European Union makes Ukraine a candidate for joining the 27-nation bloc as the Russian military expands its grab of territory in eastern Ukraine on the 120th day of the armed conflict.

The EU has laid out a series of steps for Kiev to take, including on bolstering the rule-of-law and fighting corruption, before it can progress to the next stage entailing accession talks.
The EU has laid out a series of steps for Kiev to take, including on bolstering the rule-of-law and fighting corruption, before it can progress to the next stage entailing accession talks. (Reuters)

Thursday, June 23, 2022

European Union makes Ukraine a candidate for membership

EU leaders have accepted Ukraine and Moldova as membership candidates of the European Union, European Council President Charles Michel has said.

"Agreement. #EUCO has just decided EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova. A historic moment, Michel said in a tweet during a summit in Brussels, referring to the European Council of EU leaders (EUCO).  "Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU," Michel added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the decision as "historic". Ukraine applied for EU membership less than a week after Moscow sent its troops into the country on February 24.

Putin calls on BRICS to cooperate, defy West's 'selfish actions'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on the leaders of Brazil, India, China and South Africa to cooperate in the face of "selfish actions" from the West, as Moscow is pummelled by Western sanctions over Ukraine.

"Only on the basis of honest and mutually beneficial cooperation can we look for ways out of this crisis situation, which developed in the global economy because of the ill-conceived, selfish actions of certain states," Putin said in televised remarks at the BRICS leaders virtual summit, referring to Western sanctions on Russia.

"We are convinced that now, more than ever, the leadership of BRICS countries is needed to develop a unifying, positive course towards the formation of a truly multipolar system of inter-government relations," Putin said.

China's Xi criticises 'abuse' of sanctions at BRICS meeting

Chinese President Xi Jinping has criticised what he termed the abuse of international sanctions, calling on Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa to rise to their responsibilities in the world.

"Our meeting today comes at a crucial moment of choice for the future of humanity: as key emerging markets and developing countries, BRICS countries must rise to our responsibility," Xi said through a translator. The BRICS countries comprise Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

"We have enhanced unity and coordination," he said. "We must abandon Cold War mentality and block confrontation and oppose unilateral sanctions - and the abuse of sanctions," Xi said. "The global economic recovery remains a tortuous process while peace and security become more salient problems."

Ukrainian troops may pull back from Lysychansk: Governor

Ukrainian troops may need to pull back from the key frontline city of Lysychansk to avoid being encircled after Russian forces captured two villages to its south, regional governor Sergei Gaidai has said.

The retreat of Ukrainian troops from Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk, the last two Ukrainian-held cities in Luhansk, would bring Moscow closer to one of its key aims of capturing all of that region. Divided by a river, the cities have become a key battleground.

Meanwhile, authorities have cautioned over the "extremely dangerous" situation in Donetsk, with regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko saying that no town in the region of Donetsk is safe for residents.

Ukraine begins first trial of Russian soldier charged with rape

Ukraine has held a preliminary hearing in its first trial of a Russian soldier charged with raping a Ukrainian woman during Russia's offensive, the first of what could be dozens of such cases.

The suspect, Mikhail Romanov, 32, who is not in Ukrainian custody and will be tried in absentia, is accused of murdering a civilian in the Kiev capital region on March 9 and repeatedly raping the man's wife, according to court files.

Russia's Defence Ministry did not respond to a written request for comment. Moscow has denied allegations of war crimes.

Ukraine, in symbolic move, files European court case against Russia

Ukraine, in a symbolic move, says it has formally filed a case against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights to end "the mass and gross human rights violations" by Moscow's forces.

The bid has no chance of substantive success, given that on June 7 the Russian parliament approved two bills ending the court's jurisdiction in Russia. Moscow has denied allegations by Ukraine and Western governments of human rights violations.

A Ukrainian justice ministry statement said Russia's offensive against Ukraine was illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Officials: US to send rocket systems, other aid to Ukraine

The US will send another $450 million in military aid to Ukraine, including some additional medium-range rocket systems, US officials have said.

The latest package will include a number of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, and is expected to be announced later Thursday. The initial four HIMARS that the US sent have already gone into Ukraine. The package will also include ammunition and other supplies.

The new aid comes just a week after the US announced it will send $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine, and as the Russian military continues to slowly expand its control in the eastern Donbass region.

Russia to create investment accounts for frozen assets

Russia will change the law to let private investors open a second special account where they can keep their shares and financial assets that have been frozen due to sanctions, a top government official has said.

Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Moiseev did not spell out the reasons for the change, but such a move could free up space in investors' original accounts for assets unencumbered by Western sanctions imposed over the conflict in Ukraine.

Around 6 trillion roubles ($110 billion) of foreign shares held by Russians have been frozen as a result of Western sanctions and Russia's own authorities and platforms restricting trading in foreign assets, the central bank's first deputy governor Vladimir Chistyukhin has estimated.

Russia says repaid dollar debt in rubles amid default fears

Russia has made two interest payments on dollar-denominated debt in roubles, the country's finance ministry has said, as Moscow faces the risk of an external debt default.

"Funds for the payment of coupons on external bonds of the Russian Federation maturing in 2027 and 2047 in the total amount of 12.51 billion roubles (the equivalent of £234.85 million) have been received by the National Settlement Depository (NSD) eurobond payment agency," the ministry said in a statement.

"Thus, the obligations...of the Russian Federation are fulfilled in full by Russia's finance ministry," it added. The ministry said that it is using a new temporary payment system which came into force on June 22, after sanctions imposed over Ukraine made it difficult for Moscow to service its foreign debt.

Peace plan on Ukraine only possible if Kiev meets Moscow's conditions: Kremlin

A "peace plan on Ukraine" is possible if Kiev meets all of Russia's conditions, the Kremlin has said.

At a news conference in Moscow, spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was asked what conditions Ukraine had to meet, to which he replied: "Ukraine understands all perfectly well."

In response to Kiev's allegations of "grain theft from Ukraine," Peskov stressed that Russia, "did not steal any grain."

One French diplomat asked to leave Russia: French foreign ministry

Moscow has informed the French Ambassador in Russia that one of France's diplomatic staffers was no longer welcome in Russia, a spokesperson of the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We regret this unjustified decision", the ministry added, when asked to confirm whether the cultural attache to the French Embassy in Moscow had been asked to leave the country.

Russia, Belarus need urgent improvements to defence capabilities: Shoigu

Russia and Belarus must take urgent joint measures to improve their defence capabilities and troops' combat readiness in the current circumstances, Russian news agencies have quoted Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying.

"Circumstances dictate the need to take urgent joint measures on strengthening the defence capabilities of the union state, increase the combat readiness of troop groupings and the unified regional air defence system," Interfax quoted Shoigu as telling his Belarusian counterpart in Moscow.

Frustrated Balkans warn Ukraine over EU 'illusions'

Angry Balkan leaders have lashed out at the European Union over their stalled bids to join, as the push for Ukraine's candidacy highlighted the region's failure to make progress.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama hailed Kiev potentially joining his country as a candidate for European Union membership but warned against any unreasonable hopes for a speedy process.

"North Macedonia is a candidate for 17 years if I have not lost count, Albania since eight, so welcome to Ukraine," Rama said at an EU summit with western Balkan countries. "It's a good thing to give Ukraine the status. But I hope that Ukrainian people will not make many illusions."

Ukraine 'waiting for green light' on EU candidacy: Presidency

Ukraine has said it is "waiting for the green light" to receive EU candidacy status as European leaders meet in Brussels to discuss Kiev's future, four months into the Russian offensive.

"We are waiting for the green light, Ukraine has earned candidate status," the head of the Ukrainian presidency Andriy Yermak said on Telegram. He added that Ukraine's goal is "full membership in the EU" and called the EU summit "historic".

Ukraine has demanded that its candidacy status should be pushed forward since Moscow sent troops into the country in late February, with fighting raging especially in the east of the country. Ukraine had a pro-EU revolution in 2014 that overthrew a Moscow-backed government.

Ukraine says Russia captures Donbass villages around Sievierodonetsk

Ukraine has said its troops lost control over two settlements in the eastern Donbass region where it is fighting fiercely to retain control of the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.

"We lost control over Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka," said the Luhansk regional governor, Sergiy Gaiday, referring to two hamlets south east of Lysychansk. Their capture puts Russian troops deeper in the Donbass region where they appear closer to encircling the two urban hubs  separated by the Donets river.

Gaiday added that Russian forces were working to capture Sievierodonetsk, an industrial town that had a population of around 100,000 before fighting began.

Pro-Russian separatists say resistance in key Ukrainian cities 'futile'

The resistance of Ukrainian forces defending the twin cities of Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk — the site of fierce weeks-long fighting —  is "futile", a representative of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine has told AFP news agency.

"Their resistance is pointless and futile. I think that at the rate our soldiers are going, very soon the whole territory of the Luhansk People's Republic will be liberated," said Andrei Marochko, a spokesperson for the army of Luhansk, a pro-Russian breakaway region in eastern Ukraine.

According to Marochko, Lysychansk is practically surrounded as Russian forces and their separatist allies are now controlling the main supply route to the city. Marochko said Ukrainian soldiers in Lysychansk and and Sievierodonetsk must retreat, or risk being killed or captured.

Missiles hit Ukraine's southern port city of Mykolaiv: Ukrainian military

Three cruise missiles have hit Ukraine's southern port city of Mykolaiv, while air defences shot down another two missiles near the southern city of Odessa, the Ukrainian armed forces have said in a statement. It said one civilian was wounded in the strikes on Mykolaiv.

EU police identify traffickers targeting Ukrainian refugees

The EU's police agency Europol says it has identified nine suspected human traffickers targeting Ukrainian refugees online, as fears mount that vulnerable people fleeing the country could be preyed upon.

More than 90 investigators from 14 EU countries joined forces in a "day of action" led by the Netherlands on May 23. They found nine potential victims and nearly 42 suspicious online platforms.

The investigators looked into posts offering refugees help with transport, accommodation and jobs — some described as "photo shoots". They monitored dating and recruitment sites, as well as platforms offering sexual services.

Ukraine defence minister welcomes arrival of US rocket systems

High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) from the United States have arrived in Ukraine, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov has said.

"Thank you to my US colleague and friend Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for these powerful tools! Summer will be hot for Russian occupiers. And the last one for some of them," he said on Twitter.

Kremlin dismisses German gas complaints as 'strange'

The Kremlin has said it is "strange" that Germany considers the reduction of its gas supplies from Russia as political payback for Berlin's opposition to the conflict in Ukraine.

Russia's energy giant Gazprom last week slashed gas deliveries to Germany, citing a delay in repairs. Berlin called the move an "economic attack".

"If a turbine needs to be serviced or returned to its place after repairs but it's not returned...everything is clear here, there is no double meaning," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "Our German partners are well aware of the technological servicing cycles of a it's strange to call it politics."

Nike to fully exit Russia, will scale down over coming months

US sportswear maker Nike is making a full exit from Russia, three months after suspending its operations there, the company has said in an emailed statement.

Nike said on March 3 it would temporarily suspend operations at all its Nike-owned and -operated stores in Russia in response to Moscow's actions in Ukraine, adding that those still open were operated by independent partners.

On Thursday, it joined other major Western brands like McDonald's and Google in confirming it will leave the country completely.

NIKE has made the decision to leave the Russian marketplace. Our priority is to ensure we are fully supporting our employees while we responsibly scale down our operations over the coming months

NIKE statement

EU debates Ukraine candidacy, as Russia hits heavily in east

EU leaders will gather in Brussels to discuss calls to formally grant Ukraine "candidate status" to join the bloc, as Russian forces slowly advance in the eastern Donbass region despite fierce resistance from Kiev's military.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he had been conducting a "telephone marathon" on his country's behalf in the run-up to the meeting, making his case to 11 European leaders on Wednesday alone.

"We are preparing for the historic decision of the European Council. There are only a few hours remaining before it," he said in his daily address.

Ukraine, Moldova candidacies 'decisive moment' for EU

EU chief Charles Michel said he expected the bloc's leaders to take the "historic" decision to grant candidate status to Ukraine and its neighbour Moldova. 

"This is a decisive moment for the European Union, this is also a geopolitical choice that we will make today. And I'm confident that today, we will grant the candidate status to Ukraine and to Moldova," he told journalists ahead of an EU summit. 

Key Ukrainian city under 'massive' Russian bombardment

Heavy Russian bombardment of Ukraine's battleground eastern Luhansk region and key city Sievierodonetsk has been "hell" for soldiers there, Kiev said, while insisting that defenders would hold on "as long as necessary".

Moscow's troops have been pummelling eastern Ukraine for weeks and are slowly advancing, despite fierce resistance from the outgunned Ukrainian military.

With President Vladimir Putin's forces tightening their grip on the strategically important city of Sievierodonetsk in the Donbass, its twin city of Lysychansk is now coming under heavier bombardment.

Russian gas flows to Europe via Nord Stream, Ukraine stable

Russian gas flows to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline and through Ukraine were stable, while reverse flows on the Yamal pipeline edged up, operator data showed.

Physical flows to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline across the Baltic Sea stood at 29,236,731 kilowatt hours per hour (kWh/h), unchanged form the previous day, operator company information showed. 

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline will undergo regular annual maintenance from July 11 to July 21, when there are usually no flows. 

Russian gas threat revives German nuclear power debate

Germany should extend the lifetime of its nuclear plants to avoid an "extreme scenario" in which a Russian gas stop could wipe 12 percent off the economy, a government advisor said.

Prolonging the operational lifetime of Germany's remaining reactors could "create some breathing space", Veronika Grimm, a member of the government's council of economic advisors, told the Funke media group.

Germany turned its back on nuclear energy following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, with its last three plants set to go offline at the end of the year. 

EU bans Russian lobbying from its institutions

The European Union's major institutions have banned lobbyists working for Russian interests from their premises in the latest measure against Moscow over the offensive in Ukraine, officials said.

The 705-member European Parliament made the move already in early June and the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, as well as the Council, which represents member states, have followed suit.

"We have been instructed that we should no longer receive people who represent a Russian interest," an EU official said on Thursday shortly before the start of an EU summit on aid to Ukraine. 

Russian TV protester caught in 'information war'

When Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova stormed a live TV broadcast to denounce the offensive in Ukraine, she expected a backlash from Russia — but not so much from the rest of the world. 

Three months later, now living in exile, Ovsyannikova, 43, is afraid to return to Russia and her two children, 11 and 17, for fear of being thrown straight in jail.

But she is also facing an increasingly hostile response from Ukraine and the West, with critics accusing her of being a spy still embedded in the Russian propaganda machine. 

Two Britons, Moroccan facing death penalty in Donetsk preparing appeal

Two Britons and a Moroccan who were captured while fighting for Ukraine and sentenced to death by a court in the self-proclaimed breakaway Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) are preparing to appeal, the TASS news agency cited one of their lawyers as saying.

The court in DPR, one of Russia's proxies in eastern Ukraine, found the three men - Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner and Moroccan Brahim Saadoun - guilty of "mercenary activities and committing actions aimed at seizing power and overthrowing the constitutional order of the DPR".

Ukraine crisis sounds alarm for humanity — China

The conflict in Ukraine has “sounded an alarm for humanity,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping said, as China continues to assume a position of neutrality while backing its ally Russia.

“The Ukraine crisis has again sounded the alarm for humanity. Countries will surely end up in security hardships if they place blind faith in their positions of strength, expand military alliances, and seek their own safety at the expense of others," the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Xi as saying.

In other comments, Xi said imposing sanctions could act as a “boomerang” and a “double-edged sword,” and that the global community would suffer from “politicising, mechanising and weaponising” global economic trends and financial flows.

For live updates from Wednesday (June 22), click here

Source: TRTWorld and agencies