Russia–Ukraine War (May 25): Russia Ready to Set up Corridor for Ships Leaving Ukraine With Food, With Conditions

The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, May 25. Click here for updates from May 24.

Russia Ready to Set up Corridor for Ships Leaving Ukraine With Food, With Conditions

Russia is ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine, in return for the lifting of some sanctions, the Interfax news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko as saying on Wednesday.

Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia sent thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 and more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos in the country.

Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies and the lack of significant grain exports from Ukraine ports is contributing to a growing global food crisis.

Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.

Western powers have been discussing the idea of setting up “safe corridors” for grain exports from Ukraine’s ports, adding that any such corridor would need Russian consent.

“We have repeatedly stated on this point that a solution to the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the lifting of sanctions that have been imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions,” Rudenko was quoted as saying.

“And it also requires the demining by the Ukrainian side of all ports where ships are anchored. Russia is ready to provide the necessary humanitarian passage, which it does every day.”

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Russia Inches Towards Default as Washington Ends Bond Payment Exemption

Following Washington’s decision to end a key sanctions exemption, Russia’s chances of defaulting on its debts have increased.

Back in February, the U.S. Treasury had stated that it would allow Russia to make sovereign bond payments to American investors despite strong financial sanctions imposed on Moscow for its aggressive incursion into Ukraine. But on Tuesday, the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it will not be renewing this exemption.

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Putin Hikes Russian Pensions, Plays Down Ukraine Impact on Economy

President Vladimir Putin ordered 10 percent rises on Wednesday in pensions and the minimum wage to cushion Russians from inflation, but denied the country’s economic problems were all linked to the war in Ukraine.

With annual inflation near 18 percent last month, the Kremlin leader acknowledged that 2022 would be a “difficult” year for the Russian economy.

“When I say ‘difficult,’ it doesn’t mean all these difficulties are connected to the special military operation,” Putin told a televised meeting of the State Council in Moscow.

“Because in countries that aren’t conducting any operations—say, overseas, in North America, in Europe—inflation is comparable and, if you look at the structure of their economies, even more than ours.”

The pension increase comes into effect from June 1, while the minimum wage hike kicks in on July 1. Analysts said the steps would not prevent a sharp fall in real incomes.

Putin—whose approval rating has jumped more than 10 points since the start of the Ukraine campaign to 82 percent, according to the independent Levada Centre’s April poll—pledged in March to reduce poverty and inequality this year despite Western sanctions and high inflation.

The Research and Expert Review Institute of the bank VEB said the increase in social payments would slow but not prevent a decline in Russians’ real incomes, wages, and pensions—after inflation is taken into account.

The increase in wages and pensions may add to the inflation pressures that the central bank tried to cap with an emergency rate hike to 20 percent in late February, as the ruble’s foreign exchange value plunged. It has cut its rate twice since then as the ruble has recovered.

Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said the measures would cost the federal budget around 600 billion roubles ($10.5 billion) this year and about 1 trillion roubles in 2023.

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Tanks, but No Ammo–Germany’s Ukraine Pledges Show Military Muddle

Four weeks ago, Germany agreed to send dozens of anti-aircraft tanks to help defend Ukraine from Russia’s invasion, part of what it called a turning point after decades of military restraint. Berlin says it can deliver the first Gepard tanks in July.

That’s too slow, a Ukrainian parliamentarian said on Tuesday, as Russian forces launched an assault on the country’s east.

Kyiv’s pleas for heavy weapons have intensified since Moscow turned its firepower on Ukraine’s east and south. But one reason for Germany’s delay was a lack of ammunition, industry sources and Ukraine’s ambassador said—a fact that was well-known to Berlin when it first made the pledge.

The confusion underlines how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 has caught Berlin on the back foot. Germany is starkly ill-equipped for military action, its army chief has said, despite having one of the biggest defense industries in the world, with 9.35 billion euros worth of weapons exports in 2021 according to government data.

Gepard tanks fire a burst of 35 mm shots that form a cloud in the air to stop an incoming aircraft. Germany no longer uses them and has scant stocks of ammunition, which needs to be specially manufactured.

Asked to comment on the lack of ammunition, a defense ministry spokesperson said the government was giving support where support was possible. On May 20, Berlin said it had found ammunition and would send the tanks. Asked how it had found enough ammunition, the ministry did not respond.

Since promising the Gepard tanks, Berlin has pledged more heavy weapons to Ukraine. At home, it aims to use the special fund to boost defense spending over 4–5 years, bringing it to the 2 percent of economic output mandated by NATO. That would make Germany the world’s third-biggest military spender behind the United States and China, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

But its parliament has yet to pass the special fund.

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Switzerland to Aid Ukraine With Asset Seizure

The Swiss government on Wednesday said it will initiate proceedings to confiscate more than 100 million francs ($104 million) in assets of a close associate of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Switzerland’s governing Federal Council said it is providing support to Ukraine as Kyiv is facing “certain difficulties” in its efforts to confiscate the money, which have been compounded by the current war. But it said the move is unrelated to sanctions imposed on Russia this year.

The government said the assets of Yanukovych associate Yuriy Ivanyushchenko and family members were frozen in Switzerland following the ouster of the Kremlin-friendly Yanukovych in 2014. A Swiss federal court will determine whether the assets can be confiscated and, if it agrees, they will be returned to Ukraine.

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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Says Will Only Talk Directly to Russia’s Putin

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Wednesday that he was only willing to talk directly to Vladimir Putin and not via intermediators.

He added that if the Russian President “understands reality” there was the possibility of finding a diplomatic way out of the conflict.

Zelenskyy, speaking to an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, also said that Ukraine would fight until it recovered all of its territory.

The Ukrainian President said that Moscow should withdraw its troops back to the lines in place before Russia began its invasion on Feb. 24.

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US May Send American Troops to Ukraine to Safeguard Reopened Embassy: Gen. Milley

Plans to send American forces back into the Ukrainian capital Kyiv are being considered for the protection of the U.S. Embassy, said the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, to reporters at the Pentagon on Monday.

“Some of the things that may have been out there in the media, those are planning efforts that are underway at a relatively low level,” Milley told reporters, possibly referring to a Wall Street Journal report.

The May 23 report talked about the diplomatic balancing act by White House officials to send in troops to safeguard the newly-reopened embassy during times of war, risking personnel safety on one hand, while avoiding escalating the conflict.

Read the full article here

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Moscow Says It Is Preparing Measures Against English-language Media in Russia

Moscow is working on measures against English-language media in response to “unfriendly actions” by foreign governments toward Russian media, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday.

Zakharova said Russia was preparing measures against “Anglo-Saxon media,” using a term Russian officials often use to refer to the English-speaking world.

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EU to Make Breaking Sanctions Against Russia a Crime, Seizing Assets Easier

The European Commission proposed on Wednesday to make breaking European Union sanctions against Russia a crime, a move that would allow EU governments to confiscate assets of companies and individuals that evade EU restrictions against Moscow.

Breaking EU sanctions on Russia is now a criminal offence in 12 EU countries. It is either an administrative or a criminal offence in 13 and two treat it only as an administrative offence, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said. Penalties for sanction breaking across the EU vary accordingly.

The Commission proposal aims to unify that approach to make sanctions evasion a serious crime in all members of the 27-nation bloc, he told a news conference.

“Today’s proposals aim to ensure that the assets of individuals and entities that violate the restrictive measures can be effectively confiscated in the future,” the Commission said in a statement.

The EU has so far frozen 10 billion euros in physical assets and more than 20 billion euros in bank accounts of Russian oligarchs.

But before these assets could be confiscated and sold off, the oligarchs would first have to be convicted of either trying to evade sanctions or of other crimes and the assets seized would have to be linked to that crime only.

The new EU law, which has to be unanimously approved by all EU governments and get a majority in the European Parliament, would also penalise those who help break sanctions, like lawyers or bankers working with those who circumvent restrictions.

The Commission also proposed to make it generally easier to confiscate assets of criminals in the EU, making it possible to impose an immediate freezing order to prevent the assets from being moved, before a proper court order confirms it.

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Ukraine Wants Rocket Launchers Sent Quickly

Ukraine’s foreign minister says the urgency of his country’s weapons needs can be summed up in two abbreviations: MLRS—multiple launch rocket systems, and ASAP—as soon as possible.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says the situation in the eastern Donbass region “is extremely bad.” The rocket systems could help Ukrainian forces try to recapture places such as the southern city of Kherson from Russian occupiers who invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Kuleba said he had about 10 bilateral meetings with other leaders whose countries possess such systems.

“The response I get is, ‘Have the Americans given it to you already?’” he said, alluding to U.S. leadership. “So this is the burden of being a leader. Everyone is looking at you. So Washington has to keep the promise and provide us with multiple launch rocket systems as soon as possible. Others will follow.”

“If we do not get an MLRS ASAP, the situation in Donbass will get even worse than it is now,” he added. “Every day of someone sitting in Washington, Berlin, Paris and other capitals, and considering whether they should or should not do something, costs us lives and territories.”

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Sweden, Finland Delegations in Turkey for NATO Talks

Delegations from Sweden and Finland are scheduled Wednesday to hold talks in Ankara with senior Turkish officials, aiming to overcome Turkey’s objections to their historic bids to join NATO.

Sweden and Finland submitted their written applications to join the alliance last week in a move that marks one of the biggest geopolitical ramifications of Russia’s war in Ukraine—and which could rewrite Europe’s security map.

Turkey has said it opposes the two Nordic countries’ membership in the military alliance. It cites grievances with Sweden’s—and a to a lesser extent Finland’s—perceived support to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and other entities that Turkey views as a security threat. It also accuses the two of imposing arms export restrictions on Turkey and refusing to extradite suspected “terrorists.”

Turkey’s objections have dampened Stockholm’s and Helsinki’s hopes for quick NATO membership amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and puts the trans-Atlantic alliance’s credibility at stake. All 30 NATO members must agree to admit new members.

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Russia Looks to Cement South Ukraine Presence

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued an order to allow a fast track to Russian citizenship for people in two southern regions of Ukraine which are largely held by Russian forces.

Putin’s decree, dated Wednesday, could allow Russia to strengthen its control over the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. They form part of a land connection between eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula.

Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin last week visited both regions and indicated they could become part of “our Russian family.” A Russia-installed official in the Kherson region has predicted the region could become part of Russia.

Russia already had a program for fast-track naturalization of people living in two regions of eastern Ukraine claimed by Russia-backed separatists.

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Russia Says It Destroys Production Facilities of  Aircraft Engines Maker

The Russian military says it has destroyed the production facilities of a key Ukrainian maker of aircraft engines.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that the military has used long-range air- and sea-launched missiles to destroy the Motor Sich plant in Zaporizhzhia.

Motor Sich has been a key maker of aircraft engines since Soviet times. It has specialized in helicopter engines, which were also used to equip Russian helicopters before the supplies were halted following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

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Russia Says Mariupol Port Is Working Again

The Russian military says the key Ukrainian port of Mariupol is functioning again after three months of fighting.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that the military has finished clearing the port of mines and it is now fully operational.

The Russian forces took control of Mariupol, the strategic port on the Sea of Azov, after the last Ukrainian defenders at the giant Azovstal seaside steel plant laid down their weapons.

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Russia Scraps Age Limit for Joining Military

Russian lawmakers have passed a bill that removes age limits for professional soldiers joining the military and could be a way for the Russian armed forces to expand recruitment.

The lower house of the Russian parliament passed the bill in all three readings Wednesday to scrap an age limit of 40 for Russians signing their first voluntary military contracts.

The chair of the parliament’s defense committee, Andrei Kartapolov, said the measure would make it easier to hire people with “in-demand specialisms.” A description of the bill on the parliament website indicated older recruits could be suited to operating precision weapons or serving in engineering or medical roles.

Russian authorities have said that only volunteer contract soldiers are being sent to fight in Ukraine, though they have acknowledged that some conscripts were drawn into the fighting by mistake in the early stages.

In recent years, the Russian military has increasingly relied on volunteers. All Russian men aged 18–27 must undergo one-year compulsory military service.

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Ukraine: Russia Must Withdraw to Pre-War Positions for Talks

Ukraine’s president said Wednesday that Russia must pull back to its pre-war positions as a first step before diplomatic talks, a negotiating line that Moscow is unlikely to agree to anytime soon.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he currently sees no willingness on the part of Russia to resume earnest negotiations on ending the 3-month war.

“At the beginning, there was an impression that we can move ahead, that there would be a certain result or some outcome of those talks. But it all has stalled,” Zelenskyy said through an interpreter by video link to attendees at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

He expressed a willingness to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin directly, but stressed that Moscow needs to make clear its willingness to engage in serious talks.

“They should demonstrate at least something like steps withdrawing their troops and equipment to the position before the 24th of February,” the day Russia’s invasion began, he said. “That would be a correct step, first step in negotiations.”

Zelenskyy also made clear that Ukraine’s aim is to regain all of its lost territory.

Russia said the strategic Ukrainian port of Mariupol has become functional after three months of fighting.

The military has completed clearing the port of land mines and it has been made fully operational, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday.

Russian forces have taken full control over Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, after the last Ukrainian defenders at the giant Azovstal seaside steel plant laid down their weapons.

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Russia Launches New Assault on Eastern Ukraine Towns

Russian forces launched offensives on towns in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, with constant mortar bombardment destroying several houses, Ukrainian officials said, as Russia focuses its attack on the industrial Donbass region.

Russia is trying to take the rest of the separatist-claimed Donbass’s two provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front.

In the easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held Donbass pocket, the city of Sievierodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk, on the west bank, have become a pivotal battlefield. Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle them.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said the Russians launched an offensive on Sievierodonetsk early on Wednesday and the town was under constant fire from mortars.

Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said six civilians were killed and at least eight wounded in Sievierodonetsk.

Ukraine’s military said it had repelled nine Russian attacks on Tuesday in the Donbass using aircraft, rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, mortars, and missiles.

Reuters could not immediately verify information about the fighting.

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Russia Ready to Set Up Corridor for Ships Leaving Ukraine With Food, With Conditions

Russia is ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine, in return for the lifting of some sanctions, the Interfax news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko as saying on Wednesday.

Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia sent thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 and more than 20 million tons of grain are stuck in silos in the country.

Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies and the lack of significant grain exports from Ukraine ports is contributing to a growing global food crisis.

Western powers have been discussing the idea of setting up “safe corridors” for grain exports from Ukraine’s ports, adding that any such corridor would need Russian consent.

“We have repeatedly stated on this point that a solution to the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the lifting of sanctions that have been imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions,” Rudenko was quoted as saying.

“And it also requires the demining by the Ukrainian side of all ports where ships are anchored. Russia is ready to provide the necessary humanitarian passage, which it does every day.”

Russia is in touch with the United Nations on the issue, Rudenko was quoted as saying by another news agency, RIA.

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of planting drifting mines in the Black Sea.

Rudenko was also quoted by Interfax as saying that possible escort by Western ships of Ukraine’s vessels carrying grain would “seriously exacerbate the situation in the Black Sea.”

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200 Bodies Found in Mariupol: Mayor’s Adviser

An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol said on Tuesday that workers removing rubble from a collapsed apartment building in the devastated Ukrainian city found about 200 corpses in the building’s basement.

Petro Andryushchenko said on Telegram that the bodies were decomposing and that the stench permeated the neighborhood. It’s not clear when they were discovered and the report could not be independently verified.

Perched on the Sea of Azov, Mariupol was relentlessly pounded during a monthslong siege that finally ended last week after some 2,500 Ukrainian fighters abandoned a steel plant where they had made their last stand in the strategic port city.

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Ukrainian Refugee Camp in Mexico’s Capital to Close

Organizers of a camp for Ukrainian refugees who had traveled to Mexico said Tuesday they will soon close it and discouraged Ukrainians still in Europe from traveling to Mexico as they try to enter the United States.

Some 1,000 Ukrainians passed through the camp during the month that it was open on the east side of Mexico City. Now, only about 120 remain, and 98 percent of those already have sponsors lined up in the United States and expect to soon travel there, said Vlad Fedoryshyn, director of United with Ukraine, a nongovernmental organization, that collaborated with the Mexican government to establish the camp.

Anastasiya Polo, United with Ukraine spokeswoman, said Ukrainians still in Europe should register for the U.S. government’s program and not waste money and effort traveling to Mexico. Before the camp was established in Mexico City, Ukrainians were traveling to Tijuana at the U.S.–Mexico border.

“We are asking people from Europe, Ukrainians, to go through the program from Europe, do not come to Mexico because it is much more expensive for them, it is a lot of traveling,” Polo said. The camp will close by June 1, but Ukrainians remaining in Mexico will continue receiving support.

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US to End Russia’s Ability to Pay International Investors

The United States will close the last avenue for Russia to pay its billions in debt back to international investors on Wednesday, making a Russian default on its debts for the first time since the Bolshevik Revolution all but inevitable.

The Treasury Department said in a notification that does not plan to renew the license to allow Russia to keep paying its debt-holders through American banks.

Since the first rounds of sanctions, the Treasury Department has given banks a license to process any bond payments from Russia. That window expires at midnight May 25.

There had already been signs that the Biden administration was unwilling to extend the deadline. At a press conference heading into the Group of Seven finance minister meetings in Koenigswinter, Germany, last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the window existed “to allow a period of time for an orderly transition to take place, and for investors to be able to sell securities.”

“The expectation was that it was time-limited,” Yellen said.

Naveen Athrappully, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.