9th Jun 2023

Kyiv seeks weapons, as EU nudges toward SWIFT ban

  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky speaking to EU leaders by video-link from Kyiv on Thursday (Photo:
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Ukrainians fighting to fend off a Russian assault are asking for weapons shipments including US- and UK-made anti-tank weapons, as EU countries showed signs they are willing to cut themselves off from Russia financially.

The details of Ukraine's requests to Nato are classified so as not to expose gaps in Kyiv's military capabilities — but they include anti-tank and anti-aircraft rockets, small arms and ammunition, according to Ukrainian diplomatic sources.

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US-made anti-tank rockets called Javelins had been effective — but more weapons and supplies were needed.

The Javelins "have made a big difference, but we need more ammunition for them," one diplomat, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said in Brussels late Friday (February 26).

Allied leaders meeting at a virtual-summit the same day announced an "unprecedented" deployment of a joint rapid-response force to eastern Europe to deter Russian aggression.

The allies also agreed to keep arming Ukraine, despite Russian president Vladimir Putin's threats against outside "interference." But they reiterated they would not intervene directly in the war unless Russia attacked nearby Nato countries.

For its part, the Ukrainian government has started a global drive for donations to pay for weapons.

And according to the same Ukrainian diplomatic sources, Western arms shipments still were deliverable across overland routes from Poland and could still reach Kyiv despite an assault on the city by Russian forces from mostly northern positions.

Ukraine estimates Russia has lost over 3,000 soldiers in two days of fighting, but it has no evidence to prove this, amid Russian counter-claims.

If there were heavy Russian casualties, that could make Putin rethink his military operation, Andrey Kortunov, the director of the Russian International Affairs Council, a Russian state-linked think-tank, told BBC radio on Saturday.

Putin was counting on victory in two weeks and "if he fails to do that, his popularity [in Russia] is likely to plummet," Kortunov said. On the other hand, he warned, a desperate Putin could resort to using heavy Russian fire on civilian targets in Ukraine.

On the diplomatic front, EU countries on Friday imposed an asset-freeze on Putin and his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Putin was "responsible for the deaths of innocent people," German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said.

That move is largely symbolic, as Putin is not believed to have assets in the West in his own name. But even so it marked a political watershed, as moral outrage in the West mounted.

There also appeared to be movement in Ukraine's favour on the financial front.

During a summit in Brussels Thursday night, EU leaders had stopped short of banning Russia from the SWIFT international bank-payment system or imposing embargoes on Russian oil and gas exports.

That foot-dragging prompted widespread outrage — and embarrassment for countries like Hungary, Germany and Italy that stood in the way.

On Saturday, however, Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky announced that Italian prime minister Mario Draghi had made a U-turn.

"This is the beginning of a new page in the history of our states," Zelensky tweeted, referring to Italy.

That followed a contretemps where Draghi had tried to phone Zelensky on Friday morning — and where the Ukrainian president missed the call because he was dealing with heavy fighting at least three locations where his forces were taking casualties.

Zelensky later tweeted acidly that henceforth, he'd "try to move the war schedule to talk to #MarioDraghi at a specific time."

Vetoes melt

Germany and France have also said they would not veto a SWIFT ban — but Berlin still needed to calculate its impact, according to German finance minister Christian Lindner, speaking to reporters in Paris on Friday.

The easing positions meant a new decision on SWIFT might take place in the "coming days," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said in Brussels later the same day.

"[Blocking Russia from] SWIFT is just a matter of time, very short time, days," a central bank governor from one EU country, who asked not to be named, told the Reuters news agency on Saturday.

"Is it sufficient? No. Is it necessary? Absolutely," the bank governor added.

China and India, which are two potential financial sponsors of Russia should it be cut off financially by the West, abstained on Friday from a UN Security Council vote condemning Putin's war.

Even so, that resolution now goes to a UN General Assembly vote of all UN member states as a further test of the support the Russian leader still maintains globally.

Anti-war rallies are planned in several EU cities, including Berlin, this weekend.

Angry protesters in Dublin Friday surrounded a car trying to get into the Russian embassy and yelled "go home!" in just one of many signs from around Europe of the degree of public fury at Russia — and at Putin personally.

Russian banks, oil refineries to face EU freeze

Russian banks and oil refineries to be hobbled by new EU sanctions, as civilian deaths mount in Ukraine. US wanted to exclude Russia from SWIFT, but Germany and France favoured incremental approach.


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