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Russia’s war against Ukraine
UK to provide Ukraine with anti-tank weapons. The weapons are “defensive only” and “pose no threat to Russia,” according to U.K. Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace.
Bipartisan delegation of US senators comes to Kyiv to express unequivocal support for Ukraine. The senators met with President Volodymyr Zelensky and members of the Ukrainian government. They ensured that the U.S. government is unified in its approach towards Russia and “will stand by Ukraine.”
German media: EU and U.S. no longer considering cutting Russia off SWIFT should it further invade Ukraine. German news website Handelsblatt cited unnamed government sources who raised concerns that such a move could create an alternative, non-Western, payment network. Belgium-based SWIFT is a global payment facilitation system that handles around half of the world’s high-value transactions. Blocking Russian banks from using it has been discussed as a potential deterrent against further Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s navy expects to get first Sandown-class minesweeping vessel from the United Kingdom as early as 2022. Last year, the British government vowed to provide Ukraine with two warships, HMS Blyth and HMS Ramsey, upon their decommission, as defense assistance. The Royal Navy plans to retire all vessels of the class by 2025 and replace them with newer automated systems. According to Ukraine’s military, the vessels will be repaired and modernized before they start flying Ukraine’s colors.
Russian pipeline fuels German coalition split. Germany’s Social Democratic Party, led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, is increasingly at odds with its coalition partner, the Green Party, over Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea, the Financial Times reported on Jan. 17. The Green Party says the pipeline must not be certified if Russia launches a new invasion of Ukraine, while the Social Democrats have effectively backed the pipeline.
Baerbock: Germany and France will do what they can to resurrect Normandy Format peace talks to end Russia's war in eastern Ukraine. Both countries and Ukraine have accused Russia of stalling the talks by failing to show up.
Ukraine is still talking to Germany about weapons aid from NATO, foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said at a joint press briefing with visiting German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Jan. 17. According to Ukrainian officials, Germany has blocked Ukraine’s purchase of defensive weapons through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency. Kuleba said he discussed this question with Baerbock but did not say if there had been any resolution. Germany has emphasized that diplomacy must come first.
In other news
After 11 hours, court fails to arrest ex-President Poroshenko. Poroshenko, who is charged with high treason, returned to Ukraine on the morning of Jan. 17 after a month-long absence. He almost immediately went to the court hearing set to determine pre-trial restrictions measures. The hearing lasted for 11 hours, and ended with no result. It will resume on Jan. 19. Prosecutors asked to set the bail at Hr 1 billion ($37 million).
NATO is looking for a contractor to transport three Mil Mi-17 helicopters from Mexico to Ukraine. The Russian-produced vehicles must be transported from the city of Veracruz via Bulgaria, according to a bid proposal issued by the Alliance’s Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA). The contract has no mention of the shipment’s eventual purpose. According to the Ukrainian Military Center, a Kyiv-based defense news website, the helicopters might be delivered to Ukraine for repairs or modernization works. NSPA has already contracted Ukrainian enterprises, particularly the Avikov Plant, to repair Mi-17s for Afghanistan in 2021.
Vaccinated Ukrainians spend $53 million of state financial support on books, movies, concerts and train tickets, according to the Economy Ministry. Ukrainian citizens older than 18 receive a reward of Hr 1,000 ($36) from the state for getting fully vaccinated. Most people spent the money on books ($17 million), going to the movies ($13 million), theaters or concerts ($6,6 million) and train or airplane tickets ($6,3 million). In total, vaccinated Ukrainians have received $248 million over the last four weeks.
Hackers attack two more government sites on Jan 17. Ukraine's online procurement system Prozorro’s infobox suffered an attack on Monday morning, leaving behind a message similar to the one used during the massive cyberattack on other government sites on Jan. 14. The attack did not affect the work of Prozorro portal itself, Ukraine’s cybersecurity agency reported. The Shevchenko district court of Kyiv also fell victim to hackers on the same day. Access to the court’s website containing materials used in legal proceedings as well as emails “have been suspended for reasons beyond control,” the courthouse said.
Russian gas monopoly Gazprom did not book any additional gas transit capacity through Ukraine in February. Ukraine is currently offering Gazprom transit capacities of up to 9.8 million cubic meters per day and an additional 5.2 million cubic meters per through two routes, but both remain unclaimed. Gazprom has cut its daily volume of gas transit via Ukraine to Europe to 53 million cubic meters per day, nearly half of Ukraine’s daily transit capacity of 109 million cubic meters per day.
Overall, Gazprom's gas exports have fallen in the first half of January to their lowest level since 2015, according to Bloomberg. Gazprom had already cut its exports to Europe by 25% year-on-year at the end of 2021, despite high market prices and reduced spot sales while other exporters increased them, according to Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency. “We believe that there are strong elements of tension in European gas markets due to Russia's behavior,” Birol said.
Ukraine’s dollar-denominated government bonds suffered sharp falls on Jan. 17 amid rising geopolitical tensions. The JPMorgan index on emerging markets put Ukraine in the same category as Venezuela and Lebanon, indicating payment stress or near default, Reuters reported. The Russian currency, bonds and stocks have also taken a hit as tensions between the two countries showed no sign of easing. "The market has to price in some kind of probability of Russia invading," Viktor Szabo, asset manager at abrdn said.
Ukraine's largest supermarket chain ATB, with more than 1,070 stores across the country, may suspend the sale of a number of food products. The decision follows the government’s move on price regulation of “socially important products” introduced by the Cabinet of Ministers on Jan. 12. According to the company’s CEO Boris Markov, the trade margin of 10% for the retail price does not cover logistics costs and other operating expenses. “All retailers were limited in their right for a constructive dialogue. This is far from a democratic procedure,” Markov wrote.
Ryanair cancels all flights from Kharkiv until Feb. 28. Irish low-cost airline Ryanair will extend its cancellation of flights from Kharkiv until the end of February, according to information published by Lowcostavia. Ryanair has canceled more than 20 routes out of Ukraine until March 2022, citing low demand and logistical issues caused by the Covid-19 omicron variant.
French fintech Qonto valued at $5 billion to open a development center in Ukraine. The business banking company designed for freelancers and smaller-sized businesses plans to enter the Ukrainian market in partnership with local software company WeSoftYou. The Parisian startup began hiring Ukrainian developers in December 2021, according to the news outlet Ain.ua.
Ukrainian electronic duo Artbat will perform at one of the world’s biggest and most famous music festivals, Coachella. Artbat appears to be the first Ukrainian group to perform at Coachella. The Kyiv-based duo will perform on both Fridays during the dual-weekend event, alongside world-known musicians such as Ye (Kanye West), Billie Eilish, and Harry Styles.
R&B prodigy Khalid will do a show in Kyiv. The 23-year-old six-time Grammy nominee will perform at the Stereo Plaza club on May 17 as part of his world tour. Khalid (not to be confused with DJ Khaled) became famous with his single "Location" in 2017 for his gentle voice laid over sparse instrumentation. Since then, the singer has collaborated with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Alessia Cara, Halsey and Ed Sheeran.