11 Mar 22. Latest Updates
- On 11 March, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence stated that Russian forces had struck targets on the Belarusian side of the border oppositive Rivne oblast, in north-western Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities maintain that Russia air strikes hit the Belarusian villages of Bukhlichi and Verkhniy Terebizhiv this afternoon in an attempt to justify the involvement of Belarusian forces in the war in Ukraine. The Belarusian armed forces and President Alyaksandr Lukashenka have repeatedly stated that Belarusian forces are not in Ukraine and will not be deployed in support of Russian offensive action. However, this attack, if confirmed, aligns with previous patterns of behaviour utilised by Moscow and Minsk to justify subsequent military action. The fact that the attack near the Rivne oblast border comes less than 12 hours after the targeting of Lutsk for the first time, as well as the targeting of Ivano-Frankivsk airport, is a further indication that pressure on western and central Ukraine is set to increase in the coming days.
- Western officials report that Russia could opt to use chemical weapons in Ukraine during a “false flag” attack in an effort to provide retrospective justification for its invasion. The UK’s technology minister, Chris Philp, has accused Russia of spreading online disinformation to support its creation of a false narrative that Ukraine is preparing to deploy chemical weapons to justify a Russian attack on the grounds of pre-empting the threat. Similarly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson voiced concerns that Russia may opt to use chemical weapons if its forces continue to struggle to further advance in Ukraine, with US President Joe Biden warning Moscow directly against the use of such weapons. Such intelligence is unconfirmed at this stage and may not be verifiable.
- These warnings come as Russia summons the United Nations Security Council today, 11 March, to discuss Moscow’s allegations that US-backed laboratories in Ukraine have been working on biological weapons. While Western officials state that there is no evidence at present that Moscow is planning the broader use of such weapons in the conflict, the council meeting could be designed to set the groundwork for some sort of false flag attack. In this regard, Ukrainian intelligence have stated today, 11 March, that President Putin has allegedly ordered a false flag disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This allegation may be impossible to independently verify, but remains a plausible scenario. The cutting off of telecommunications at the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear plants has severely undermined the ability of independent bodies to monitor the reactors, leaving scope for such a false flag attack to be prepared. We will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds, but such accusations remain unconfirmed at this stage. The reports could conceivably be fabrications by either side, or misinformation spread by Russia to demoralise Ukrainian resolve and instil terror in the population.
- Guests on a popular talk show on the Russia-1 channel, “Evenings with Vladimir Solovyov”, academic Semyon Bagdasarov and filmmaker Karen Shakhnazarov questioned the government’s decision to initiate a conflict in neighbouring Ukraine, displaying doubt regarding the abilities of armed forces to capture Ukrainian cities such as Kyiv. The public criticism aimed at the Kremlin departs from the usual government-sanctioned messaging broadcasted on Russian state television, with the talk show host Solovyov himself being a prominent supporter of Putin’s campaign to “denazify” and “demilitarise” Ukraine. The incident could encourage and motivate activists to maintain their efforts and campaigns against the Russian government’s actions in Ukraine, particularly following calls by Alexei Navalny for anti-war protests this Sunday, 13 March.
- The Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia has initiated the process of declaring Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms Inc, an “extremist organisation” and banning its activities in the country. In addition, Russian authorities have begun blocking access to Instagram. The move follows Meta’s decision on 10 March to temporarily ease its rules regarding violent speech to allow statements such as “death to Russian invaders”, though direct threats to civilians remain prohibited. The Russian government’s response marks a significant escalation against one of the world’s largest technology companies, and blocking services in a bid to silence criticism will further isolate Russian residents from the outside world. However, state news agency RIA Novosti has reported that the ban will not affect WhatsApp because it does not provide a platform for making public statements.
- President Joe Biden announced on 11 March that the US, along with G7 and European Union member states, will look to revoke Russia’s “most favoured nation” status, with Congress expected to introduce legislation in the coming week. The status is also referred to as permanent normal trade relations in the US, and its revocation will remove preferable trading terms with Russia, including low tariffs, few barriers to trade and maximum import allowances. The move by the Western partners, which together comprise half of the global economy, will further erode Russian export revenue streams in the coming months, exacerbating the country’s economic decline and international isolation.
We assess that a false-flag operation by Russian forces using CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) assets against civilian targets in the separatist regions of eastern Ukraine or in Russian Federation territory remains a viable threat. We note that the World Health Organisation has advised Ukrainian forces to destroy ‘high-risk pathogens [and] prevent any potential leaks’ of the same, along with an uptick in Russian domestic media messaging highlighting alleged CBRN capability on the part of Ukrainian forces. We do not believe that the Ukrainian armed forces have applicable capacity in this regard, although we reiterate that a false-flag operation attributing such an attack to Ukrainian forces remains possible.
Regarding evacuation and safe passage out of Kyiv and into western Ukraine, as of 11 March, the southbound H01 remains a comparatively safer route for access to/exit from Kyiv, then connecting with westbound roads such as the P32 through Bila Tserkva. Satellite images from the morning of 11 March indicate that the large Russian military convoy north-west of Kyiv has largely dispersed and repositioned into surrounding forest areas. UK military advisors suggest that this is an intentional repositioning in preparation for a sustained assault on Kyiv from the north-west in the coming 24-96hrs.
Corroborating this, Russian advances near Gostomel Airport were recorded by satellite within the last 15 hours. Artillery and supply trucks are now believed to be stationed in the town of Ozera, 30km north-west of Kyiv, and Berestianka, 16km further north-west from Gostomel Airport. This supports the assertion that a sustained Russian assault from the north-west is now viable and imminent.
For evacuation from Kyiv, therefore, the window for safe departure is increasingly limited. SOCMINT and eyewitness accounts from Ukrainian armed forces suggest that Russian armour and infantry units are increasingly dispersed around the forests north and south of the E40, rendering this route unsafe. SOCMINT also indicates ad-hoc checkpoints and stop-and-search checks by Ukrainian rear echelon units continue to take place on the P02, P69, M07 circular and H01/P01 in Kyiv. These are likely conducted in order to identify potential Russian fifth columnists/saboteurs, and Ukrainian units conducting these checks are believed to be operating on capture/kill orders. As such those seeking to leave Kyiv should treat such checks with due caution.
Byshev Airport on the westbound P04 remains a likely target for the Russian push to encircle Kyiv. No fighting in the airport’s premises has been observed as of this Alert’s publication, but we consider this to be a likely target for Russian forces in the coming 24-48hrs. In comparative terms, therefore, the H01/P01 remains the safest route out of the city, although any travel is undertaken at one’s own risk as all approaches to Kyiv are vulnerable to shelling or missile strikes.
- On 10 March, the hacktivist groups Distributed Denial of Secrets and Anonymous claimed that they allegedly leaked over 800GB of data from the Russian government’s censorship body Roskomnadzor. Anonymous reportedly gained access to this information after they compromised the infrastructure of Roskomnadzor’s department in Russia’s Republic of Bashkortostan. While a preliminary investigation of a small subset of the leaked data indicates it may be genuine, it remains unclear whether any of Moscow’s sensitive operational information was exposed due to this leak.
- On 9 March, the hacktivist group Anonymous claimed via Twitter to have sent 5 million text messages to Russian mobile numbers as a part of its information warfare against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These messages reportedly contained information about Moscow’s ongoing military offensives and encouraged its recipients to download the group’s 1920.in tool that they claim can “reach past Russia’s information wall”. This “information wall” appears to be a reference to the Russian Ministry of Digital Development’s recent request for all “owners of telecommunication services on the internet” to insulate Russia’s networks from the World Wide Web by 15 March.
- On 8 March, industry reports claimed that the websites of several Russian ministries, including the Ministry of Energy, were compromised by a cyber attack. These incidents reportedly defaced the sites with two images displaying the words “Why?”. While it remains unclear who is responsible, this incident follows the 7 March Anonymous-led hack against Russian television channels that replaced their programming with coverage of the Ukraine conflict by independent broadcasters Current Times and Dozhd TV, which have been blocked by the Russian government. If officially confirmed to be an Anonymous attack, this latest operation would be consistent with the group’s 3 March claim that they compromised more than 2,500 websites linked to the Russian and Belarusian governments.
- On 8 March, a sect of Anonymous claimed via its Twitter account to have compromised over 400 public cameras across Russia in support of Ukraine. In addition to publishing a live stream of these compromised cameras’ video feeds, they also uploaded a message that condemned Moscow’s military offensives in Ukraine. These hacked cameras reportedly included those used by businesses, outdoor and indoor security cameras, restaurants, offices, schools, and security offices.
- On 7 March, Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) disclosed that they discovered Russian, Belarusian, and Chinese cyber threat actors targeting Ukrainian and European government and military organisations with spear phishing and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Over the past two weeks, Moscow-linked hacking group APT28 (known as Fancy Bear) and Belarusian hacking group UNC1151 have launched several separate large-scale credential-stealing campaigns against both Polish and Ukrainian military/government organisations. Meanwhile, cyber security firm Proofpoint disclosed that Beijing-linked hacking group Mustang Panda has been launching phishing attacks against “European diplomatic entities, including an individual involved in refugee and migrant services”. There is currently no indication that this Chinese threat actor is supporting Russian/Belarusian hackers in their operations.
- On 7 March, cryptocurrency exchange platform Coinbase announced that it blocked over 25,000 blockchain addresses linked to Russian individuals and entities. The firm claimed that this decision was to “further support [global] sanctions enforcement” over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Coinbase’s actions against Russia follows Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov’s request for all major cryptocurrency exchanges to freeze addresses “linked to Russian and Belarusian politicians, but also sabotage ordinary users” to limit Moscow’s ability to skirt international sanctions and continue funding its military operations in Ukraine. While Coinbase and other exchanges, such as Binance, have indicated that they will not ban all Russian accounts, this latest development underscores the growing pressure exerted by governments across the world on cryptocurrency exchanges and technology firms in recent weeks over the Ukraine conflict.
Russia’s utilisation of cyber space continues to remain limited as of 11 March, despite Moscow’s flurry of disruptive attacks during the initial phase of the Ukraine conflict. In contrast, Ukraine’s IT Army and its supporting hacktivists have continued to use cyber space to attack Russian government agencies in retaliation of its military operations in Ukraine. Despite such efforts, these disruptive attacks have remained low-level “quick and easy” attacks that have had minor or no impact on Russia’s or Belarus’ infrastructure and operations. Most indicative of this would be Anonymous’ aforementioned hack of 400 security cameras across Russia earlier this week. In tandem with these attacks, pro-Ukraine groups have also been engaging in increasing information warfare against Moscow’s disinformation campaigns about the Ukraine conflict. The Anonymous’ above text message operation is the latest such information campaign since the group claimed on 7 March to have replaced the programming of several Russian television channels with independent news outlets’ coverage of the conflict. Despite the limited impact that these campaigns are having on Russia’s military operations, the potential for allegedly pro-Ukrainian hackers to build a good reputation within the cyber underground community will likely encourage further threat actors to exploit hacktivist groups’ fluid membership structure and adopt their monikers to engage in pro-Ukraine cyber attacks in the coming weeks. Further cyber campaigns launched by these groups are highly likely to target Russian government agencies and entities supporting Moscow’s military operations and take the form of low-level disruptive activity, such as data leaks, defacement attacks, and DDoS.
More broadly, Coinbase’s blocking of over 25,000 cryptocurrency accounts linked to Russian individuals and entities underlines the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s (FinCEN) 9 March warning that Moscow may attempt in the coming weeks to utilise decentralised currencies to evade the “expansive sanctions and other US-imposed restrictions” on the Russian economy. Similarly, FinCen has also warned that Moscow could increasingly utilise its connection with Russian cyber criminal groups to generate revenue for the government. The federal agency did not state that they have detected any such activity as of yet. Despite this warning, growing internal disputes over amongst high profile Russian cyber criminal groups – such as Conti – discussed in the previous Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update indicate that some Russian criminal groups may have limited capacity and willingness to assist Moscow in evading international sanctions and restrictions. Nevertheless, there is a growing risk of either Russian state-linked hacking groups or patriotic Russian cyber criminal groups engaging in financially motivated activity at the behest of the Russian government in the next 12 months, especially as the international sanctions levied on Russia continue to place increasing financial pressure on the country’s key industries, such as energy and banking.
Announcements of fresh sanctions continue daily as the UK Government faces mounting pressure to act more aggressively against London-based oligarchs. Roman Abramovich – perhaps the UK capital’s most famous Russian resident and soon-to-be former owner of Chelsea Football Club, is one of seven oligarchs recently sanctioned. Oleg Deripaska – the only oligarch so far to successfully negotiate the delisting of his company EN+ from OFAC’s sanctions list – was also named, a one-time business partner of Abramovich. Also sanctioned is the CEO of state-owned oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, alongside four others close to Putin: Andrey Kostin, Alexei Miller, Dmitri Lebedev and Nikolai Tokarev. Many of those named on the UK’s latest list have been under sanctions in the US and/or the EU for several years and are therefore prepared and likely expecting the announcement. The delay in the UK naming them has gifted them time to re-organise assets. Notwithstanding the lack of surprise, these sanctions are not likely to have much impact on decision-making in the Kremlin.
Of greater importance is banning (or phasing out) the import of Russian oil and gas by the UK, the EU and the US. The UK imports only 8 percent of its oil from Russia, and 4% of its gas supplies; however, this will still have a significant impact on the rising cost of living – as evidenced at petrol station forecourts across the country where petrol is inching closer to £2 a litre. Joe Biden announced a ban on both oil and gas imports – the US imports no gas from Russia and 7% of its oil. The EU is faced with a harder dilemma as it presented a plan to phase out gas imports only: 40% of the EU’s gas comes from Russia;27% of its oil. Combined, these will have a damaging impact on the Russian economy but will also likely drive the cost of Brent Crude Oil well above the current $109 a barrel. Those shunning Russian oil and gas will have to compete elsewhere to get supplies, leaving those countries not shy of Russian energy able to buy at a discount and keep the Kremlin somewhat afloat. Although China has publicly cooled its relationship with Russia and is now publicly against the war in Ukraine, Beijing retains a huge appetite for fossil fuels and is unlikely to shy away from soaking up Russian crude on the cheap. Similarly, India has been offered a 27 percent discount on Russian crude this week, as the government identified two Russian banks to conduct Rupee-Ruble payments with – Sberbank and VTB, both of which are sanctioned by the UK, the EU and the US.
Other new sanctions from the UK include, similar to the EU, the 386 members of the Russian Duma (the lower house of government) who voted in favour of recognising the sovereignty of Luhansk and Donetsk, and by extension support the war. These are largely symbolic sanctions, as many of these individuals, unlike oligarchs and the most senior members of the government, do not have cash and assets stashed away in foreign jurisdictions.
Further, the Kremlin will see these sanctions as further acts of aggression. The repercussion are not yet clear, but may hamper ceasefire negotiations and further damage the prospect of constructive dialogue between the ‘West’ and Russia.
Sibylline has identified over 300 companies that have announced their withdrawal from Russia – but eyes will be on the leading banks, hotels and retailers who remain or have yet to announce a departure – many of which have significant exposure in the country.
32 years ago, the opening of the first McDonald’s branch in Moscow heralded the end of the Cold War. In subsequent years, the brand would open 850 restaurants across the country and employ 62,000 people. This week, as McDonald’s announced it would be suspending operations, it pledged to continue paying the salaries of all its employees in Russia. Other brands, including Pizza Hut, KFC and Ikea, have followed suit. The footage of long queues snaking around Moscow’s shopping malls for that last cheeseburger or frying pan is symbolic of how quickly this crisis has affected Russian consumers. But for business leaders, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has presented a long list of hurdles to overcome: from reputational damage to the danger of violating sanctions, companies also face the complex challenges of looking after their staff.
- Overnight air strikes hit a number of Ukrainian cities that have not previously seen much in the way of direct targeting, namely the central city of Dnipro as well as the western cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk. At around 0610 (local time), three Russian air strikes killed at least one person in Dnipro, the first time the major Ukrainian city has been targeted so far. Dnipro is a strategically significant city which is not only a principle crossing point across the Dnieper river, but also the Ukrainian military’s regional headquarters overseeing operations in Eastern Ukraine and the Donbas – which Russian forces are currently trying to encircle and cut off. Similarly, numerous Russian air strikes hit the airport in Lutsk, Volyn oblast, in the northwest of Ukraine – also the first time that town has been directly targeted. Further strikes hit the airport at Ivano-Frankivsk to the southeast of Lviv, which Russian long-range missiles had previously targeted during the opening phases of the invasion.
- While the attacks in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk struck military targets, namely the airports, strikes in Dnipro hit civilian areas in the Novokodatskyi district of the city, including a factory and an apartment block. It is difficult to gauge precisely where Russian forces are in relation to Dnipro, but it remains unlikely that they are in a position to attack the city in force in the immediate term, though light units are likely operating to the northeast of the city in Kharkiv oblast. Nevertheless, the targeting of the city for the first time since the invasion began underlines Russian intentions to expand operations in that direction, with the city a logical target as Russian forces in the south and north-east look to eventually link up and cut off Ukrainian forces in Donbas.
- In other developments, President Vladimir Putin today, 11 March, approved plans to allow volunteers, including foreigners, to fight in Ukraine. According to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, over 16,000 volunteers, mostly from the Middle East, have already asked to join the fighting. This aligns with US officials’ claims on 6 March that Russia has been actively recruiting Syrian fighters, and as previously assessed, their presence would likely have a psychological impact designed to undermine the morale of the defenders, in a similar vein to the Chechen special forces, the so-called Kadyrovtsy.
- Today, 11 March, the Russian prosecutor general launched an inspection of the 300 or so international companies that have suspended operations in Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine. This follows the drafting of new legislation by the Economic Development Ministry yesterday, 10 March, that would empower the state-owned Vnesheconombank and the state export-guarantee agency to seize the property of foreign companies that left Russian markets of their own accord, largely under the justification of “premeditated bankruptcy”. According to the Izvestia newspaper, the Ministry has sent a list of some 60 foreign firms that have left the company and are now at risk of nationalisation, which allegedly includes Volkswagen, Apple, IKEA, Microsoft, IBM, Shell, McDonald’s, Porsche, and H&M, among others.
- Amid preparations for potential nationalisations, the chief economist at the World Bank, Carmen Reinhart, warned on 10 March that sanctions have driven Russia, as well as Belarus, close to defaulting on their sovereign debts, mirroring other rating agencies predictions over the past week. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has now similarly stated that it no longer sees a Russian default as “an improbable event”. Looking ahead, the key trigger to watch in this respect will be a payment due on a USD 117 million sovereign Eurobond which is due on 16 March. While Moscow has a 30-day grace period if this payment is missed, it will nevertheless be watched closely by markets as a key indicator of a potential default.
- On 10 March Meta Platforms’ spokesperson said that they have “temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression” to be posted on social media platforms such as Facebook. More specifically, users in certain countries, including Russia, Ukraine and Poland will be allowed to post comments calling for violence against Russian soldiers and for the death of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The decision was condemned by the Russian Embassy in Washington, which called the company’s actions “another evidence of a declaration of an information war against Russia.” The development is bound to further reinforce Russia’s clampdown on tech and social media platforms, with access to Facebook in the country already blocked last week.
- European leaders at the ongoing EU summit have proposed a doubling of the European Peace Facility to EUR 1 billion, the mechanism used to supply Ukraine with weapons. While EU leaders committed to helping rebuild Ukraine after the war, a statement published in the early hours of this morning did not agree to place Ukraine on a fast-track to EU membership, as President Volodymyr Zelensky had requested. This is in line with our previous assessment that despite resolute EU military and political support for Ukraine, EU membership, and even candidate member status, remains a long-term prospect that is unlikely to alter the progress of the war.
New satellite imagery published by Maxar Technologies on 10 March indicates that the sizeable Russian convoy that had stalled over the last week north of Kyiv has now “largely dispersed and redeployed”. Cloud cover had previously prevented satellite monitoring, but Maxar’s imagery shows that elements of the convoy have repositioned into forests near Lubyanka, in the town of Ozera, north of Gostomel airport, and Berestyanka due west of Kyiv, with towed artillery now in firing positions. The British Ministry of Defence furthermore stated on 11 March that such redeployments indicate renewed offensive activity against Kyiv and the surrounding area is likely in the coming days. This will furthermore limit evacuation routes south of the city as the encirclement continues, with a potential new thrust appearing east of Kyiv which could push south towards the strategic town on Kaniv, where a dam provides the next Dnieper crossing point south of Kyiv itself.
The situation on the Western borders and along western evacuation routes remains largely unchanged since yesterday. However, the attack on Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk this morning, 11 March, underlines the increasing threat of attacks on previously safer routes in the west of the country. The apparent redeployment of troops around northwest Kyiv and increasing threat of rocket, missile and artillery attack will continue to threaten civilian areas in and around Kyiv, maintaining security risks along most evacuation routes out of Kyiv. Russian troops advanced along the E40 and toward P04 yesterday, and fighting is expected to continue around Buzova, Makariv and Zhytomyr, rendering the E40 unsafe. In addition, Russian forces (mostly infantry) have pushed southward from Makariv on 9 March toward the outskirts of Byshev Airport on the westbound P04. No fighting in the airport’s premises has been observed but we consider this to be a likely target for Russian forces in the coming 24-48hrs.
In comparative terms, the H01/P01 may represent the safest route out of the city, although any travel is undertaken at one’s own risk as all approaches to Kyiv are vulnerable to shelling or missile fire. This is further highlighted by the red alerts issued for potential aerial strikes in Vasylkiv, Vinnytsia and Bilka Tserkva today, following social media accounts suggesting missile strikes landed near Vasylkiv on 7 March. Russian forces have already conducted aerial attacks against Bila Tserkva along the P32 west to H01 on Saturday (5 March).
Russia: Hacktivist groups’ persistent and rudimentary cyber attacks unlikely to significantly impact Moscow’s ongoing military operations in Ukraine
On 10 March, the hacktivist groups Distributed Denial of Secrets and Anonymous claimed that they allegedly leaked over 800GB of data from the Russian government’s censorship body Roskomnadzor. Anonymous reportedly gained access to this information after they compromised the infrastructure of Roskomnadzor’s department in Russia’s Republic of Bashkortostan. While a preliminary investigation of a small subset of the leaked data indicates it may be genuine, it remains unclear whether any of Moscow’s sensitive operational information was exposed due to this leak. Nevertheless, this incident is consistent with Anonymous’ 3 March claim that they have compromised more than 2,500 websites linked to the Russian and Belarusian governments in support of Kyiv (see Sibylline Biweekly Ukraine Cyber Update – 8 March). While further such pro-Ukraine hacktivist attacks are highly likely to emerge over the coming days, Anonymous’ limited technical capabilities and rudimentary attacks will ensure that such activity has a low impact on Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. Russian government agencies and their private sector partners, such as in telecoms, will remain the most at-risk for further hacktivist attacks.
Russia – Belarus: Western sanctions and trade restrictions set to drive economies towards sovereign debt default
On 11 March, Carmen Reinhart, chief economist at the World Bank, warned that sanctions have driven Russia and close partner Belarus close to defaulting on their sovereign debts. This comes after credit ratings agencies downgraded their debt ratings to junk in the aftermath of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Western businesses continue to suspend operations in Russia, with Goldman Sachs becoming the first Wall Street institution to announce its withdrawal. Overall, foreign investors hold approximately half of Moscow’s currency-linked bonds, generating significant exposure for companies that bought debt from Russia. Notably, from 16 March, Russia will have a thirty-day grace period to pay USD 107 million in coupons across two bonds. Putin’s indication that Russian entities will be allowed to pay some bondholders in rubles amid lack of access to large amounts of hard currency reserves could count as a default among Western lenders, further undermining market confidence and limiting Russia’s external financing options.
European Union: Debate about Ukraine membership and new loans will heighten regional tensions
On 10 March, European Union heads of state and government indicated that Ukraine’s fast-tracked accession to the EU remains unlikely during a meeting in Versailles. Before and during the meeting, both Dutch Prime Minister Rutte, Croatian Prime Minister Plenkovic and French President Macron indicated that they oppose the opening of the accession procedure with a country currently at war. While EU officials remained opposed to jointly issuing new bonds to help finance the bloc’s energy and defence spending, the European Commission has proposed the relaxing of state aid rules in order to support companies facing liquidity problems due to sanctions against Russia. It is highly likely that the debate about Ukraine’s speedy admission as well as measures to support industries heavily impacted by the war in Ukraine will continue to heighten regional tensions within the bloc. (Source: Sibylline)
10 Mar 22. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and assault on media freedom: Media Freedom Coalition statement, March 2022.
The Media Freedom Coalition condemns Russia’s premeditated, unprovoked and unjustifiable war and use of coordinated disinformation campaigns against Ukraine.
The undersigned members of the Media Freedom Coalition strongly condemn Russia’s premeditated, unprovoked and unjustifiable war against Ukraine with the participation of Belarus. We reiterate our staunch support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and for the people of Ukraine. As the situation rapidly deteriorates, we are seriously concerned that the Russian Federation is completely supressing journalists and media workers from reporting on events that are taking place on the ground in order, and this to control the information space, including through Russian disinformation. The same applies to Belarus, who supports Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and continues to further exacerbate the already extremely troubling situation for media freedom in their country.
The Kremlin is throttling or blocking access to many social media platforms and app stores. It is also blocking the websites of many of the few remaining Russian independent media outlets. The BBC, TV5 Monde, CBC/Radio-Canada, CNN, CBS, ABC News, Bloomberg, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and others are moved to suspend their operations in Russia due to new legislation that criminalizes any individual or organization accused of sharing what Russia views as “fake news” about Russia’s war in Ukraine. While media organizations may decide to re-commence their reporting from Russia, they do so in the face of ongoing risk posed by the new law. We strongly condemn Russia for passing this repressive law that unduly restricts journalists and media workers from carrying out their vital, independent, work.
Putin’s campaign of intimidation and repression against journalists and media workers is aimed at preventing the people of Russia from accessing accurate and independent information about the illegal and reprehensible acts being perpetrated in their name against Ukraine. A free access to information is important to the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
We also strongly condemn Russia’s longstanding use of coordinated disinformation campaigns against Ukraine, most recently, to create false pretexts to attempt to justify their illegal and immoral acts and to conceal the atrocities they are committing. The ongoing efforts by the Kremlin to muzzle local journalists and expel foreign correspondents providing fact-based coverage of the war are a violation of international human rights law. Therefore, the Media Freedom Coalition welcomes the steps already taken by online platforms to prevent state-sponsored disinformation, including that propagated by Russia Today and Sputnik, consistent with the sanctions adopted by many governments against the individuals in charge of these Russian state-media.
Independent media has a crucial role in all societies. Journalists and media workers must be allowed to safely carry out their work, particularly in times of conflict. We condemn attacks on journalists, including the brutal attack on journalists of the Sky News and call on Russia to immediately end the brutal crackdown on independent media and to respect the rights of journalists and media workers in accordance with international human rights law and international humanitarian law. We call out all violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including attacks on journalists and media outlets. These cannot be tolerated.
We stand with journalists and media workers who, at great personal risk and sacrifice, work to bring Russia’s human rights violations and abuses to light. We commend their professionalism and resilience to ensure the free flow of independent information despite the most challenging circumstances.
The statement was first published on the Media Freedom Coalition website. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
09 Mar 22. UK bans space-related exports to Russia. New trade sanctions aimed at Russia’s space sector were announced March 9 by UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. While the announcement focused on new aviation sanctions strengthening an overflight and landing ban imposed on Russian aircraft in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, additional trade measures “will prevent UK exports of aviation or space-related items and technology to Russia, including related services such as insurance and reinsurance services.”
“This means cover is withdrawn on existing policies and UK insurers and reinsurers will be unable to pay claims in respect of existing policies in these sectors,” the announcement states.
The announcement said “the new measures will further tighten the growing economic pressure on Russia and ensures the UK is in line with sanctions imposed by our allies.”
The sanctions align the UK with aerospace-related export bans the European Union adopted in February “covering goods and technology suited for use in aviation and the space industry and prohibits the provision of insurance and reinsurance and maintenance services in relation to those goods and technology.”
According to Seradata, a UK firm that tracks space insurance, the UK’s newly announced sanctions, combined with actions already taken by the United States and the European Union, further isolate Russia’s aerospace sector. David Todd, Seradata’s head of space content, said the moves could leave Russian communications satellites owned by Gazprom and Moscow-based RSCC uncovered in the event of a failure.
“The big picture is that Russia is now isolated from space insurance unless there’s a regime change,” Todd said.
The UK, Europe and U.S. are the core markets for space insurance services. Todd said underwriters in the UK alone provide about 30 percent of the global space insurance market’s coverage capacity.
Following the sanctions, he said Russian companies will either need to scour markets that have not traditionally provided this kind of coverage to any meaningful extent, or seek domestic sources where this capacity has historically been limited.
“A lot of companies self insure, and that might have to be the way it goes for the way forward,” he added.
One insurance source described the ban on covering Russia’s space risks as “not a huge problem” for the market because “relatively little” Russian space hardware has coverage.
“There’s a lot less Russian kit being launched compared to 10-20 years ago [when this] would have been much more of a headache from an insurance perspective,” the person said.
“OneWeb is obviously a customer who is significantly impacted, but there are very few others that are and therefore the pain to the market, and the impact to the market, is relatively minor.”
UK-based OneWeb said Sept. 2 that it had secured an insurance policy worth more than $1 billion to cover what was then 10 remaining Russian Soyuz launches to complete its constellation.
However, in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the company said March 3 it had suspended the six launches it had left to find non-Russian alternatives.
Because of the Soyuz’s high level of reliability, Todd said the loss of six insured OneWeb Soyuz launches affects only about $20 million premium income for the market.
Insurers were set to reap $700 million in gross premiums (before broker deductions) for 2022 before the Ukraine crisis disrupted missions using Russian launch vehicles, according to Seradata’s research.
But while a fraction of these premiums are derived from OneWeb and other non-Russian customers that had plans to launch with Russian vehicles, an underwriter said Russian space risks that are usually insured in Russia and then reinsured internationally are “not insignificant.”
The underwriter said the market currently expects there is about “$120 million of premium in 2022 that the international market will forgo due to sanctions and prohibitions on insuring Russian risks.” (Source: glstrade.com/Space News)
11 Mar 22. Russia targets new cities and calls on foreign ‘volunteers’ to join fight. Moscow repeats unsupported chemical weapons claims while Putin speaks of ‘positive movements’ in talks with Ukraine. Russia launched air strikes deeper into Ukraine and called on foreign “volunteers” to join its war on Friday as Moscow stepped up unfounded allegations over chemical weapons threats. With the invasion in its third week, Russian jets hit the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro while rockets pounded Lutsk in the west in a sign President Vladimir Putin is widening the scope of an assault that has targeted the country’s largest population centres. Chairing a session of his security council via video link, Putin ordered his army to deploy foreign “volunteers” to the conflict zone to “help” residents of Ukraine. Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, told Putin that 16,000 from the Middle East were prepared to fight, many with experience of battling the terror group Isis. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the call. “Thugs from Syria . . . from the country that was destroyed in the same way as the occupiers are destroying us now,” he said in a televised address. The Russian president later struck a different tone, speaking of “positive movements” in peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. Putin told Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko at a meeting in the Kremlin that Russia’s negotiators had informed him of “certain positive movements” in negotiations with Ukraine, without offering any further details. The Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers held talks in Turkey on Thursday, the highest-level meeting so far, but failed to reach a breakthrough or even establish a temporary ceasefire. On Friday Russia expanded its aerial assault on Ukraine’s cities while shifting parts of an armoured column north of Kyiv into better positions to resume its stalled offensive on the capital. A video posted on social media showed a huge explosion and fireball on the outskirts of Dnipro. Emergency services said the strikes were near a kindergarten and an apartment building and that one person died in the attack. (Source: FT.com)
11 Mar 22. Joe Biden is due to speak on Friday morning about the new trade measures related to Russia. Joe Biden is poised to end normal trade relations with Russia on Friday, a person familiar with the matter said, in a new step to inflict economic punishment on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. The move by Biden comes after the US this week banned Russian energy imports into America — targeting the biggest source of trade between the two countries and a key source of hard currency for Moscow. The White House has been under pressure from Congress to go further than that, by revoking Russia’s status as a permanent trading partner, which could lead to higher tariffs on some other Russian imports. Biden is due to speak on Friday morning about the new trade measures related to Russia, the latest in a series of sweeping sanctions on Moscow including targeting members of the country’s business elite, the inner circle of officials close to Putin, the central bank, and other key financial institutions. (Source: FT.com)
11 Mar 22. Russian forces regroup near Kyiv after setbacks.
- Biden to call for an end of normal trade with Russia – source
- Satellite images show Russians redeploy north of Kyiv
- Britain says Russia could launch assault on Kyiv within days
- Putin cites “positive shifts” in talks
Russian forces bearing down on Kyiv are regrouping northwest of the Ukrainian capital, satellite pictures showed, in what Britain said could be preparation for an assault on the city within days.
Ukraine accused Russian forces on Friday of bombing and shelling cities across the country, including hitting a psychiatric hospital near the eastern town of Izyum where hundreds of patients were sheltering in the basement.
In Russia, prosecutors asked a court to declare Meta Platforms (FB.O) an “extremist” organisation on Friday, after the owner of Facebook and Instagram allowed posts calling for the death of invading Russian troops. read more
Russia has been pounding Ukraine’s cities while its main attack force north of Kyiv has been stalled on roads since the invasion’s early days, having failed in what Western countries say was an initial plan for a lightning assault on the capital.
Images released by private U.S. satellite firm Maxar showed armoured units manoeuvring in and through towns close to an airport on Kyiv’s northwest outskirts, site of fighting since Russia landed paratroops there in the first hours of the war.
Other elements had repositioned near the settlement of Lubyanka just to the north, with towed artillery howitzers in firing positions, Maxar said.
“Russia is likely seeking to reset and re-posture its forces for renewed offensive activity in the coming days,” Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update. “This will probably include operations against the capital Kyiv.”
The British update said Russian ground forces were still making only limited progress, hampered by persistent logistical issues and Ukrainian resistance.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine had “already reached a strategic turning point” in the conflict.
“It is impossible to say how many days we still have to free Ukrainian land. But we can say we will do it,” he said in a televised address.
In an overnight statement, the Ukrainian general staff said Russian forces were regrouping after taking heavy losses. Ukraine had pushed Russians back to “unfavourable positions” in the Polyskiy district, near the Belarus border to the rear of the main Russian column heading towards Kyiv, it said.
Emergency services said no one was hurt in the psychiatric hospital struck in eastern Ukraine, as the patients were already sheltering in the basement. read more
But Oleh Synegubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, said 330 people had been in the building and called the attack “a war crime against civilians”. Reuters could not immediately verify the report and there was no immediate comment from Moscow.
It came less than two days after Russia bombed a maternity hospital in the besieged southern port of Mariupol. Ukraine said pregnant women were among those hurt there; Russia said the hospital was no longer functioning and was occupied by Ukrainian fighters when it was hit.
For a seventh straight day, Russia announced plans to cease fire to let civilians leave Mariupol, where hundreds of thousands of people trapped with no food, water, heat or power. All previous attempts to reach the city have failed with both sides accusing each other of failing to observe ceasefires.
Ukraine said it would try yet again to help people leave: “We hope it will work today,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said. read more
Moscow denies it has been targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to disarm and “de-Nazify” Ukraine.
PUTIN SEES ‘POSITIVE SHIFTS’
President Vladimir Putin has tried to project an air of calm since ordering the invasion on Feb. 24. At a meeting with Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko on Friday, Putin said there were “certain positive shifts” in talks with Ukrainians, though he did not elaborate.
Earlier, at a meeting of his security council, Putin approved a proposal to recruit 16,000 fighters from the Middle East. read more
The Russian state prosecutor’s office said it had asked a court to designate Meta “extremist” and ban it from Russia. The country’s investigative committee also said it had opened a criminal case “in connection with illegal calls for murder and violence against citizens of the Russian Federation” by Meta employees. Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Its spokesperson had said on Thursday the company had temporarily eased rules to allow posts such as “death to the Russian invaders”, though not calls for violence against Russian civilians. Reuters reported that internal emails sent to content moderators showed guidelines had allowed some posts calling for the death of Putin or Lukashenko. read more
“We don’t want to believe the Reuters report – it is just too difficult to believe,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “We hope it is not true because if it is true then it will mean that there will have to be the most decisive measures to end the activities of this company.”
European Union leaders were holding a summit at France’s Versailles Palace, expected to be dominated by calls for more action to punish Russia, assist Ukraine and cope with an influx of nearly 2.5 million refugees in just two weeks.
In the two weeks since the invasion, Western countries have swiftly moved to isolate Russia from world trade and the global financial system to an extent never before visited on such a large economy.
In the latest move, sources said U.S. President Joe Biden would ask the Group of Seven industrialised nations and the EU to strip Russia of normal rights under global trading rules, known as most-favoured nation status. read more
While Russia’s advance on Kyiv has been stalled and it has failed so far to capture any cities in northern or eastern Ukraine, it has made more substantial progress in the south. Moscow said on Friday its separatist allies in the southeast had captured the town of Volnovakha north of Mariupol.
Residents of Ukrainian cities have packed into underground metros for shelter. Nastya, a young girl lying on a makeshift bed on the floor of a metro train carriage in Kharkiv, said she had been there for more than a week, unable to move around much and ill with a virus that had being going around.
“I’m scared for my home, for the homes of my friends, very scared for the whole country, and scared for myself of course.” read more
On Friday, three air strikes in the central city of Dnipro killed at least one person, state emergency services said, adding that the strikes were near a kindergarten.
Ihor Polishshuk, the mayor of the city of Lutsk, said four people were killed and six wounded in an attack on an airfield there, a rare strike on a target deep in western Ukraine far from the battlefields in the north, east and south. (Source: Reuters)
11 Mar 22. Russian forces bearing down on Kyiv are regrouping northwest of the Ukrainian capital, satellite pictures showed, and Britain said on Friday Moscow could now be planning an assault on the city within days. Ukraine accused Russian forces of hitting a psychiatric hospital near the eastern Ukrainian town of Izyum, in what the regional governor called “a brutal attack on civilians”. Emergency services said no one was hurt as the patients were already sheltering in the basement. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the green light to bring in thousands of fighters from the Middle East to fight against Ukraine. Russia will end the activities of Meta Platforms, operator of social media sites Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, if a Reuters report that the company will allow users in some countries to call for violence against Russians and Russian soldiers is true, the Kremlin said. Eastern Europe’s volunteer-driven aid effort to help Ukrainians was showing signs of strains, with some cities running out of accommodation as the number of refugees passed 2.5mn.
The World Health Organization advised Ukraine to destroy high-threat pathogens housed in the country’s public health laboratories to prevent “any potential spills” that would spread disease among the population, the agency told Reuters. (Source: Reuters)