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Live blog: Ukraine eyes $15B support after IMF talks

Monday, February 20, 2023

Ukraine is hoping to clinch a multi-year support programme of at least $15 billion, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has announced after meeting the head of the International Monetary Fund.

IMF Director General Kristalina Georgieva arrived in Kiev on the same day the city also hosted US President Joe Biden, who offered support to Ukraine before the first anniversary of Russia’s offensive in the country.

“We have clinched success in carrying out a monitoring programme, including the implementation of all structural indicators,” Shmyhal wrote on his Telegram account.

“We are looking for the launch of a new multi-year support programme valued at more than $15 billion.”

Shmyhal said the programme would be made up of two parts – immediate financial assistance and support for structural reforms to underpin efforts at post-conflict rebuilding.

1900 GMT No clarity on neutrality, no Olympics for Russia: Nations

The governments of 34 nations have released a statement calling on the IOC to clarify the definition of “neutrality” as it seeks a way to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes back into international sports and, ultimately, next year’s Paris Olympics.

“As long as these fundamental issues and the substantial lack of clarity and concrete detail on a workable ‘neutrality’ model are not addressed, we do not agree that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed back into competition,” read the statement.

The statement was the product of a February 10 summit in London between government leaders, in which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian athletes had no place at the Paris Games as long as the country’s attack in Ukraine continues.

1746 GMT Russian banks’ profits reached 258 billion roubles in January

Russian banks’ profits have totalled $3.38 billion (258 billion roubles) in January, 1.5 times higher than in the same month of 2022, Russia’s central bank has said.

Alexander Danilov, director of the central bank’s banking regulation and analytics department, said last month that Russian banks’ profits could exceed 1 trillion roubles in 2023.

Banks’ corporate credit portfolio shrank by 140 billion roubles in January, while their forex portfolio grew by 0.3 percent, the Bank of Russia said.

1655 GMT Moscow downplays significance of Biden’s visit to Kiev

Russian officials and state media have downplayed President Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine, painting Kiev as a US puppet and maintaining Moscow’s forces will prevail despite Washington’s pledges to send more weapons to Ukraine.

Russian state television covered the visit extensively, with anchors saying that it was clear that Biden “runs things” in Ukraine, which fits into the Kremlin’s narrative that Zelesnkyy’s government is a stooge of the US administration.

A Russian-backed official in the occupied Zaporizhzhia region, Vladimir Rogov, was quoted by Russia’s state news RIA Novosti news agency as saying that Zelenskyy “looked like a servant next to Biden.”

1626 GMT Russian economy contracts by 2.1% in 2022: Rosstat

The Russian economy has contracted by 2.1 percent last year, the government’s statistics agency Rosstat has said, absorbing Western sanctions over Moscow’s military offensive in Ukraine better than expected.

“The 2.1 percent contraction in Russian GDP in 2022 was smaller than expected and is consistent with an expansion in the fourth quarter, providing further evidence to suggest that the economy stabilised after the initial hit from sanctions in the second quarter,” said Liam Peach at Capital Economics.

“Even so, momentum in Russia’s economy remains weak and, with headwinds to activity building, it’s likely to take until late this year before Russia embarks on a sustained recovery,” he added.

1604 GMT EU needs to crack down on Russian sanctions evasion: Dutch minister 

The European Union should use its full economic and legal force to punish those who enable the evasion of sanctions against Russia, Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra has said.

At a speech at the College of Europe in Bruges, Hoekstra said the EU should use its collective economic strength and criminal justice systems to prevent the measures being circumvented. “By naming, shaming, sanctioning and prosecuting them,” he said.

The EU should set up a “sanctions headquarters” in Brussels where countries can pool their information and resources in the fight against such evasion, the Dutch minister said.

1540 GMT US to provide Ukraine $460M in security aid, including HIMARS ammo

The United States will provide Ukraine with HIMARS rocket systems ammunition and Javelin anti-armour systems as part of a new security assistance package valued at up to $460 million, the Pentagon has said.

1543 GMT China, Hungary ready to cooperate over ending Ukraine conflict

China and Hungary are ready to cooperate with “peace-loving nations” to end the Ukraine war, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said in Budapest amid tensions over US allegations that Beijing is considering arming Russia in its war against Ukraine. Beijing has rejected the accusations.

“China and Hungary are happy to work together with other peace-loving countries to end the current war as soon as possible,” Wang Yi said, according to an official translation.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said he welcomed the Chinese position, which sought to “establish peace as soon as possible.”

1422 GMT US notified Russia about Biden’s Ukraine visit ‘hours before:’ top aide

The United States gave a heads up to Moscow “hours” ahead of Biden’s “risky” surprise trip to Kiev to avoid any chance of conflict, a senior White House aide has said.

“We did notify the Russians that President Biden will be travelling to Kiev. We did so some hours before his departure for deconfliction purposes,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who accompanied the president on the trip, told reporters.

“Because of the sensitive nature of those communications, I won’t get into how they responded or what the precise nature of our message was,” he continued.

1450 GMT Threat from Russia increased: Sweden

Russia poses a clear military threat in Sweden’s immediate area but its forces are largely tied up in the war in Ukraine, the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST) has said.

“The European Security Order as we know it has ceased to exist…and with that the risks for Swedish security have also increased,” Lena Hallin, head of MUST, told a news conference.

Hallin also said she expected Russia to strengthen its military capability in Sweden’s immediate area when it was possible, in response to Sweden and Finland applying for NATO membership.

1351 GMT Ukrainian president fears World War III if China supports Russia

Zelenskyy has said he contacted the Chinese leadership and “asked them not to provide any support to Russia” in its war against Ukraine.

“My hope is that the government in Beijing will maintain a pragmatic attitude, otherwise we risk World War III – we are all aware of that,” Zelenskyy said in an interview with Italian daily la Repubblica. Ukraine has always had an “excellent relationship with China” and it is “in everyone’s interest not to worsen it,” he added.

While China is considered among Russia’s key supporters, it has not yet provided military support to Moscow. The US, however, maintains that China could soon supply weapons.

1036 GMT Biden announces more military aid for Ukraine during Kiev visit

Biden has promised increased arms deliveries for Ukraine during a surprise visit to Kiev in which he also vowed Washington’s “unflagging commitment” in defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

“I will announce another delivery of critical equipment, including artillery ammunition, anti-armour systems and air surveillance radars to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardments,” Biden was quoted as saying in a White House statement.

Biden met with Zelenskyy shortly after arriving in the country’s capital.

The Ukraine visit comes at a crucial moment in the war as Biden looks to keep allies unified in their support for Ukraine as the war with Russia is expected to intensify with both sides preparing for spring offensives.

Zelenskyy is pressing allies to speed up delivery of pledged weapon systems and is calling on the West to deliver fighter jets to Ukraine — something that Biden to date has declined to do.

During the visit Biden announced an additional half-billion dollars in US assistance, including shells for howitzers, anti-tank missiles, air surv eillance radars and other aid but no new advanced weaponry.

Biden also got a short firsthand taste of the terror that Ukrainians have lived with for close to a year, as air raids sirens howled over the capital just as he and Zelenskyy were exiting the gold-domed St. Michael’s Cathedral, which they visited together.

0959 GMT — EU warns China supplying Russia arms would be ‘red line’

The EU’s foreign policy chief has warned China against providing Russia weapons for its war on Ukraine, after Beijing dismissed US allegations that it was considering sending arms.

Josep Borrell said he told China’s top diplomat Wang Yi at a meeting over the weekend that “for us, it would be a red line in our relationship.”

“He told me that they are not going to do it, that they don’t plan to do it. But we will remain vigilant,” Borrell told journalists ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

0936 GMT — Air-raid alert issued across Ukraine

Ukrainian authorities have issued an air-raid alert across the entire country.

Officials in the capital Kiev have warned in recent days of a heightened risk of attacks by Russia. There were no immediate reports of new missile or drone strikes. 

0918 GMT — Delivering ammunition to Ukraine could determine outcome of war: Borrell

The European Union needs to ensure that Ukraine has enough ammunition to continue its fight against Russia, the EU’s top diplomat has said.

“It is the most urgent issue. If we fail on that, the result of the war is in danger,” Borrell said before a meeting with foreign affairs ministers from the EU countries in Brussels.

“The Russian artillery shoots about 50,000 shots a day, and Ukraine needs to be at the same level of capacity. They have cannons but they lack ammunition.” 

0833 GMT — Beijing slams US claims that China may arm Russia

Beijing has lashed out against what it said were “false” claims by the United States that China is considering arming Russia in its war against Ukraine.

“It is the United States and not China that is endlessly shipping weapons to the battlefield,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said when asked about the US claims.

“We urge the United States to earnestly reflect on its own actions, and do more to alleviate the situation, promote peace and dialogue, and stop shifting blame and spreading false information.”

0010 GMT — Russia hit by ‘significant’ losses in Ukraine’s east: Zelenskyy

Ukraine’s military is inflicting “extraordinarily significant” losses on Russian forces near the town of Vuhledar in the eastern Donbass region, Zelenskyy has said.

“The situation is very complicated. And we are fighting. We are breaking down the invaders and inflicting extraordinarily significant losses on Russia,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

Zelenskiy referred to several towns in Donbass, where fighting has been focused for months, saying “the more losses Russia suffers there, in Donbass – in Bakhmut, Vuhledar, Marinka, Kreminna – the faster we will be able to end this war with Ukraine’s victory”.

In an interview published on Sunday, Zelenskyy said that Ukraine would maintain its months-long defence of the eastern city of Bakhmut, mindful of the price paid in human lives.

Zelenskiy was quoted in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera as debate rages over whether Kiev’s outnumbered forces should remain in the eastern Ukraine city, which Russian shelling has all but destroyed.

Bakhmut, in the frontline Donetsk region, had a pre-war population of 70,000 but now Ukrainian officials estimate fewer than 5,000 civilians remain.

“Yes, it is not a particularly big town. In fact, like many others in Donbass, (it’s been) devastated by the Russians. It is important for us to defend it, but not at any price and not for everyone to die,” Zelenskiy told the daily.

2345 GMT — Russia says its army hits deployment point of UAVs in Ukraine’s Khmelnytskyi region

The Russian military has hit the deployment point of the 383rd regiment of unmanned aerial vehicles of the armed forces of Ukraine in the western Khmelnytskyi region, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

“Russian army also hit an artillery ammunition depot near the Grechany railway station with strikes from long-range precision missiles,” Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters in Moscow, according to the state-owned TASS news agency.

Russian air defence systems destroyed six Ukrainian drones over the past day in some settlements in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson regions in Ukraine, he said.

According to Konashenkov, since the beginning of its “special military operation” in Ukraine, the Russian army destroyed 385 aircraft, 208 helicopters, 3,132 unmanned aerial vehicles, 404 anti-aircraft missile systems, 7,875 tanks and other armoured combat vehicles, 1,020 multiple rocket launcher combat vehicles, 4,101 field artillery and mortars, as well as 8,388 special military vehicles.

2330 GMT — US says China mulling arming Russia in Ukraine war

The United States has accused China of considering arming Russia in its war against Ukraine, ratcheting up tensions as the conflict hits its one-year mark this week.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken levelled the allegations as US-Chinese relations have been further tested by Washington’s shooting down this month of what it said was a large Chinese spy balloon.

The European Union also sounded the alarm over munitions in the Ukraine conflict — saying that severe ammunition shortages facing Ukrainian forces had to be overcome within weeks.

Blinken told CBS that China was now “considering providing lethal support” to Moscow ranging “from ammunition to the weapons themselves.”

“We’ve made very clear to them that that would cause a serious problem for us and in our relationship,” he added.

For our live updates from Sunday (February 19), click here

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