Ukraine latest: Biden says Putin trying to erase Ukraine culture

Russian diplomat quits in rare public protest over war in Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden said leaders are navigating “a dark hour in our shared history” due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, adding President Vladimir Putin’s invasion appears to be aimed at obliterating the culture of his neighbour.

Lithuania is seeking support for a naval coalition that would enforce a protective corridor for grain shipments from Ukraine and break a Russian blockade of the Black Sea, news reports said.

A Russian diplomat in Geneva quit over Moscow’s conduct in a rare protest by a public official. A court in Kyiv sentenced a Russian soldier to life in prison for murdering a Ukrainian civilian, ending the first war-crimes trial stemming from the invasion.

Key developments

  • Putin’s State Oil Champion Suffers Biggest Production Drop
  • Russia Diplomat Quits in Rare Public Protest Over War in Ukraine
  • Europe’s Plan to Replace Russian Gas Stumbles on LNG Bottlenecks
  • Russia Loosens More Capital Controls as Ruble Continues Surge
  • Zelenskiy Issues Davos Demand to Shun Russia, Invest in Ukraine
  • Putin’s War Means Russia’s Rich Aren’t Welcome at Davos Anymore

All times CET:

Putin’s State Oil Champ Sees Production Drop (6:00 a.m.)

Russia’s largest refiner’s primary throughput was down by nearly 28% in the first days of May compared with prewar levels, according to Bloomberg calculations based on industry data.

Rosneft PJSC’s chief executive officer, Igor Sechin, has been in Putin’s inner circle for decades, and the company’s subsidiaries account for about two-thirds of Russia’s production cuts since the invasion of Ukraine, data from the Energy Ministry show.

Biden Tells Quad Meeting Putin Is Causing Humanitarian Crisis (3:51 a.m.)

Biden said at the opening of a leaders’ summit in Tokyo among fellow Quad members Australia, India and Japan that Russia’s “brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.”

“It appears to me that Putin is just trying to extinguish culture,” Biden said, adding, “he’s not even aiming at military targets anymore.” Biden is seeking support from Quad leaders as they battle the fallout the war that has rattled economies and caused a food crisis.

Royal Navy Could Escort Grain Ships, The Times Reports (1:03 a.m.)

Britain is in talks with allies about sending warships to the Black Sea to protect freighters carrying Ukrainian grain, The Times of the UK reported. The foreign ministers of Lithuania and the UK discussed the idea to break Russia’s blockade that could include NATO countries reliant on grain, it said.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told the Guardian newspaper this week his country was seeking a naval coalition “of the willing” to lift the Russian Black Sea blockade on Ukrainian grain exports.

US Taps Italy’s Mafia Fight for Russia Wealth Crackdown (11:15 p.m.)

The US is taking some lessons on cracking down on sanctions evasion from the Italians, who have honed their skills fighting the mafia, according to a Treasury official.

“They have a great history, wealth of experience, doing that in response to their own organized-crime entities,” Brian Nelson, the under secretary of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in an interview. “They are clear-eyed about the work ahead.”

Italy has seized three yachts and a number of properties connected to Russian oligarchs, Nelson said, and the US is trying to adopt those tactics in identifying people trying to evade sanctions on Russia.

Lavrov Talks Up China Ties (11:05 p.m.)

Russia’s economic relationship with China will develop even faster after Western countries cut trade ties, and its economy needs to become independent of the West in key industries, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told students at a Moscow-area elite school, according to a transcript on the ministry’s website.

Even if Western countries “come back to their senses” and resume some form of cooperation, Russia will “think very seriously whether we need it or not really,” Lavrov said. The economy is developing alternatives to imports, and boosting trade in local currencies with China, India, Iran and other partners, he said.

“To hope that McDonald’s will come back, to put it in crude terms, means again to sit and to do nothing, to wait for them to come and supply us with spare parts, some components, semiconductors,” Lavrov said.

Zelenskiy Asks World to Press Russia to Swap War Prisoners (9:30 p.m.)

Zelenskiy said several thousand Ukrainian troops, including those who were trapped at a steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol, are now in Russia’s captivity, and he called on world leaders to persuade Russia to agree to a prisoner swap.

“We are ready for a swap even tomorrow, we do not need Russian soldiers,” Zelenskiy said in a video address to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He also urged other countries to help Ukraine reopen its ports for grain exports, and to help what he said are 500,000 Ukrainians deported by Russia to Russian territory return to the country.

Finland and Sweden’s Envoys Say Membership Would Strengthen NATO (8:54 p.m.)

Finland and Sweden’s military capabilities would help strengthen NATO across the board, including in Turkey, the two countries’ ambassadors to the US said.

Sweden’s Karin Olofsdotter and Finland’s Mikko Hautala told an event at the Brookings Institution that they are in discussions with Turkey over their nations’ respective bids to join NATO, after Turkish officials signaled misgivings about the move.

Twenty Nations Sending More Weapons, Austin Says (7:46 p.m.)

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said 20 nations have agreed to send more security assistance to Ukraine. “We are intensifying our efforts,” Austin told reporters after more than 40 nations participated in a Zoom meeting of the Pentagon-hosted Ukrainian Defense Contact Group.

Denmark has committed to sending a Harpoon anti-ship missile system, while Italy, Greece, Norway and Poland will be providing artillery systems, Austin said.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon’s stockpile of critical munitions remain adequate after drawdowns to send weapons to Ukraine. “We are doing OK and our risk is managed appropriately,” Milley said.

Putin Confidant Gives PhosAgro Stake to Spouse (7:32 p.m.)

Vladimir Litvinenko, the former chairman of OAO PhosAgro, transferred a 20.6% stake in the Russian fertilizer producer to his spouse Tatyana Litvinenko, the company said. Litvinenko cut his holdings to 0.39%, it said.

Latvia Wants NATO Brigade to Deter Russia (5:48 p.m.)

Latvia needs a NATO brigade, a military contingent that would amount to as many as 5,000 troops, to deter Russia from a potential attack, President Egils Levits said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“Russia is not provoked by strength, but Russia is provoked by weakness,” Levits said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Monday. “So we are looking also for NATO troop presence at a brigade scale,” he said, a level that “can deter Russia.”

EU Stalemate Deepens on Russian Oil Embargo (4:15 p.m.)

The European Union is increasingly unlikely to approve a ban on Russian oil when the bloc’s leaders meet next week as Hungary continues to oppose the measure, according to people familiar with the matter.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had said several weeks earlier that it would take a summit of European leaders to forge an oil embargo deal, but his government is signaling now that any progress will likely slip to next month at the earliest, said the people.

EU Member States Disagree Over Aid Package for Ukraine (4:05 p.m.)

European Union nations are wrangling over how to design a plan for a new aid package of 9 billion euros ($9.6 billion) for Ukraine.

Some countries including Germany want to offer grants instead of loans as the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, proposed, people familiar with the discussion said. In addition, Austria, Luxembourg, Finland, Malta, Denmark, Hungary and Greece are reluctant to spell out the financial instrument that would be used to support Kyiv in the conclusions that will be reached at next week’s EU summit.

Russian Envoy Resigns in War Protest (3:59 p.m.)

A diplomat at Russia’s United Nations mission in Geneva resigned in protest of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, becoming the country’s first envoy to publicly criticize the war.

“Putin has become both a war criminal and a dictator,” Boris Bondarev, 41, who was involved in disarmament work at the mission, said in a phone interview. “I can’t work with colleagues who seriously talk about launching nuclear strikes on the suburbs of Washington to scare the Americans into surrendering. These conversations have become more and more frequent.”

While some officials such as the Kremlin’s climate envoy Anatoly Chubais have quietly left their positions since the war started, Bondarev posted a resignation statement in English and Russian on Facebook, saying he’d “never been so ashamed of my country as on February 24” when Putin announced the invasion. He said he’d waited until now to leave his post because he’d wanted to ensure his family’s safety.

Ukraine Says Food Crisis Will Start to Bite in July (3:10 p.m.)

Ukraine was unable to export 5 million tons of wheat that it had planned to from its current crop because Russia is blocking its ports, Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi said in comments over the weekend to Voice of America that were also posted Monday on the ministry’s website.

“The world will start to feel this acutely sometime in mid-July.” he said, adding that farmers are facing problems exporting last year’s crop and harvesting the current crop, half of which is located in occupied territories and areas of active fighting.

Russian Soldier Sentenced in First War Crimes Case (12:50 p.m.)

Vadim Shyshymarin was sentenced to life in prison by a Kyiv court for killing a Ukrainian citizen in the Sumy region just after Russia’s invasion began in late February, news service Interfax reported.

The 21-year-old “violated the laws and customs of war,” the court ruled, according to Interfax. He had earlier pleaded guilty and asked the widow of the man he killed to pardon him. The Kremlin didn’t have a immediate response to the verdict in a case that’s gotten little coverage inside Russia.

Ukraine is seeking an international tribunal to try thousands of cases of alleged Russian war crimes and ways to swap captured soldiers, like Shyshymarin, for Ukrainians who defended Mariupol and are currently held by Russia.

Ukraine Calls for Further Russian Isolation (11:35 a.m.)

Zelenskiy reinforced his call for a blockade of oil, technology and other trade with Russia, including no exceptions to sanctions against the country’s banking sector. He said the international community needs to establish a precedent to deter the Kremlin now as well in the future.

“If brute force dominates, then there is no need to gather in Davos,” he said in a keynote address. “Brute force does not discuss, It kills.” He said that Ukraine was open for companies that leave Russia. “You will have access not only to a market of 40 million consumers but also to the EU market,” he said, with reference to his country’s bid for membership in the trading bloc.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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