount an offensive towards Sloviansk, the head of the city’s military administration, Vadym Liakh said, adding that Ukrainian forces are currently holding Moscow’s armies on the Siverskyi Donets river.

“Probably, they will [attack Sloviansk]. Probably, that is why the incoming hits have become more frequent,” Liakh said Wednesday.

“I think that as soon as the enemy is able to carry out assault operations, it will begin the destruction of the infrastructure and the city itself,” he added.

Liakh gave an update, saying that the frontline is now along the Siverskyi Donets river, a “natural obstacle” that Russia has already failed to surpass. He added that many fortifications were built near Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, making it possible for Ukrainian troops “to restrain the enemy for 4 months.”

So far, Russian forces have been stationed by the Siverskyi Donets river for a month, which he thinks “will continue to be this way. But, unfortunately, the civilian population will be shelled more and more often.”

Liakh also explained that the situation inside the city is “tense,” given the intensified shelling in the past few weeks, with several killed and wounded.

“Critical infrastructure is operating, but there has been no centralized water supply for more than a month,” he continued, stating, “There are also problems with electricity, about a third of the population periodically remains without electricity. We restore it, but the enemy destroys it again.”

Europe must prepare for complete cut-off of Russian gas: Von der Leyen

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said the EU needs to make emergency plans to prepare for a complete cut-off of Russian gas.

The EU chief accused Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, of using energy as a weapon in an address to lawmakers in Strasbourg today.

The Commission is currently working on a “European emergency plan” with the first plans to be presented by the middle of the month, she said.

Von der Leyen stated, “If worst comes to worst, then we have to be prepared.”

She stressed the importance of having a European overview and coordinated approach “to a potential complete cut off of Russian gas”.

EU doesn’t want war with Russia: Borrell

The European Union does not want a war with Russia, the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said, adding that economic pressure remains the key instrument in countering Moscow’s “aggression” in Ukraine.

Writing for the Japanese outlet Yomiuri, the EU’s foreign policy chief said that the six packages of sanctions imposed on Moscow by the EU since late February have demonstrated that the bloc “can respond as Europe when provoked.”

“The EU does not want a war with Russia, and economic sanctions are central to its response to the aggression,” Borrell wrote.

Pointing out that the restrictions currently target about 1,200 individuals and 98 organizations in Russia, he claimed that they “have already begun to take effect and will increase further in the coming months.”

“As far as advanced technology is concerned, Russia depends 45% on Europe and 21% on the United States. Only 11% for China,” he claimed, adding that the sanctions also limit the production capacity of precision missiles, which are being used in Ukraine. Borrell also mentioned automobile manufacturing, aviation and oil industries as the most affected by the sanctions.

In Borrell’s opinion, one of “many miscalculations” Russian President Vladimir Putin allegedly made was that he “probably thought that Europe was dependent on energy and would not have the courage to impose sanctions.”

The top EU diplomat admitted that the measures taken against Moscow have also brought “serious difficulties to many EU member states and some sectors of the economy.”

“But this is the price to pay to protect democracies and international law, and we are taking the necessary steps to address these issues in full solidarity,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, back in April, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the EU of devolving to the level of “NATO’s economic relations department.” She stated this in response to Borrell’s tweet that the Ukrainian conflict “will be won on the battlefield.”

Since the end of February, EU countries have been actively supplying Ukraine with weapons, despite multiple warnings from Russia that this would only prolong the conflict.

Commenting in mid-June on the economic sanctions against Moscow, Putin called them “insane and thoughtless.” However, the Western attempts to “strike industry, finance and the standard of living of the people” have failed, the Russian president said.

Previously, he accused European leaders of sacrificing their own economies to bolster Ukraine’s war effort, claiming that they were committing economic “suicide” under “pressure from their American overlord.”

Russia says Turkey hasn’t detained grain ship

Russia’s foreign ministry has said reports the Russian-flagged cargo ship Zhibek Zholy is detained in the Turkish port of Karasu on suspicion of carrying stolen Ukrainian grain are false.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexei Zaitsev stated Zhibek Zholy, which Ukrainian authorities have said is carrying grain from the occupied port of Berdyansk, was “undergoing standard procedures”.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey noted on Sunday that Turkish authorities had detained the Zhibek Zholy. Reuters previously reported that Ukraine had asked Turkey to arrest the ship.

Britain adds two Russians to its sanctions list

Britain has added two Russian individuals to its sanctions list, subjecting them to an asset freeze and travel ban.

The sanctions list was updated to add Denis Gafner and Valeriya Kalabayeva – both of whom Britain said were involved in spreading disinformation and promoting Russian actions in Ukraine.

Kremlin slams Japan’s ‘unfriendly’ position towards Russia

Japan has taken an “unfriendly” position toward Russia which does not help to develop ties in either trade and economy or the energy sector, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Asked about comments by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on capping the price of Russian oil at about half its current level, Peskov stated Tokyo was taking a “very unfriendly” position towards Moscow.

Ukraine says gas storage is at roughly half government target

Ukraine has 11 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas in underground storage versus a government target of 19 bcm, according to the head of its gas transmission system operator.

“This winter will probably be the most difficult in our history,” Sergiy Makogon, chief executive of the transmission system operator, told a news briefing.

“At the moment in underground storage sites there is around 11 bcm of the 19 (bcm) the cabinet wants,” Makogon added

Makogon said before Russia’s invasion Ukraine used around 30 bcm a year of gas but that he expected consumption would shrink to around 21-22 bcm a year.

Russia says it destroyed two US rocket systems in Ukraine

Russia’s armed forces have destroyed two advanced US-made HIMARS rocket systems and their ammo depots in eastern Ukraine, according to the Russian defence ministry.

The ministry said Russia had destroyed two launchers for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) that the US and its allies have been supplying to Kyiv.

It also added Russian forces destroyed two ammunition depots storing rockets for the HIMARS near the frontline in a village south of Kramatorsk in Ukraine’s Donetsk region – the main focus for Russian troops following the capture of Luhansk over the weekend.

Turkey cautions grain carried by Russian ship could be seized if proven to be Ukraine’s

The Turkish authorities may impound grain carried by the Russian-flagged dry cargo ship Zhibek Zholy if the grain is proven to have been stolen, Cumhuriyet reported on Wednesday citing a Turkish presidential adviser.

In this case, “the grain will be confiscated and offered for sale in the world markets on behalf of Ukraine,” the Turkish newspaper quoted Ilnur Cevik as saying.

The Kremlin “knows the rules of the game very well and if they are trying to smuggle out something that does not belong to them, they know very well that it will be confiscated,” he added.

Ukrainian Ambassador to Turkey Vasily Bodnar announced on Sunday that at Kiev’s request Turkey’s customs detained a Russian-flagged dry cargo vessel allegedly shipping Ukrainian grain.

Turkish officials have not yet made any official comments about the ship.

Local media reported, citing officials in the port of Karasu, that Turkey was currently looking into the grain’s origins. The silence preferred in these circumstances by Ankara who has held a balanced stance on the Ukrainian issue shows how sensitive the situation is, especially in light of the efforts being made to establish a grain corridor for Ukrainian agriculture supplies to global markets, Cumhuriyet noted.

On Tuesday, the Zhibek Zholy crew refuted reports alleging that the vessel was detained, saying it was in anchorage off the port of Karasu due to unfavorable weather. A surveyor has reportedly inspected the vessel for cargo quality.

As of this morning, the vessel is anchored off Turkey’s Black Sea port of Karasu.

Ukraine says it’s fighting back in Donbas, inflicting significant casualties on Russia

Ukraine says its military is putting up fierce resistance to Russian forces trying to advance through the eastern Donbas region, inflicting significant losses on Moscow’s armies.

The head of the Luhansk region military administration, Serhiy Hayday, says Ukrainian fighters are putting up stiff resistance.

“We restrain the enemy on the border of Luhansk region and Donetsk region — the occupiers are suffering significant losses, as they themselves admit,” Hayday stated, adding, “Every day, the Russians receive an order to advance further, but they do not always carry it out, because the losses in personnel are very significant.

“During the assault of Lysychansk alone, the enemy lost thousands of dead and wounded. Yes, they have more forces and means, but the Ukrainian army is better prepared and motivated,” he continued.

The Russian Ministry of Defense does not regularly report the number of dead and injured among its forces. However, independent analysts and observers, including some pro-Russian bloggers, have criticized the effort made by Moscow to capture the city of Lysychansk, saying it was too costly.

Hayday called for additional supplies of Western weapons to help balance the fight.

“When there is more long-range weapons, the advantage of the enemy in personnel will be leveled,” he noted.

Russian forces now occupy most of the Luhansk region, barring a few pockets of resistance, and are pressing toward the Donetsk cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Russian shelling targeted Ukrainian military positions in Luhansk “near Lysychansk in the direction of Bakhmut,” according to the Ukrainian military General Staff.

In the neighboring Donetsk region, “the entire territory of the region,” was targeted, including Sloviansk, killing six civilians and wounding 21, the General Staff added.

Hayday stated Russian attempts to push toward Donetsk and to cut the Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway that passes by Bilohorivka, were repelled by Ukrainian forces.

“The enemy was forced to retreat under the pressure of our fighters,” Hayday added.

Austria starts to eject Gazprom from gas storage facility

Austria is following through on a “use it or lose it” threat to eject Russia’s Gazprom from its large Haidach gas storage facility for systematically failing to fill its portion of the capacity there, according to the government.

“If customers do not store (gas) then the capacity must be handed over to others. It is critical infrastructure. We need it now in such a crisis. That is exactly what is happening now in the case of Gazprom and its storage at Haidach,” energy minister Leonore Gewessler told a news conference, adding that gas regulator e-Control had started the process of ejecting Gazprom.

Ukraine holding back Russian troops from advancing into Donetsk: Governor

Ukraine’s army is holding back Russian forces on the border of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the Luhansk governor has stated, with significant losses among Moscow’s troops.

“Every day, the Russians receive an order to advance further, but they do not always carry it out, because the losses in personnel are very significant,” Serhiy Haidai said on Telegram.

Haidai claimed Russian soldiers that had been taken prisoner as well as those who spoke to people in the now Russian occupied city of Lysychansk “admit this”.

He also added Ukrainian forces had destroyed several warehouses holding Russian ammunition in the occupied territories.

Battle for Sloviansk the next key contest in Donbas struggle: UK

Russian troops, from the eastern and western groups of forces, are likely around 16 kilometres north from the city of Sloviansk, in the Donetsk region, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry has announced.

The city of Sloviansk has been bracing for an incoming battle as Russian forces advance into the Donetsk region after capturing Luhansk.

“With the town also under threat from the central and southern groups of forces, there is a realistic possibility that the battle for Sloviansk will be the next key contest in the struggle for the Donbas,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence briefing.

It also added that most of Russia’s remaining available units from the eastern and western groups of forces have been committed to the northern Izium axis.

Swiss leader cautions on using frozen Russian assets to help rebuild Ukraine

The president of Switzerland has cautioned Western allies about the legal complexities of using frozen Russian assets to help pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction, saying “the right of property is a fundamental right – is a human right”.

Ignazio Cassis made his comments to reporters at the end of the Ukraine Recovery Conference, after Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal voiced hopes to lock down and use an estimated $300-$500bn in Russian-owned assets that have been frozen in many Western banks to help pay for rebuilding Ukraine.

The Swiss leader said fundamental rights can at times be violated – as was done in some cases during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – “but we have to create the legal base” for such moves first.

“You have to ensure the citizen is protected against the power of the state,” Cassis added.

Switzerland has frozen 6.3 billion Swiss francs ($6.5bn) in Russian assets.

Many in Lysychansk still in basements after battle: Resident

Lysychansk, once a city of 100,000 people in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, was eerily quiet on Tuesday with scorched buildings, overturned vehicles and rubble, a testament to the ferocity of the battle it has endured.

Tatiana Glushenko, a 45-year-old Lysychansk resident, told the Reuters news agency there were people still in basements and bomb shelters, including children and the elderly.

Glushenko added she and her family had decided to stay in the city on worries about safety in other parts of Ukraine.

“All of Ukraine is being shelled: western Ukraine, central Ukraine, Dnipro, Kyiv, everywhere. So we decided not to risk our lives and stay here, at home at least,” she continued.

Donetsk governor urges evacuation of 350,000 citizens

The governor of the Donetsk regional administration has told reporters on Tuesday that citizens must evacuate the region to save lives, and enable the Ukrainian army to better defend towns.

“Once there are less people, we will be able to concentrate more on our enemy and perform our main tasks,” said Pavlo Kyrylenko, while speaking at a news conference in Kramatorsk.

The governor added that 350,000 citizens remain in the Donetsk region; adding that the population of areas controlled by the Ukrainian government was 1.6 million in peacetime.

“It’s a very significant quantity, that’s why my main goal is [to evacuate people],” stated Kyrylenko.

Russia is throwing “all the reserves they now have” at battles in Luhansk region: Ukrainian official

Russian and Ukrainian forces are engaged in “heavy battles” in the outskirts of the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine, according to Serhiy Hayday, the head of Luhansk region military administration.

“All the forces of the Russian army are now thrown there, all the reserves they now have,” Hayday said.

Russian forces have suffered “huge number of losses and wounded,” because some troops are being tactically withdrawn to regroup, Hayday claimed.

“The hospitals are overcrowded and the mortuaries are overcrowded,” he continued.

Hayday added that “many warehouses behind enemy lines have been blown up” in the past few days, destroying “a huge amount” of Russia’s ammunition and fuel.

Hayday estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 residents remain in the city of Lysychansk.

Ukraine’s military announced Sunday that it had been “forced to withdraw” from the city, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky saying the retreat from was motivated to save the lives of Ukrainian troops.

“They are looking for the pro-Ukrainian population, negotiating with collaborators, showing apartments where military families lived, breaking down doors and pulling out clothes,” Hayday noted.

In a separate update, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine announced Tuesday that Russian troops are concentrating their “main efforts” on taking control of the highway linking the cities of Lysychansk and Bakhmut and attempting to seize the nearby settlement of Bilohorivka.

Johnson tells Zelensky Ukraine can retake territory captured by Russia

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a call on Tuesday that Ukraine can retake territory recently captured by Russia, a Downing Street spokesperson said.

“The Prime Minister said the world was behind Ukraine, and he believed President Zelensky’s military could retake territory recently captured by Putin’s forces,” she added.

Johnson updated Zelensky on the latest UK military equipment being sent to Ukraine, “including 10 self-propelled artillery systems and loitering munitions, which would be arriving in the coming days and weeks,” the spokesperson stated.

Blinken to seek G20 pressure on Russia to open sea lanes, warn China on Ukraine: Diplomats

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will call on G20 nations this week to put pressure on Russia to support United Nations efforts to reopen sea lanes blocked by the Ukraine conflict, and repeat warnings to China not to support Moscow’s war effort, diplomats have said.

Blinken heads to Asia on Wednesday for a meeting of the Group of 20 foreign ministers in Bali, Indonesia, on Friday. His trip will include his first meeting with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi since October, but no meeting is expected with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Ramin Toloui, assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, told reporters Blinken would raise energy security and a UN initiative to try to get Ukrainian and Russian foodstuffs and fertiliser back to global markets.

Meanwhile, top US diplomat for East Asia Daniel Kritenbrink said he expected a “candid” exchange on Ukraine in Blinken’s talks with China’s Wang, which are expected on Saturday.

“This will be another opportunity … to convey our expectations about what we would expect China to do and not to do in the context of Ukraine,” he added.

Meeting between Blinken, Lavrov at G20 unlikely

US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price has said he does not expect any meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at this week’s meeting of G20 foreign ministers in Bali.

“I’m not in a position to walk through the choreography, but I certainly would not expect any meeting between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov,” he added.

Turkey to ‘intensify’ negotiations for Ukraine grain deal

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he intends to “intensify” negotiations with Russia and Ukraine in the hope of reaching a deal on a United Nations plan to export Ukrainian grain to world markets.

Erdogan made the comments during a joint news conference with Italy’s prime minister, Mario Draghi.

Turkey is working with the UN, Ukraine and Russia on a UN plan that would allow millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain sitting in silos to be shipped through safe corridors in the Black Sea.

“We will intensify our talks within a week or 10 days and try to reach a result,” he told reporters.

2 million tons of grain being harvested in Russian-controlled parts of Zaporizhzhia region: Military head

About two million metric tons of grain are being harvested from the fields in the southern Zaporizhzhia region controlled by Russian forces, according to Yevgeniy Balitsky, military head of the Russian-occupied areas of Zaporizhzhia.

“A harvesting campaign is underway in the region,” Balitsky said on Tuesday on his Telegram channel, adding that this year’s harvest from the region is expected to overtake last year’s crop of 1.5 million tons.

Balitsky noted that 70% of last year’s grain harvest from the Russian-controlled areas of Zaporizhzhia has already been sold.

“The grain supply is facilitated by close cooperation with the Crimean authorities, who ensured unimpeded passage through customs and border checkpoints,” Balitsky said, adding that grain producers “have no limitations” in choosing where to sell their grain.

However, Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhia region, has previously warned about severe restrictions imposed by the military on where producers can sell their grain and at what price.

According to Fedorov, grain producers can only sell to “authorized” individuals, for half the usual price.

“The authorized entrepreneur valued a ton of grain at just little over $50. This is half the cost of a ton of grain. In autumn, no one will sow the fields under such conditions,” Fedorov announced on Friday.

Ukraine has accused Russia of appropriating last year’s grain supply from the occupied territories in the country’s south. In addition, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday he expects 60 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain to be “blocked” from reaching consumers in the autumn due to the ongoing was.

Energy crunch pushing European gas prices higher

Natural gas prices in Europe rose to the highest level in almost four months on Tuesday as the continent’s energy crisis intensifies.

Benchmark futures tied to TTF, the European wholesale gas price, jumped 8% to over $1,800 per thousand cubic meters or €175 per megawatt hour in household terms. That is the highest level since the beginning of March and five times more than it was this time last year.

The prices jumped as oil and gas workers in Norway, Europe’s second-biggest supplier after Russia, went on strike over pay. According to Reuters, the industrial action could cut the country’s gas exports by almost 60% over the course of this week.

This comes as uncertainty grows over the gas flow to Europe from Russia. Last month, Gazprom slashed its supplies via the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany, citing technical issues stemming from Ukraine-related sanctions. The pipeline is also due to close for its annual 10-day maintenance next week, with many in the EU fearing that the gas flow will not be turned back on.

On March 7, two weeks after the start of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, gas prices in Europe reached a historic maximum of $3,900 per thousand cubic meters.

EU power prices hit all-time high: Report

Electricity prices in Europe have hit their highest level on record, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday, citing the rising cost of natural gas amid the uncertainty over Russian supplies.

German baseload power for delivery next year, which is the benchmark European price, traded at €325 ($334) per megawatt hour (MWh) on Monday, thus surpassing the previous record set in December, the newspaper writes. Last July, the price stood at just over €81 ($83) per megawatt hour. The equivalent contract in France has doubled to €366 ($377) per MWh since the start of the year, the FT adds.

Electricity prices are influenced by the cost of natural gas, which is used to generate power. Gas prices in Europe exceeded $1,800 per thousand cubic meters for the first time since early March on Tuesday, as oil and gas workers in Norway have gone on strike over pay, thus affecting output.

According to the FT, the situation has been exacerbated by maintenance problems at a large number of France’s nuclear plants, due to which neighboring countries have been burning additional gas to generate electricity for the country.

Also, the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany is scheduled to close for maintenance next week. Moscow already had to reduce the flow via the pipeline by 60% last month over technical issues caused by Western sanctions, but many in the EU fear that after the planned shutdown the gas flow will not be switched back on.

Germany triggered the second stage of its three-level emergency plan last month. The third stage would require the rationing of gas to households and industrial sites. A housing cooperative in Saxony has already reportedly introduced hot-water rationing, with similar warnings issued in Hamburg as well.

Record drop in Russian gas supply to EU predicted

Russia’s pipeline gas supplies to the EU will fall by more than half in the next three years, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Tuesday.

“In our forecast, Russian pipeline supplies to the European Union [will] decline by over 55% by 2025 compared to their 2021 levels, with Russia meeting 20% of EU gas demand,” the IEA’s latest Gas Market Report states.

“The share of Russian gas in EU gas demand is expected to drop to just 25% in 2022 – its lowest level in more than two decades,” the agency adds.

According to the IEA, the European Union’s commitment to phase out gas imports from Russia, historically its largest supplier, is having “global repercussions.”

According to the agency’s data, between 2009 and 2019 the share of Russian gas (including LNG) in total EU demand rose from 30% to 47%. However, the fallout of anti-Russian sanctions has seen Europe’s demand for LNG surge, leading to “an exceptionally tight global market.”

The agency estimates that global natural gas consumption will contract slightly this year but will then grow at an average of 0.8% per year through 2025 amid rising prices and fears of further supply disruptions.

It says that Gazprom’s supply cuts to several EU member states earlier this year over their failure to comply with the ruble payment terms have further contributed to the uncertainty in the global gas market.

NATO comments on military bases in Sweden and Finland

NATO has said that it has no plans to establish bases in Sweden and Finland, which are both in the process of joining the US-led military bloc.

“We don’t plan to have an additional presence in either country, they have formidable national forces. They’re capable of defending themselves,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana told AFP on Tuesday.

Geoana said, “we don’t plan to have NATO bases in these two countries, because they have a very high level of military and strategic maturity.”

The two Nordic states decided to drop their longstanding tradition of non-alignment and join NATO after Russia sent troops into Ukraine in late February.

On Tuesday, the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers signed the accession protocols. Accession for the countries now has to be approved by the parliaments of the bloc’s 30 members.

Russia has repeatedly complained that NATO’s expansion undermines the security of Europe.

President Vladimir Putin cited the bloc’s attempt to set up “a foothold” in Ukraine as one of the causes of Moscow’s actions in the neighboring state.

Putin stated last week that Moscow will have a “mirrored response” to NATO if it deploys “military units and infrastructure” to Sweden or Finland.

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