Thursday, June 13, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 218

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:

‘Deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage’: NATO

NATO vowed a “determined response” to the Nord Stream pipeline damage.

In a statement, NATO said: “All currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless and irresponsible acts of sabotage.”

“These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage. We support the investigations underway to determine the origin of the damage,” the statement read.

The statement noted the alliance was “committed to prepare for, deter and defend against the coercive use of energy and other hybrid tactics”.

“Any deliberate attack against Allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response,” it added.

More Russians have fled mobilisation than invaded Ukraine: UK MoD

More Russians have fled Putin’s mobilisation orders than invaded Ukraine, according to the British Ministry of Defence.

In a daily intelligence briefing, it said: “In the seven days since President Putin announced the ‘partial mobilisation’ there has been a considerable exodus of Russians seeking to evade call-up.

“Whilst exact numbers are unclear, it likely exceeds the size of the total invasion force Russia fielded in February 2022,” it noted.

Russia had amassed up to 190,000 troops and their equipment near Ukraine’s borders at the time of its invasion in February.

The MoD added: “The better off and well educated are over-represented amongst those attempting to leave Russia.

“When combined with those reservists who are being mobilised, the domestic economic impact of reduced availability of labour and the acceleration of ‘brain drain’ is likely to become increasingly significant,” it continued.

Finland to close its border to Russia tourists

Finland will close its border to Russian tourists from midnight local time, after Putin’s mobilisation orders led to an influx of draft age men fleeing to neighbouring countries.

Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told a news conference that the move is expected to lead to a significant drop in cross-border traffic.

Entry for family visits, as well as for work and studies, would still be permitted.

Hungary warns it will veto EU sanctions against Russia

Hungary has said it will veto EU plans for an eighth round of sanctions against Russia if they contain energy sanctions.

The EU executive has proposed fresh sanctions against Russia, including tighter trade restrictions, more individual blacklistings and an oil price cap for third countries.

They fall short of harder-hitting measures sought by Russia hawks Poland and the three Baltic countries, including a ban on importing Russian diamonds.

Gergely Gulyas, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, told a briefing: “Hungary has done a lot already to maintain European unity but if there are energy sanctions in the package, then we cannot and will not support it.

“We are waiting for a final, full list of sanctions and then we can negotiate about it. Hungary cannot support energy sanctions,” Gulyas added.

Hungary’s government is also in talks with the European Commission to secure billions of euros in EU funds blocked over rule-of-law concerns.

Gulyas noted he expected a deal would be signed as Budapest was ready to meet all its commitments made to the Commission.

Italy will not recognise ‘illegal’ annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories

Italy will not recognise the results of “illegal” annexation referendums organised by Moscow in the Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said.

The Italian leader’s office announced Draghi had spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to assure him of Rome’s “continued support” for Kyiv.

Draghi and Zelensky discussed the “illegal ‘referendums'” which “Italy will not recognise”, his office added.

Kremlin-installed authorities in the four Ukrainian regions under Russian control on Tuesday claimed victory in the votes, saying that preliminary results show a majority in favour of being annexed by Moscow.

Russian diplomat says Nord Stream leaks occurred in zone controlled by US intelligence

The Nord Stream pipeline incidents took place in the exclusive economic zone of Denmark and Sweden, an area that is fully controlled by US intelligence agencies, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told the Soloviev Live TV program on Thursday.

Commenting on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipeline leaks on Wednesday, Zakharova recalled that officials in Washington had asserted early this year that Nord Stream 2 would never go into service.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman demanded, among other things, that US President Joe Biden issue a reply as to whether Washington had carried out its threat over the pipelines on September 25 and 26.

“Speaking of where [the incident] occurred. <…> There have been allegations that those are neutral waters and so on. But that is the exclusive economic zone of Denmark and Sweden, <…> the very NATO-centric countries that are stuffed with US-made weapons and which are fully controlled by American intelligence agencies, <…> who have the entire control of the situation over there,” the Russian diplomat said.

Russia to annex four occupied Ukrainian regions at ceremony on Friday: Putin spokesman

The Kremlin will host a ceremony on Friday at which agreements will be signed on the annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories to the Russian Federation, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman told reporters on Thursday.

Dmitry Peskov said the ceremony would take place on Friday.

Putin will deliver a speech and meet with Russian-backed leaders of the four occupied regions on the sidelines of the ceremony, he added.

Moscow blames ‘foreign state’ for gas pipeline leaks

The Kremlin claimed a foreign state was likely responsible for an incident that resulted in the leaks at the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines linking Russia to Europe.

“It’s very difficult to imagine that such a terrorist act could happen without the involvement of a state,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted in his daily press briefing, renewing calls for an “urgent investigation.”

The Kremlin announced major leaks in the Gazprom-led Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines look like an “act of terrorism”.

Peskov said an investigation in cooperation with a number of countries into the incidents under the Baltic Sea the EU has said it suspects were sabotage.

CNN reported that European security officials had observed Russian navy support ships and submarines not far from the sites of the Nord Stream leaks.

Asked for a comment on the CNN report, Peskov stated there had been a much larger NATO presence in the area.

Europe braces for mobile network blackouts

Mobile phones could go dark around Europe this winter if power cuts or energy rationing knocks out parts of the mobile networks across the region.

Russia’s decision to halt gas supplies via Europe’s key supply route has increased the chances of power shortages.

Telecoms industry officials say they fear a severe winter will put Europe’s telecoms infrastructure to the test, forcing companies and governments to try to mitigate the impact.

Currently there are not enough back-up systems in many European countries to handle widespread power cuts, four telecoms executives announced, raising the prospect of mobile phone outages.

European Union countries, including France, Sweden and Germany, are trying to ensure communications can continue even if power cuts end up exhausting back-up batteries installed on the thousands of cellular antennas spread across their territory.

Fourth leak found on Nord Stream pipelines: Swedish coast guard

Sweden’s coast guard earlier this week discovered a fourth gas leak on the damaged Nord Stream pipelines, a coast guard spokesperson told newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

“Two of these four are in Sweden’s exclusive economic zone,” coast guard spokesperson Jenny Larsson told the daily.

The two other holes are in the Danish exclusive economic zone, according to a translation of the report published by Reuters.

The European Union suspects sabotage was behind the gas leaks on the subsea Russian pipelines to Europe and has promised a “robust” response to any intentional disruption of its energy infrastructure.

Agreement on EU sanctions against Russia expected before summit: EU official

An agreement on the next sanctions package against Russia is expected before next week’s EU summit, or at least major parts of the package, an EU official told Reuters.

The official noted they expected the summit to focus on the referendums in Ukraine, possible annexations of areas by Russia, Russia’s nuclear threats and the disruption to the Nord Stream pipelines.

EU leaders are also expected to discuss different ideas for energy price caps at the summit, which the EU official expects to be a tense one “as we are in difficult times”.

Pro-Russian separatist leaders involved in illegal referendums across Ukraine arrive in Moscow

Some of the separatist leaders involved in carrying out sham referendums to secede from Ukraine and join Russia landed in Moscow Thursday, according to a photograph posted by Kirill Stremousov, the Russia-appointed deputy head of the Kherson regional military administration.

The votes – which are illegal under international law – were carried out in the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in the east and parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.

“The historic plane with the leaders of the liberated territories landed in Moscow. We will become new subjects of the Russian Federation very soon,” the statement read, alongside a photograph of Stremousov with Denis Pushilin, Yevgeniy Balitskiy and Vladimir Saldo, some of the other Russian-backed officials involved in the so-called “referendums.”

The votes mirror the playbook used during Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, sparking fears they could become a false pretext for the Kremlin to illegally claim more territory in Ukraine and escalate its war effort.

On Wednesday, with all “votes” counted, Kremlin-backed authorities in the four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine predictably claimed that residents had overwhelmingly agreed to become part of Russia.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov previously indicated that if the regions announced majorities in favor of joining Russia, the ratification process would be fast and they could become part of the Russian Federation “quite soon.”

Asked if that would mean any attempt by Ukraine to regain the territories would be regarded as an attack on Russian territory, Peskov stated: “Of course.”

More Democrats than Republicans think Ukraine is winning Russia war: Poll

More Democrats than Republicans believe that Ukraine is currently winning its war against Russia, according to a new The Economist-You Gov survey.

The new poll found that 42 percent of Democratic respondents believe Ukraine has the upper hand in its conflict with Russia, while 30 percent of their GOP counterparts agree with the same sentiment.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents who identify as independents also believe that Ukraine is winning its conflict against Russia, according to the poll.

Meanwhile, 18 percent of Democrats in the survey said that Russia is winning the war, as well as 18 percent of Republican respondents and 15 percent of independent respondents.

The difference between respondents who identify as liberal and those who identify as conservative was even larger, according to the poll, with 48 percent of liberals saying they believe Ukraine is winning the war compared to 30 percent of conservatives. Thirty-two percent of respondents who identify as moderate said the same.

Additionally, 14 percent of liberals surveyed said they think Russia is winning the conflict, while 19 percent of conservatives and 15 percent of moderates expressed the same sentiment.

US officials believe it’s unlikely Putin will use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine — but threat has “elevated”

US officials believe that the likelihood Russian President Vladimir Putin will use a tactical nuclear weapon in his struggling war in Ukraine is perhaps the highest it has been since Russia invaded in February — but is still not probable, multiple officials familiar with the latest intelligence tell CNN.

The intelligence community is closely watching for any signs that Putin’s calculus has changed after the Russian President was widely perceived last week to be escalating his past threats to use nuclear weapons.

The threat is certainly “elevated” compared to earlier in the year, according to multiple sources. The US in recent months has been privately warning Russia not to take such a catastrophic step.

But so far, there are no signs that Russia is imminently planning their use and the “general assessment hasn’t changed,” one source familiar with the intelligence stated.

Several US defense officials, who also said they see no indication at this time of Russia moving nuclear weapons around, noted they believe it’s likely the US could detect movement even of smaller tactical warheads.

Officials have long believed that Putin would only turn to a nuclear weapon if there was a threat to his own position, or if he perceived an existential threat to Russia itself — which he may consider a loss in Ukraine to be.

Some Russian military analysts believe that Putin’s mobilization order may in fact decrease the short-term risk he will turn to a battlefield nuke because it will prolong his ability to sustain the conventional war.

The general sense inside the US government is that the threat is higher than before is based primarily on Putin’s rhetoric and analysis of his mindset amid Russian losses in Ukraine, rather than any hard intelligence that Russia is more seriously weighing the nuclear option, according to two sources familiar with the intelligence.

Zelensky calls allies in bid to rally support against Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has sought to rally international support for his country against Russia in a series of calls with foreign leaders, as Moscow looked poised to annex a swath of Ukrainian territory.

Zelensky spoke to the leaders of countries including Canada, Germany, Turkey and the United Kingdom to press demands for more military aid and tougher sanctions on Moscow after what Kyiv and the West denounced as illegal sham referendums in four partially occupied provinces on Ukraine.

“We expect London’s leadership in reaction to Russian sham referenda as well. Defence and financial aid to Ukraine must be enhanced in response,” Zelensky wrote on Twitter after speaking to UK Prime Minister Liz Truss.

He told Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau separately that the world must not bow to Russian “nuclear blackmail”.

“The aggressor must clearly understand all the consequences of his irresponsibility,” Zelensky added.

New EU package of sanctions against Russia will target over 1,300 people and entities

The new package of sanctions against Russia proposed Wednesday by the European Commission will target more than 1,300 people and entities, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated.

“This list targets key decision makers, oligarchs, senior military officials and propagandists, responsible for undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” Borrell said during a news statement in Brussels.

According to Borell, the new sanctions will target “those involved in Russia occupation and illegal annexation of areas of Ukraine,” including “the proxy Russian authorities in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and other Russian individuals who organized and facilitated the sham referenda in these four occupied territories of Ukraine.”

Borrell also noted sanctions would include high ranking officials in the Russian Ministry of Defense — including Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu — and those supporting the Russian Armed Forces by providing army equipment and weapons.

“We also continue to target actors who spread disinformation about the war. In particular, those spreading false information and donating funds to the Russian occupied areas,” Borrell confirmed.

The EU foreign policy chief added that “a lot has been done already” in terms of economic actors but that other non-Russian entities that may be “participating in the circumvention of sanctions” might be targeted too.

Borrell finished by noting that the EU will “extend the geographical scope of the restrictions applying to Crimea, to the Donetsk and Luhansk, that were approved at the beginning of the year. And this will cover all non-governmental control areas of Ukraine, including the oblast of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson which are not part of Donbas and were not part of the previous decisions.”

Ukraine claims Russian mobilization in some regions is sweeping up entire male population in certain age range

The Ukrainian military claims that in some parts of Russia, the entire male population within a certain age range is being included in the partial mobilization ordered by President Vladimir Putin last week.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces announced that the “so-called partial mobilization measures are ongoing in the Russian Federation and parts of the regions of Ukraine temporarily occupied by Russia.”

“In remote settlements of the Russian Federation, the entire male population of a certain age category is subject to mobilization, despite a lack of experience of military service and combat experience,” it said.

The General Staff claimed that there are some cases of parents with many children and men over age 60 being mobilized for military service.

Russian commentators and some regional officials in Russia have complained that the mobilization is poorly organized and has included the drafting of men specifically exempted from the decree.

The General Staff also added that “the lack of readiness to implement mobilization measures was noted at assembly points in the Belgorod and Rostov regions,” both of which are close to the Ukrainian border.

“Thus, newly arrived personnel must purchase winter uniforms and protective equipment at their own expense,” it claimed.

EU warns Russian gas price cap would come with risks

The European Commission has warned EU countries that a broad cap on gas prices could be complex to launch and pose risks to energy security, amid calls from countries for Brussels to step in to tame high fuel prices.

“Establishing the appropriate level for the cap would be a challenging exercise due to internal and global market dynamics and entailing risks from the point of view of security of supply,” the Commission announced in a document analysing various options the EU could consider to curb gas prices, which was shared with EU countries.

The new package of “biting sanctions” proposed by the European Commission against Russia would also “lay the legal basis” for an oil price cap, the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a news statement in Brussels Wednesday.

She added that the oil price cap which was already agreed upon on a G7 country level, “will help reduce Russia’s revenues on one hand and it will keep the global market for energy stable on the other hand.”

“So today in this package here, we are laying the legal basis for this oil price cap,” the EU Commission chief continued.

The EU has already agreed to ban seaborne Russian crude oil starting Dec. 5.

The new package also proposes a ban on providing European services to Russia and the prohibition of EU nationals to sit on governing bodies of Russian state-owned enterprises.

“Russia should not benefit from European knowledge and expertise,” von der Leyen stated.

Finally, the package will propose ways to toughen the bloc’s crackdown on the circumvention of sanctions.

The EU Commission’s new sanctions package is a proposal at this stage and can only be officially adopted at an EU Council level with the approval of all the 27 member states.

US won’t recognise ‘illegal’ Russian annexation of Ukraine territory

The United States has said it will not recognise Russian-annexed areas across Ukraine amid what the White House called “illegal and illegitimate” referendums that were manipulated by Moscow and would be challenged internationally.

“Based on our information, every aspect of this referenda process was pre-staged and orchestrated by the Kremlin,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at a briefing, adding that Washington would rally opposition to recognising the annexed territories, “including at the UN”.

“Regardless of Russia’s claims, this remains Ukrainian territory,” she continued.

The US State Department also called the announcements of pro-Russia forces in Ukraine of the referenda in favor of joining Russia “completely fabricated” and “concocted in Moscow.”

“This is the will of Moscow, not the free will of Ukraine or its people,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price at a briefing with reporters.

Price noted that the US expects Russia to attempt to annex Ukrainian territory based on the “sham referenda.”

“But no matter what President Putin and his enablers try to claim, these areas are and will remain part of Ukraine,” Price continued, adding, “Ukraine has every right to continue to defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity.”

Price also said the State Department will be announcing “additional measures” in response.

“The United States will never recognize Russia’s attempts to annex parts of Ukraine,” Price added.

UK tells Ukraine it will never recognise Russian attempts to annex territory

British Prime Minister Liz Truss has told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the United Kingdom will never recognise Russian attempts to annex its territory, according to a spokesperson for her office.

“The prime minister made clear that the UK would never recognise Russian attempts to annex sovereign territory. She reiterated that Ukraine could depend on the UK’s support until President Putin was defeated,” the spokesperson said following a call between the pair.

The two leaders also discussed how to work together to secure gas supplies in the long term, the spokesperson added.

Moscow says occupied Ukraine regions made ‘free choice’

Moscow’s foreign ministry has announced that Russian-occupied regions in Ukraine made a “conscious and free choice” to join Russia.

“The results of the plebiscites speak for themselves: the people of the Donbas, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions do not want to go back to their old lives and have made a conscious and free choice in favour of Russia,” the ministry said in a statement.

The statement added that an “overwhelming majority” had backed joining Russia, and claimed almost one hundred percent backing in the Donetsk region — “99.23 percent”.

UNSC to meet over Nord Stream leaks on Friday

The United Nations Security Council will meet to discuss the leaks on the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, suspected to be sabotage.

The deputy head of Russia’s UN mission in New York, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said on Telegram that Russia had called for a special session of the UN Security Council that would be held on Friday.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde told a press conference that “the current Security Council president France has informed us today that Russia has requested a meeting about the Nord Stream leaks and this meeting is being planned for Friday”.

Russia pledges imminent action over occupied Ukrainian regions

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced that Moscow will soon take action to meet the aspirations of four occupied regions in Ukraine to become part of Russia, a day after the completion of what Kyiv and the West said were illegal sham referendums.

In a statement, the ministry claimed the votes in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia were held in compliance with international law.

US to sanction Russia following ‘sham’ referendums

The United States is working with allies and partners to quickly impose severe economic costs on Moscow over “sham” referendums held by Russia in occupied regions of Ukraine, according to the US Department of State’s head of sanctions coordination.

“There will be more packages. We are working on more sanctions,” James O’Brien told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Everything is on the table,” he continued, adding that Washington would look to the financial sector and high technology, especially for energy exploitation, and to human rights violators.

Russia probing damage to Nord Stream pipelines as ‘international terrorism’: Report

Russia’s FSB security service is investigating the damage sustained by the Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea as “international terrorism”, the Interfax news agency has cited the general prosecutor’s office as saying.

Germany, Denmark and Sweden announced attacks caused gas from the two Russian-owned pipelines, at the centre of an energy standoff, to pour into the sea. The countries have not said who they suspect of carrying out the attacks.

US announces $1.1bn in new arms aid for Ukraine

The United States has announced a new package of arms and supplies for Ukraine worth $1.1bn for reinforcing Kyiv’s forces over the medium and long term.

It includes 18 more high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), which the Ukrainians have been using effectively since June to hit Russian arms depots and command posts far behind the front lines, according to a US Department of Defense statement.

The package “represents a multi-year investment in critical capabilities to build the enduring strength of Ukraine’s Armed Forces” as they continue to battle the invading Russian army, the Pentagon said.

US dismisses Russia’s hints of blame for gas leak

Russia has questioned whether the US caused undersea gas pipeline leaks in Europe that have been blamed on sabotage, in a turn of the tables that US officials bluntly called “ridiculous”.

President Joe “Biden is obliged to answer the question of whether the US carried out its threat”, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated on social media.

Washington dismissed the suggestion, with a spokeswoman for the National Security Council saying: “We all know Russia has a long history of spreading disinformation and is doing it again here.”

US is sharing information on “apparent sabotage” of Nord Stream pipelines: State Department

The United States is “sharing information that is in our possession regarding these apparent acts of sabotage” on the Nord Stream pipelines, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Wednesday.

Price added they “have more questions than answers at this point” about the leaks in the undersea pipelines, and noted that “an investigation like this, owing to the nature of the investigation underwater for one, could well take time.”

“So we’re going to allow the investigation to play out before we start to lay out theories or hypotheses,” he stated at a State Department briefing. He also declined to say whether sabotage would rise to the level of a breach of NATO Article 5.

Price said the use of the phrase “apparent sabotage” is based on “what we know but primarily what we’re hearing from our European counterparts.”

He added the US has “offered assistance for any environmental response, but we haven’t yet received any such requests for assistance from our Danish partners.”

Finland will “significantly” restrict the right of Russian citizens to enter the country

The government of Finland will “significantly” restrict the right of Russian citizens to enter the country as tourists or as transit when traveling to other parts of the Schengen area, the Finnish government said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Tomorrow, on Thursday 29 September, the Government will adopt a resolution that will significantly restrict the right of Russian citizens to enter Finland as tourists and to use Finland as a transit country when travelling to other parts of the Schengen area, as described in more detail in the resolution,” a statement from the government read.
“In addition, the Government received a briefing on ways to enhance control at the border between Finland and Russia using a border fence,” it added.

Last weekend saw a record number of Russians entering Finland via its land border since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of “partial mobilization” of its citizens, with 16,886 Russians arriving in total over Saturday and Sunday, according to the border guard’s head of international affairs, Matti Pitkaniitty.

He added that of those, many were “in transit to other countries.”

Finland shares an 832-mile (1,340 kilometers) border with Russia.

Norway will strengthen security to protect oil and gas facilities following Nord Stream incident

Norway plans to ramp up security in order to protect its oil and gas facilities following the Nord Stream incident, Norwegian authorities announced Wednesday.

“In the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, the police implemented measures to raise preparedness levels and protect the petroleum industry. These measures will be upheld and strengthened following the explosions which damaged gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea,” the Norwegian police said in a statement.

“The incident in the Baltic Sea gives reason to maintain and strengthen these measures. However, we cannot comment upon the details of the individual measures,” it also said, adding that the situation is “grave” and will be closely monitored.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre noted Wednesday that “there will be increased military presence near the Norwegian oil and gas infrastructure, following the suspected sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines in Swedish and Danish waters,” his office told CNN.

Denmark says more than half of Nord Stream gas has escaped

Denmark has said that more than half of the gas in the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea had leaked into the atmosphere after they were damaged by suspected sabotage.

“A clear majority of the gas has already come out of the pipes,” head of the Danish Energy Agency, Kristoffer Bottzauw, told a press conference.

“We expect the rest to escape by Sunday,” he added.

According to climate groups, Nord Stream 1 and 2 contained some 350,000 tonnes of natural gas.

Fresh EU sanctions will ‘make Kremlin pay’ for escalating war: President of European Commission

The president of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, has proposed a new package of sanctions on Russia designed “to make the Kremlin pay” for escalating the war in Ukraine with what she called “sham” annexation votes in occupied territory.

“We do not accept the sham referenda and any kind of annexation in Ukraine, and we are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation,” Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels.

The proposed eighth sanctions package includes further import bans on Russian products, expected to deprive Moscow of an additional seven billion euros ($6.7bn) in revenues, and more export bans on key technology used for the military such as aviation items, electronic components and specific chemical substances, von der Leyen announced.

Beyond this, the sanctions package will lay the legal basis for an oil price cap and ban EU citizens from sitting on governing bodies of Russian state-owned companies, she stated.

Russia sets up draft offices at border crossings as men continue to flee

Russia has set up draft offices at border crossings, Russian news agencies reported, as long lines of Russians trying to escape being called up to fight in Ukraine continue to clog highways out of the country.

North Ossetia restricted many passenger cars from entering its territory and set up a draft office at the Verkhny Lars border crossing, with some media outlets releasing photos and videos showing a black van with “military enlistment office” written on it.

Another such draft checkpoint was set up in Russia along the Finnish border, according to the independent Russian news outlet Meduza.

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