The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, April 29. Click here for updates from April 28.
Ukraine Cracks Down on Anyone Suspected of Aiding Russian Troops
Ukrainian authorities are cracking down on anyone suspected of aiding Russian troops under laws enacted by Ukraine’s parliament and signed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after the Feb. 24 invasion.
Offenders face up to 15 years in prison for acts of collaborating with the invaders or showing public support for them.
Not all Ukrainians oppose the invasion, and pro-Moscow sentiment is more common among Russian-speaking residents of the Donbas, an industrial region in the east.
Although the Zelenskyy government has broad support, even among many Russian speakers, not all Ukrainians oppose the invasion. Support for Moscow is more common among some Russian-speaking residents of the Donbas, an industrial region in the east. An eight-year conflict there between Moscow-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces had killed over 14,000 people even before this year’s invasion.
Some businessmen, civic and state officials and members of the military are among those who have gone over to the Russian side, and Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigations said more than 200 criminal cases on collaboration have been opened. Zelenskyy has even stripped two SBU generals of their rank, accusing them of treason.
A “registry of collaborators” is being compiled and will be released to the public, said Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s Security Council. He refused to say how many people have been targeted nationwide.
With martial law in place, authorities have banned 11 pro-Russian political parties, including the largest one that had 25 seats in the 450-member parliament–the Opposition Platform For Life, which was founded by Viktor Medvedchuk, a jailed oligarch with close ties to Putin.
Biden Government Is Running Out of Cash for Ukraine
The U.S. government needs Congress to approve its $33 billion request as soon as possible because it only has $250 million remaining from the previous package of assistance for Ukraine, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki has said.
U.S. President Joe Biden signed the request on Thursday. He admitted that $33 billion “is not cheap” but claimed that “caving to aggression is going to be more costly.”
During a press briefing on the same day, Psaki was asked what the deadline was for when the government “absolutely needs” the new funding. She responded that the “need is urgent, as is the need for COVID funding is urgent.”
“As you know, we had $3.5 billion in military security assistance. We have about $250 million of that left in drawdown. So, obviously, we will work to expedite that and provide that to the Ukrainians,” the spokeswoman said.
She emphasized that to provide Kyiv with “the weapons they need, the artillery they need, the equipment they need,” getting new funding was “certainly urgent.”
NATO Scrambles Jets After ‘Unidentified’ Aircraft Detected
NATO announced it scrambled fighter jets over both the Black and Baltic seas due to Russian aircraft flying near the military alliance’s airspace.
Over the past four days, NATO jets were scrambled several times in the two regions, the military alliance confirmed in a statement on Friday, to track and intercept the planes. The alliance said those aircraft belonged to the Russian military, although the models of the planes were not provided.
“NATO radars tracked a number of unidentified aircraft over the Baltic and Black Seas since April 26,” it said, adding that its air response team launched fighter jets “in their respective regions to intercept and identify the approaching aircraft.”
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More EU Nations Reject Moscow’s Gas-Supply Terms
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on Friday that Prague has no plans to pay for Russian gas deliveries in rubles, as demanded by Moscow.
He was quoted by media after speaking at a joint press conference with his Polish counterpart, saying: “As for the ruble payment, the Czech Republic does not intend to give in to Russia’s blackmail. Other countries that agree to this are making a mistake. It is a violation of sanctions. It is dangerous.”
Danish energy group Orsted has also signaled it has no intention of paying for gas supply in the Russian currency. The company’s CEO Mads Nipper explained to Market Wire: “This is because we are devastated over what happens [in Ukraine] and refuse to give in to unilateral demands from Russia and Gazprom.”
Orsted has a long-term gas supply contract with Gazprom for annual deliveries of up to two billion cubic meters, which runs from 2011 to 2030.
Meanwhile, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjarto said at a press conference, recorded Friday on his social media account, that some European companies that import natural gas from Russia have agreed to Moscow’s payment scheme, but they do not talk about it honestly.
Szijjarto explained that in order to buy gas, importing companies, and not countries, should open two accounts with Gazprombank, one in euros or dollars and another one in rubles.
“And we will do it, like others, I would like to emphasize, like others … it is not true that others have refused this, they simply do not talk about it so honestly for various reasons, and the international liberal media support them in that,” he said, adding, “We are open about this issue.”
US Comments on Chemical Attack Accusations Against Russia
The United States has not been able to verify reports of the alleged use of chemical weapons by Russian forces in Ukraine but is “very, very much focused” on the matter, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) asked Blinken to provide an update on the government’s recent claims that chemical weapons may have been used by Russia. Noting that it might be more appropriate to discuss this issue “in a different setting,” Blinken underlined that the US government is looking at the matter “very, very carefully.”
“I don’t believe that we’ve been able to verify that use, but I want to come back to you,” he told Kinzinger.
He added that there are different kinds of chemical agents that could have been used, “including riot-control agents that would be prohibited.”
“But in terms of the use of chemical weapons, I think what I can say here is that we have not yet verified the use but it is something we are very, very much focused on,” Blinken stressed.
Two weeks ago, Blinken said the government “had credible information” that Russian forces may use “a variety of riot-control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents” in “the aggressive campaign to take Mariupol.”
Mariupol Mayor: Conditions Dire at Steel Mill
The mayor of the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol says those hiding at a massive steel mill are running out of food, water, and medicine.
Vadym Boichenko described the situation at the Avozstal steel plant as dire. The steel mill is the last position held by Azov fighters.
Boichenko said he hoped a cease-fire would allow those inside the steel mill to safely leave. Russia earlier offered a truce that was rejected by Ukrainians, who claimed Moscow previously broke other agreements.
Russia Makes Last-Gasp Dollar Bond Payments in Bid to Avoid Default
Russia made what appeared to be a late U-turn to avoid a default on Friday, as it made a number of already-overdue international debt payments in dollars despite previously vowing they would only be paid in rubles.
Whether the money would make it to the United States and other Western countries that sanctioned Russia was still not clear, but it represented another major twist in the game of financial chicken that has developed about a possible default.
Russia’s finance ministry said it had managed to pay $564.8 million on a 2022 Eurobond and $84.4 million on a 2042 bond in dollars—the currency specified on the bonds.
The ministry said it had channeled the required funds to the London branch of Citibank, one of the so-called paying agents of the bonds whose job is to disburse them to the investors that originally lent the money to Moscow.
Russia has not had a default of any kind since a financial crash in 1998 and has not seen a major international or external market default since the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.
The risk of another one though is now a flashpoint in the economic tussle with Western countries which have blanketed Russia with sanctions in response to its actions in Ukraine that Moscow has termed a “special military operation.”
The bonds were originally supposed to be paid earlier this month but an extra 30-day ‘grace period’ that government bonds often have in their terms meant Moscow’s final deadline was on May 4.
Russia Cuts Interest Rate
Russia’s central bank cut its key interest rate on Friday, saying that it saw room for further decrease this year, as the regulator tries to tackle soaring inflation and support the country’s shrinking economy.
The Central Bank of Russia lowered the key rate to 14 percent from 17 percent as it looks to mitigate the impact of international economic sanctions introduced against the nation over the military operation in Ukraine.
The ruble’s rebound from sharp losses in the days immediately following Feb. 24 had slowed the surge in consumer prices during the subsequent weeks, the regulator said in a statement announcing the reduction.
“The external environment for the Russian economy remains challenging and significantly constrains economic activity,” the Bank of Russia said.
“With price and financial stability risks no longer on the rise, conditions have allowed for the key rate reduction,” the regulator added.
Putin, Zelenskyy to Be at G20 Meet, Says Host
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo says that both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to attend the G20 summit to be held in Bali in November.
Widodo, the current chair of the G20 group, made the remarks in a televised statement on Friday in which he said that he had telephone conversations this week with Zelenskyy and Putin. He said he urged both leaders of Ukraine and Russia to end the war through negotiations.
“I reiterated the importance of ending the war immediately,” he said. “I also emphasized that peaceful efforts should continue and Indonesia is ready to contribute to these peaceful efforts.”
He said that he invited Putin and Zelenskyy to the G20 summit as the war in Ukraine has had a major impact on the global economy.
“We understand that the G20 plays the catalyst role in the recovery of the global economy,” Widodo said.
Widodo said that he has rejected the Ukrainian leader’s request for arms but instead will send humanitarian aid.
“The mandate of Indonesia’s constitution and the principles of our foreign policy prohibit us from providing arms assistance to other countries,” Widodo said. “However, we are ready to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine.”
Spanish Ship in Poland With Arms for Ukraine
The Spanish government said Friday that its largest shipment of military equipment to Ukraine so far is on track for delivery after a ship carrying 200 tons of material has docked at a port in Poland.
Spain’s defense ministry confirmed the ship’s arrival in Poland. Spanish newspaper El País, citing Polish port authorities, said the vessel had docked at the port of Gdynia, where the material would be unloaded and transported some 700 kilometers (435 miles) to a logistics base in Ukraine.
The shipment includes 30 trucks, several special heavy transport vehicles, and 10 smaller vehicles that will be used to transfer the military material to Ukraine, according to Spain’s prime minister.
The shipment to Ukraine on the Spanish ship Ysabel, a 149-meter (489 feet) vessel, was announced last week by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez during a visit to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “This is the largest shipment made up to now, more than doubling what we have sent so far,” he added.
Prior to the shipment on the Ysabel, Spain had sent 1,370 anti-tank grenade launchers, 700,000 machine-gun cartridges as well as an armored ambulance and medical material to Ukraine.
Poland Seizes Russian Gas Assets
Warsaw has obliged the Polish subsidiary of the Russian energy giant Novatek to transfer its gas infrastructure to the nation’s state companies, Government Spokesperson Piotr Müller said on Friday. Novatek, which is on Poland’s sanctions list, on Thursday stopped gas supplies to some of the country’s regions.
“Today Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki requested state companies PGNiG, PSG and Gaz-System to immediately supply gas to grids formally owned by Novatek, on the basis of the crisis management law,” Müller said.
He added that by the order of the prime minister, Novatek’s subsidiary Novatek Green Energy is obliged to transfer the networks to those companies, which will then supply gas to the cut-off municipalities.
NATO Plans Troop Exercises to Deter Russia
Tens of thousands of troops from NATO and other north Atlantic nations will take part in a series of military exercises across Europe in the coming weeks as western countries seek to deter Russia.
The exercises, backed by aircraft, tanks, artillery, and armored assault vehicles, will take place in Finland, Poland, North Macedonia, and along the Estonian–Latvian border. They will include troops from NATO and the Joint Expeditionary Force, which includes non-NATO members Finland and Sweden.
The deployments will begin this week in Finland, where troops from the United States, Britain, Estonia, and Latvia will participate in Exercise Arrow to improve their ability to work alongside Finnish forces.
Also this week, some 4,500 troops will take part in Exercise Swift Response, which will include parachute drops and helicopter-borne assaults in North Macedonia. The operation will include forces from the United States, Britain, Albania, France, and Italy.
Next month, 18,000 NATO troops, including forces from Britain, France, and Denmark, will take part in Exercise Hedgehog along the Estonia–Latvia border.
In late May, about 1,000 British soldiers will join troops from 11 other nations for Exercise Defender in Poland.
“The security of Europe has never been more important,” U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said. “These exercises will see our troops join forces with allies and partners across NATO and the Joint Expeditionary Force in a show of solidarity and strength in one of the largest shared deployments since the Cold War.”
Journalist Killed by Russian Strike on Kyiv
The U.S.-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty says one of its journalists was killed by a Russian missile strike on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, Thursday night.
Vira Hyrych died when the building she lived in was hit and her body was found in the building’s rubble Friday, Radio Free Europe said. Hyrych had worked for the broadcaster’s Ukrainian-language service since 2018, Radio Free Europe said in a statement.
Describing the attack, Russia says it “destroyed production buildings” at a defense factory in Kyiv. Russia used “high-precision, long-range weaponry” to hit the Artem factory in the Ukrainian capital, the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said Friday.
The spokesman appeared to be referring to strikes on Kyiv that took place on Thursday evening, shortly after a meeting between President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said cruise missiles were used in the attack and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said one person was killed and four hospitalized when a residential building was hit.
Konashenkov also said Russia had destroyed a missile launch site that Ukraine had used to strike the Russia-held Ukrainian city of Kherson.
Russia Says Struck Kyiv Rocket Plant With Missiles
Russia said on Friday that its forces had destroyed the production facilities of a space-rocket plant in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv with high precision long-range missiles.
“The armed forces of the Russian Federation continue the special military operation in Ukraine,” the defence ministry said.
“High-precision long-range air-based weapons destroyed the production facilities of the Artem rocket and space industry enterprise in the city of Kyiv.”
Russia Fires Two Missiles at Kyiv, at Least 10 Injured: Ukrainian Officials
Russia fired two missiles at the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on Thursday evening and one of them struck the lower floors of a 25-story residential building, injuring at least 10 people, Ukrainian officials said.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the blasts had hit the central Shevchenko district.
The State Emergency Service, which referred to Russian shelling, said one blast damaged an unnamed facility while the other occurred in a residential building, which was nearby. Parts of the ground and first floors were destroyed by fire, it said in an online post.
Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba both said Russia had used missiles in the attack.
Reuters eyewitnesses had earlier reported the sound of two blasts in the city. Reuters was not able to immediately verify the officials’ accounts of missile strikes.
Russian Parliament Chief Says Ukraine Is Mortgaging Itself to the United States
Russia’s most senior lawmaker said on Friday that Ukraine was effectively mortgaging itself to the United States by seeking to tap billions of dollars of weapons loans proposed by U.S. President Joe Biden.
Biden on Thursday asked Congress for $33 billion to support Ukraine—a dramatic escalation of U.S. funding for the war with Russia—and the Ukrainian president pleaded with lawmakers to give the request a swift approval.
Vyacheslav Volodin, who as the speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament often voices the Kremlin’s views, accused the United States of seeking to profit from the war while indebting future generations of Ukrainians.
“Lend-Lease is a commodity loan, and not cheap: many future generations of Ukrainian citizens will pay for all the ammunition, equipment and food that the United States will supply,” Volodin said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “is driving the country into a debt pit,” he added.
Biden’s funding request includes over $20 billion for weapons, ammunition, and other military assistance, as well as $8.5 billion in direct economic assistance to the Ukrainian government and $3 billion in humanitarian aid.
Congress on Thursday passed legislation that invokes the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, originally proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help arm British forces battling Nazi Germany, to allow Biden to supply weapons to Ukraine on loan, The New York Times reported.
Ukraine Hopes to Evacuate Civilians Holed Up With Fighters in Mariupol Steel Works
Ukraine hopes on Friday to evacuate civilians who are holed up in a vast steelworks with the last Azov fighters in the southern city of Mariupol.
“An operation is planned today to get civilians out of the plant,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said without giving details.
Russia did not immediately comment on the Ukrainian presidency’s remarks.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said after meeting Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Thursday that intense discussions were under way to enable the evacuation of the Azovstal steel plant, which has been pounded by Russian forces occupying Mariupol.
“We are depending on the goodwill of all parties and we are in this together,” United Nations Crisis Coordinator Amin Awad told Reuters on Friday morning.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed “in principle” to U.N. and International Committee for the Red Cross involvement in evacuating the Azovstal plant.
First Ukrainian Corn Cargo Leaves Romanian Black Sea Port
A cargo ship carrying over 71,000 tonnes of Ukrainian corn finished loading in the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta on Thursday, the first since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the manager of port operator Comvex said.
With Ukraine’s seaports blocked since the war started more than two months ago, the world’s fourth-largest grain exporter has been forced to send shipments by train via its western border or through its small Danube river ports into Romania.
“This is the first panamax vessel with Ukrainian corn to leave the port,” Comvex President Viorel Panait told Reuters.
Comvex operates Europe’s fastest-loading grain terminal, which can process up to 70,000 tonnes per day, as well as a mineral handling terminal, said Panait, who is also president of the Constanta Port Business Association.
Earlier in the week, the operator finished loading around 35,000 tonnes of Ukrainian iron ore, with a second ship expected to be loaded around May 15, he said.
“Compared with the initial moment, when everyone was searching for alternatives, transport corridors for these exports are slowly taking shape,” Panait said.
Around 80,000 tonnes of Ukrainian grains have been sent to Constanta so far, with another 80,000 approved and en route, Constanta Port’s manager said on Tuesday.
European Union member Romania shares borders on the Black Sea, a major shipping artery for grain and oil, with Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Ukraine, and Russia.
Blasts Hit Kyiv While UN Chief Visits
Russia fired two missiles into the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Thursday during a visit by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Ukrainian officials said.
The rockets shook the central Shevchenko district of the city and one struck the lower floors of a 25-story residential building, wounding at least 10 people, Ukrainian officials said.
Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba both said the blasts were caused by Russian missiles.
The explosions occurred after U.N. chief Guterres completed talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy focusing on efforts to evacuate civilians from the Russian-besieged southern port of Mariupol.
Guterres told Portuguese broadcaster RTP when asked about the blasts: “There was an attack on Kyiv … it shocked me, not because I’m here but because Kyiv is a sacred city for Ukrainians and Russians alike.”
US Congress Revives World War II-Era ‘Lend-Lease’ Program for Ukraine
The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly backed legislation on Thursday that will make it easier to export military equipment to Ukraine, reviving the “Lend-Lease Act” that helped defeat Hitler during World War II.
The House passed the “Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022” by 417 to 10, three weeks after it sailed through the Senate with unanimous support. It next goes to the White House for President Joe Biden to sign into law.
The measure revives a World War II-era program that allowed Washington to lend or lease military equipment to U.S. allies. In this case, it will help those affected by Russia’s invasion, such as Poland and other eastern European countries as well as Ukraine.
Biden: Idea of Larger Proxy War ‘Not True’
President Joe Biden is rejecting the idea that Russia’s war in Ukraine could grow into a larger proxy conflict between Moscow and the United States and NATO allies that may even bring the world closer to nuclear confrontation.
At an event at the White House where Biden asked Congress for an additional $33 billion to aid Ukraine, the president said Thursday that the idea of a larger proxy war was concerning but “not true.”
He blamed Russian authorities for exaggerating such speculation, saying “it shows the desperation that Russia is feeling about their abject failure” with the invasion of Ukraine.
He added that “no one should be making idle comments about the use of nuclear weapons” and called doing so “irresponsible.”
Jack Phillips, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.