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Ukraine

Borrell describes 150,000 Russian troops deployed to Ukraine border as ‘highest ever’

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At today’s (19 April) Foreign Affairs Council, European Union foreign ministers discussed Russia’s increased military activities in Eastern Ukraine and the illegally annexed Ukrainian region of Crimea with the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba. EU High Representative Josep Borrell urged Russia to de-escalate and commended the Ukrainian government for its restraint.

Borrell described the build-up of troops as "the highest military deployment of the Russian army at the Ukrainian border ever”, saying that more than 150,000 Russian troops had been deployed, as well as all kinds of materials for warfare as well, including field hospitals. He said that the risk of further escalation was evident. Minister Kuleba briefed the ministers on the higher number of casualties compared to the same time last year and described the situation as, “very worrisome”.

The message from all EU ministers was clear, offering their strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Both Chancellor Merkel and President Biden have made direct requests to Putin to withdraw this deployment. 

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The EPP Group in the European Parliament requests a parliamentary debate in next week’s plenary session on the current Russian military build-up at the Ukrainian border.

“It is Europe’s collective duty to reaffirm our support for Ukraine and we would like to hear from the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council on how the European Union intends to do it,” said Sandra Kalniete MEP, vice chairwoman of the EPP Group responsible for foreign affairs. “The situation is deteriorating and is a serious and growing threat to European stability and security as well as to Ukrainian sovereignty.”

“The EU and the member states have to start to deliver on their declarations: we must assist Ukraine militarily in terms of strengthening capabilities and also politically. It has to be made clear without any delay by the highest authorities of the European Union. In addition, together with our partners, it is time to grant the NATO Membership Action Plan to Ukraine,” she concluded.

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The other focus of the discussion was the further implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, and notably the EU's continued engagement with Ukraine to ensure sustained reform efforts, especially on strengthening the rule of law. Ministers will be invited to reflect on how the EU can further enhance its sectoral cooperation in areas like climate policy. The EU will also continue to work with Ukraine in the fight against OVID-19, in particular through assistance with vaccination.

Russia

Ukraine seethes as Putin's party courts voters in separatist-held Donbass

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Russian and separatist flags flutter in the air as lively music blares and soldiers from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic sit listening to speeches. Members of the Russian nationalist Night Wolves motorcycle club mill around nearby, write Alexander Ermochenko, Sergiy Karazy in Kyiv and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow.

Russia will hold parliamentary elections on 17-19 September and for the first time, United Russia, the ruling party that supports President Vladimir Putin, is campaigning in eastern Ukraine on territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

Up for grabs are the votes of more than 600,000 people who were given Russian passports after a Kremlin policy change in 2019 that Ukraine decried as a step towards annexation.

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"I will vote for sure, and only for United Russia because I think with them we will join the Russian Federation," said Elena, 39, from Khartsysk in the Donetsk region.

"Our children will study according to the Russian curriculum, our salaries will be according to Russian standards, and actually we will live in Russia," she said, speaking at a United Russia rally in the city of Donetsk.

In 2014, after street protests ousted Ukraine's Kremlin-friendly president Viktor Yanukovich, Russia swiftly annexed another part of Ukraine, the Crimean Peninsula. Pro-Russian separatists then rose up across eastern Ukraine, in what Kyiv and its Western allies called a Moscow-backed land grab.

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More than 14,000 people have died in fighting between separatists and Ukrainian forces, with deadly clashes continuing regularly despite a ceasefire that ended large scale combat in 2015.

Two self-proclaimed "People's Republics" run the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, in a part of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbass. Moscow has cultivated close links to the separatists but denies orchestrating their rebellions.

In Donetsk, election billboards with images of Russian landmarks such as Moscow's St Basil's Cathedral are dotted around. The Russian rouble has supplanted the Ukrainian hryvnia. Kyiv, meanwhile, is furious at Russia staging an election on separatist-held territory.

"There is a total 'Russification' of this region going full steam ahead," Oleskiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's security and defence council, told Reuters in Kyiv.

"The other question is why is the world not reacting to this? Why should they recognise this State Duma?" he said in an interview in Kyiv, referring to the Russian parliament's lower house that will be chosen in the vote.

Russia says there is nothing unusual about people with dual Russian and Ukrainian nationality voting in a Russian election.

Donbass residents with Russian passports were entitled to vote "wherever they live", Russia's TASS news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Aug. 31.

Kyiv and Moscow accuse each other of blocking a permanent peace in the Donbass. A mass mobilisation of Russian forces near Ukraine's border earlier this year caused alarm in the West.

Across Russia itself, United Russia is expected to win the parliamentary election, as it has never failed to do in the Putin era, despite opinion poll ratings that have sagged lately over stagnant living standards. Opposition groups say their candidates have been denied access to the ballot, jailed, intimidated or pushed into exile, and they anticipate fraud. Russia says the vote will be fair.

Although the Donbass is small when compared with the overall Russian electorate, the ruling party's overwhelming support there could be enough to secure extra seats.

"Obviously United Russia's rating there is much higher and the protest vote is much lower there than across (Russia) on average," said Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speech writer turned political analyst.

"That's why they are mobilizing Donbass."

Yevhen Mahda, a Kyiv-based political analyst, said Russia was letting Donbass residents vote not only to boost United Russia, but to legitimise the separatist administrations.

"Russia, I would put it this way, with great cynicism, is exploiting the fact that most of the people living there have nowhere to go to get help, nobody to rely on, and often a Russian passport was the only way out of the desperate situation that people found themselves in on occupied territories."

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Ukraine

Ukraine marks Independence Day vowing to reclaim annexed territory

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Ukrainian service members take part in the Independence Day military parade in Kyiv, Ukraine August 24, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivers a speech during the Independence Day military parade in Kyiv, Ukraine August 24, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Ukraine held its first military parade in several years, celebrating the 30th anniversary of its independence and declaring it would reclaim areas of its territory annexed by Russia, writes Pavel Polityuk, Reuters.

Units of the Ukrainian army, tanks, armored personnel carriers, missiles and air defence systems marched along the central street of Kyiv, while a parade of Ukrainian Navy units took place in the Black Sea port of Odessa.

"We are fighting for our people, because it is possible to temporarily occupy territories, but it is impossible to occupy people's love for Ukraine," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said at a ceremony before the parade.

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"People in Donbass and Crimea will return to us, because we are a family," he said.

Relations between Kyiv and Moscow collapsed after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and the outbreak of war between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people in seven years.

On Monday, more than 40 countries took part in the Crimea platform, a summit in Kyiv designed to keep international attention focused on the return of Crimea. Read more.

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Energy

Ukraine says discussed guarantees with US and Germany over Nord Stream 2

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The logo of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project is seen on a pipe at the Chelyabinsk pipe rolling plant in Chelyabinsk, Russia, February 26, 2020.  REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov//File Photo

The energy ministers of Ukraine, the United States and Germany discussed guarantees for Ukraine about its future as a transit country after the construction of Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Ukraine's energy chief said on Monday (23 August), write Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams.

Kyiv fears Russia could use the pipeline, which will bring Russian gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea, to deprive Ukraine of lucrative transit fees. Several other nations also worry it will deepen Europe's dependence on Russian energy supplies.

The three ministers discussed "a number of steps that can be taken together in terms of real guarantees for Ukraine regarding the preservation of transit," Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said.

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"We proceeded from the position that was declared and voiced by the president of Ukraine - that we cannot allow the Russian Federation to use gas as a weapon," he told reporters.

Ukraine is bitterly opposed to a deal between Washington and Berlin over Nord Stream 2, which will carry gas to Europe while bypassing Ukraine. U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has not tried to kill off the project with sanctions, as Ukraine lobbied for.

"From today's perspective we shouldn't reject any suggestions, but also not create any insurmountable obstacles," German Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier told reporters.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Sunday to offer reassurances Ukraine's interests would be protected, but Zelenskiy called for greater clarity on what steps would be taken. read more

Monday's meeting took place on the sidelines of the Crimea Platform, a summit in Kyiv designed to keep international attention focused on returning the Crimea peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014, back to Ukraine.

"I will personally do everything possible to return Crimea, so that it becomes part of Europe together with Ukraine," Zelenskiy told delegates from 46 countries.

Addressing the summit after the gas talks, Altmaier accused Russia of repression in Crimea. "We will not allow Crimea to become a blind spot," he said.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said sanctions on Moscow would remain until Russia ceded back control of the peninsula, adding "Russia must be held accountable for its aggression".

Relations between Kyiv and Moscow collapsed after the annexation and the outbreak of war between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people in seven years.

Ukraine has accused Russia of trying to sabotage the summit by pressuring countries not to attend, while Russia has criticised the West for supporting the event.

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