Then came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The war between two of the world’s largest exporters of food and energy led to a big surge in prices, especially for importers like Ghana. Consumer prices have gone up 30 percent for the year through June, according to data from the research firm Moody’s Analytics. For household essentials, annual inflation has reached 60 percent or more this year, the S&P data shows.

To illustrate this, consider the price of a barrel of oil in dollars versus the Ghanaian cedi. At the beginning of October last year, the price of oil stood at $78.52 per barrel, rising to nearly $130 per barrel in March before falling back to $87.96 at the beginning of this month, a one-year increase of 12 percent in dollar terms. Over the same period, the Ghanaian cedi has weakened over 40 percent against the dollar, meaning that the same barrel of oil that cost roughly 475 cedi a year ago now costs over 900 cedi, almost twice as much.

Adding to the problem are large state-funded subsidies, some taken on or increased through the pandemic, that are now weighing on government finances.

Ghana’s president cut fuel taxes in November 2021, losing roughly $22 million in projected revenue for the government — the latest available numbers.

In Egypt, spending on what the government refers to as “supply commodities,” almost all of which is wheat for its long-running bread subsidy, is expected to come in at around 7 percent of all government spending this year, 12 percent higher — or more than half a billion dollars — than the government budgeted.

As costs ballooned throughout the pandemic, governments took on more debt. Ghana’s public debt grew to nearly $60 billion from roughly $40 billion at the end of 2019, or to nearly 80 percent of its gross domestic product from around 63 percent, according to Moody’s.

It’s one of four countries listed by S&P, alongside Pakistan, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, where interest payments alone account for more than half of the government’s revenues.

“We can’t forget that this is happening on the back end of a once-in-a-century pandemic in which governments, to try and support families as best they could, did borrow more,” said Frank Gill, an analyst at S&P. “This is a shock following up on another shock.”

In May, Sri Lanka defaulted on its government debt for the first time in its history. Over the past month, the governments of Egypt, Pakistan and Ghana have all reached out to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout as they struggle to meet their debt financing needs, no longer able to turn to international investors for more money.

“I don’t think there is a lot of appetite to lend money to some of these countries,” said Brian Weinstein, co-head of credit trading at Bank of America. “They are incredibly vulnerable at the moment.”

That vulnerability is already reflected in the bond market.

In 2016, Ghana borrowed $1 billion for 10 years, paying an interest rate of just over 8 percent. As the country’s financial position has worsened and investors have backed away, the yield — indicative of what it would now cost Ghana to borrow money until 2026 — has risen to above 35 percent.

It’s an untenable cost of debt for a country in Ghana’s situation. And Ghana is not alone. For bonds that also mature in 2026, yields for Pakistan have reached almost 40 percent.

“We have concerns where any country has yields that calls into question their ability to refinance in public markets,” said Charles Cohen, deputy division chief of monetary and capital market departments at IMF.

The risk of a sovereign debt crisis in some emerging markets is “very, very high,” said Jesse Rogers, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. Mr. Rogers likened the current situation to the debt crises that crushed Latin America in the 1980s — the last time the Fed sought to quell soaring inflation.

Already this year, more than $80 billion has been withdrawn from mutual funds and exchange-traded funds — two popular types of investment products — that buy emerging market bonds, according to EPFR Global, a data provider. As investors sell, the United States is often the beneficiary, further strengthening the dollar.

“It’s by far the worst year for outflows the market has ever seen,” said Pramol Dhawan, head of emerging markets at Pimco.

Even citizens in some of these countries are trying to exchange their money for dollars, fearful of what’s to come and of further currency depreciation — yet inadvertently also contributing to it.

“For pockets of emerging markets, this is a really challenging backdrop and one of the most challenging backdrops we have faced for many years,” Mr. Dhawan said.

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Carlos Alcaraz Wins U.S. Open For 1st Slam Title, Top Ranking

Alcaraz certainly seems to be a rare talent, possessing an all-court game, a blend of groundstroke power with a willingness to push forward.

Walking out for his first Grand Slam final at age 19, Carlos Alcaraz bumped fists with fans leaning over a railing along the path leading to the Arthur Ashe Stadium court. Moments later, after the coin toss, Alcaraz turned to sprint to the baseline for the warmup, until being beckoned back to the net by the chair umpire for the customary pre-match photos.

Alcaraz is imbued with boundless enthusiasm and energy, not to mention skill, speed, stamina and sangfroid. And now he’s a U.S. Open champion and the No. 1 player in men’s tennis.

Using his uncommon combination of moxie and maturity, Alcaraz beat Casper Ruud 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-3 on Sunday to both earn the trophy at Flushing Meadows and become the youngest man to lead the ATP rankings.

“Everything came so fast. For me it’s unbelievable. It’s something I dreamed since I was a kid, since I started playing tennis,” said Alcaraz, whom folks of a certain age might still consider a kid.

“Of course,” he said, “I’m hungry for more.”

Alcaraz, who will move up three ranking spots from No. 4 on Monday, already has attracted plenty of attention as someone considered the Next Big Thing in a sport dominated for decades by the Big Three of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

“He’s one of these few rare talents that comes up every now and then in sports. That’s what it seems like,” said Ruud, a 23-year-old from Norway. “Let’s see how his career develops, but it’s going all in the right direction.”

The Spaniard was serenaded by choruses of “Olé, Olé, Olé! Carlos!” that reverberated off the arena’s closed roof — and Alcaraz often motioned for the spectators to get louder. There were a couple of magical points that drew standing ovations, including one Alcaraz lost with a laser of an on-the-run forehand while ending up face-down on his belly.

He only briefly showed signs of fatigue from having to get through three consecutive five-setters in the three rounds right before the final; no one had gone through that arduous a route on the way to the title in New York in 30 years.

Alcaraz went five sets against 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic in the fourth round, ending at 2:23 a.m. Tuesday; against Jannik Sinner in the quarterfinals, a 5-hour, 15-minute thriller that ended at 2:50 a.m. Friday after Alcaraz needed to save a match point; and against Frances Tiafoe in the semifinals.

“It’s not time to be tired,” Alcaraz said.

This was not a stroll to the finish. He faced a pair of set points while down 6-5 in the third. It could have been an outcome-altering moment.

But Alcaraz erased each of those point-from-the-set opportunities for Ruud with the sorts of quick-reflex, soft-hand volleys he repeatedly displayed.

“He just played too good on those points. We’ve seen it many times before: He steps up when he needs to,” Ruud said. “When it’s close, he pulls out great shots.”

One break in the fourth was all it took for Alcaraz to seal the victory in the only Grand Slam final between two players seeking both a first major championship and the top spot in the ATP’s computerized rankings, which date to 1973.

The winner was guaranteed to be first in Monday’s rankings; the loser was guaranteed to be second.

“We knew what was at stake,” said Ruud, who entered the U.S. Open ranked No. 7. “I’m disappointed, of course, that I’m not No. 1, but No. 2 is not too bad, either.”

He also was the runner-up to Nadal at the French Open in June.

If nothing else, Ruud gets the sportsmanship award for conceding a point he knew he didn’t deserve. It came at 4-3 in the first set, when he raced to a short ball that bounced twice before his racket touched it. Play continued, and Alcaraz hesitated, then flubbed his response. Ruud told the chair umpire what had happened, giving the point to Alcaraz, who responded with a thumbs-up.

Alcaraz certainly seems to be a rare talent, possessing an all-court game, a blend of groundstroke power with a willingness to push forward. He won 34 of the 45 points that he finished at the net.

He is increasingly a threat while serving — he delivered 14 aces at up to 128 mph — and returning, earning 11 break points, converting three.

And, as Ruud noted, Alcaraz showed “incredible fighting spirit and will to win.”

Make no mistake: Ruud is no slouch. There’s a reason he is the youngest man since Nadal to get to two major finals in one season.

But this was Alcaraz’s time to shine under the lights.

Some perspective: He is the first teenager to win the U.S. Open since Pete Sampras in 1990, the first to triumph at any Slam since Nadal at the 2005 French Open.

Decent company.

Another way to understand how precocious Alacaraz is: The last man to win this tournament by his second appearance was Pancho Gonzalez in 1948, before pros were allowed into the field.

For context on the rankings, it is helpful to know that Novak Djokovic did not play at the U.S. Open or Australian Open this year, unable to enter those countries because is not vaccinated against COVID-19, and did not receive any ranking boost for his Wimbledon championship because no points were on offer for anyone after the All England Club banned athletes from Russia and Belarus over the invasion of Ukraine.

Regardless of the circumstances, it is significant that Alcaraz is the first male teenager at No. 1.

No one else did it. Not Nadal, not Djokovic, not Federer, not Sampras or anyone else.

When one last service winner glanced off Ruud’s frame Sunday, Alcaraz dropped to his back on the court, then rolled over onto his stomach, covering his face with his hands.

He went into the stands for hugs with his coach Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former No. 1 himself who won the French Open in 2003 and reached the final of that year’s U.S. Open, and others, crying all the while.

“He was born to play this kind of tournament, born to play these kind of matches,” said Ferrero, who has worked with Alcaraz for three years. “Since the moment that I started with him, I saw some things that were different than the other guys at his age.”

You only get to No. 1 for the first time once.

You only win a first Grand Slam title once.

Many folks expect Alcaraz to be celebrating these sorts of feats for years to come.

“I want to be (at) the top for many, many weeks — I hope many years,” he said. “I’m going to work hard again after this week, these amazing two weeks. I’m going to fight (to) have more of this.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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As Russia Threatens Europe’s Energy, Ukraine Braces for a Hard Winter

In a thickly forested park bordered by apartment blocks and a playground, a dozen workers were busy on a recent day with chain saws and axes, felling trees, cutting logs and chopping them into firewood to be stashed in concealed sheds around Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine.

Ironworkers at a nearby forge are working overtime to produce wood-burning stoves to be stored in strategic locations. In municipal depots, room is being made to stockpile reserves of coal.

The activity in Lviv is being played out in towns and cities across Ukraine, part of a nationwide effort to amass emergency arsenals of backup fuel and critical provisions as Russia tightens its chokehold on energy supplies across Europe.

curtailed gas supplies to Europe last week, leading the European Union to announce that it will reduce imports of Russian gas so as not to be held hostage. Russia turned off the gas taps to Latvia on Saturday, after the government there announced additional military assistance for Ukraine, the latest in a string of European countries to do so.

Ukraine buys its natural gas from European neighbors, so the restriction of deliveries to Europe threatens its access to energy, too.

ordered to evacuate this past weekend after months of relentless Russian bombardment destroyed the infrastructure needed to deliver heat and electricity.

“We understand that the Russians may continue targeting critical energy infrastructure before and during the winter,” said Oleksiy Chernyshov, Ukraine’s minister for communities and territories development, in an interview.

“They’ve demolished central heating stations in big cities, and physical devastation is still happening nationwide,” he said. “We are working to repair damage, but it doesn’t mean we won’t have more.”

Far from Ukraine’s embattled southeastern front, the campaign is being waged in forests and in steel forges, at gas storage sites and electrical stations, and even in basement boiler rooms, as the government mobilizes regions to activate a blueprint for amassing fuel and shelter.

disconnect Ukraine’s energy grid from Russia and Belarus and link it directly to the European Union’s. Last month, Ukraine began exporting small amounts of electricity to Romania, with hopes of eventually supplying European companies that have been hit by Russian natural gas cuts, a potential source of valuable income.

But Ukrainian officials say the ability to supply electricity at home, especially over the coming winter, when temperatures can fall far below freezing, is increasingly threatened as Russia intensifies a campaign of targeting the infrastructure that delivers energy.

Russian shelling has hit thermal power plants around the country and over 200 gas-fired boiler plants used for centralized heating. Around 5,000 kilometers of gas pipelines have been damaged, along with 3,800 gas distribution centers, according to an analysis by the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Kennan Institute, a think tank focused on Russia.

Gas is especially critical for Ukraine because it is used to warm thousands of high-rise apartment complexes, schools, post offices and municipal buildings that rely on centralized heating systems.

largest gas reserves in Europe and has 11 billion cubic meters in storage. Andrii Zakrevskyi, head of the Ukrainian oil and gas association, said Monday that was enough to meet Ukraine’s needs before the war — but the level is roughly half what the government would like it to be.

racing to secure new energy sources, the pain circles back to Ukraine, which imports gas from Europe after halting direct imports from Russia after the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Russia’s squeeze has pushed European gas futures prices to record levels, making imports more expensive at a time when the government in Kyiv is facing a budget crisis.

All of which has gotten the country mobilized in a hurry.

Swiatoslaw and Zoriana Bielinski recently stocked the cellar of their modest Lviv home with wood. The couple has purchased scores of batteries and several battery-operated lamps in case the lights go out, and they were preparing to buy gas bottles for cooking.

“We have to start thinking about this,” said Alicja Bielinska, Mr. Bielinski’s sister, who had helped the couple stock up. “Ultimately, we can survive without light and gas, but we won’t be able to survive if the invaders take over.”

Officials responsible for city planning have stockpiled on a much grander scale, collecting thousands of tons of wood and a large stash of coal in the last week alone. Mr. Sadovyi, Lviv’s mayor, said more supplies were on the way and has ordered thermostats to be lowered to 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) when winter sets in.

On a recent day, Mr. Sadovyi buzzed around the city hall courtyard, greeting locals who had gathered for now-regular demonstrations on how to prepare for heat and electricity cuts — or worse. Two emergency workers showed residents how to put on a chemical suit in case of an attack: gas mask firmly in place, the suit sealed tight over the head.

Forges have shifted some production to put a priority on making tens of thousands wood-burning stoves, some emblazoned with the Ukrainian coat of arms. Town halls in over 200 cities are building stockpiles, along with tents that can house up to 50 people apiece in the event that multifamily apartment buildings are left without gas needed to heat them.

The tents can be moved quickly to sites without electricity or heat, providing emergency shelter and stoves for boiling water and cooking, said Mr. Chernyshov, the development minister.

“We hope we won’t have to use them,” said Iryna Dzhuryk, an administrative director in Lviv. “But this is an absolutely unusual situation. We are shocked by what we’re facing and worried about making sure we have enough to keep people warm.”

Nearby, sheds recently built to stock firewood have been camouflaged by locals. Additional wood is expected to arrive in the coming weeks, hewn from groves of trees inside the city and from the vast forests of western Ukraine.

One hour’s drive north of Lviv, in a dense wood streaked with yellow sunlight, forestry service workers labored to generate enough firewood to supply a beleaguered nation. On a recent weekday, they cut into a grove of weathered oak trees and trucked them to a sawmill, where a lumberyard half the size of a football field was stacked a meter high with freshly hewn logs.

Firewood sales have doubled from a year ago, and prices have nearly tripled as the country stocks up, said Yuriy Hromyak, vice director of the Lviv Regional Department of Forestry.

Even the forest isn’t sheltered from Russian attacks, he added. Ukrainian forces recently shot down a rocket fired from Belarus on a nearby oil storage facility. The tanks — which were empty — weren’t damaged, but the blast blew out all the windows in a wood storage warehouse and in parts of the sawmill.

“The Russians will do anything to try to destroy us,” he said. “But no one has managed to unite us as much as Putin has.”

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The big default? The dozen countries in the danger zone

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LONDON, July 15 (Reuters) – Traditional debt crisis signs of crashing currencies, 1,000 basis point bond spreads and burned FX reserves point to a record number of developing nations now in trouble.

Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Russia, Suriname and Zambia are already in default, Belarus is on the brink and at least another dozen are in the danger zone as rising borrowing costs, inflation and debt all stoke fears of economic collapse.

Totting up the cost is eyewatering. Using 1,000 basis point bond spreads as a pain threshold, analysts calculate $400 billion of debt is in play. Argentina has by far the most at over $150 billion, while the next in line are Ecuador and Egypt with $40 billion-$45 billion.

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Crisis veterans hope many can still dodge default, especially if global markets calm and the IMF rows in with support, but these are the countries at risk.

ARGENTINA

The sovereign default world record holder looks likely to add to its tally. The peso now trades at a near 50% discount in the black market, reserves are critically low and bonds trade at just 20 cents in the dollar – less than half of what they were after the country’s 2020 debt restructuring.

The government doesn’t have any substantial debt to service until 2024, but it ramps up after that and concerns have crept in that powerful vice president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner may push to renege on the International Monetary Fund. read more

Reuters Graphics

UKRAINE

Russia’s invasion means Ukraine will almost certainly have to restructure its $20 billion plus of debt, heavyweight investors such as Morgan Stanley and Amundi warn.

The crunch comes in September when $1.2 billion of bond payments are due. Aid money and reserves mean Kyiv could potentially pay. But with state-run Naftogaz this week asking for a two-year debt freeze, investors suspect the government will follow suit. read more

Ukraine bonds brace for default

TUNISIA

Africa has a cluster of countries going to the IMF but Tunisia looks one of the most at risk. read more

A near 10% budget deficit, one of the highest public sector wage bills in the world and there are concerns that securing, or a least sticking to, an IMF programme may be tough due to President Kais Saied’s push to strengthen his grip on power and the country’s powerful, incalcitrant labour union.

Tunisian bond spreads – the premium investors demand to buy the debt rather than U.S. bonds – have risen to over 2,800 basis points and along with Ukraine and El Salvador, Tunisia is on Morgan Stanley’s top three list of likely defaulters. “A deal with the International Monetary Fund becomes imperative,” Tunisia’s central bank chief Marouan Abassi has said. read more

African bonds suffering

GHANA

Furious borrowing has seen Ghana’s debt-to-GDP ratio soar to almost 85%. Its currency, the cedi, has lost nearly a quarter of its value this year and it was already spending over half of tax revenues on debt interest payments. Inflation is also getting close to 30%.

Reuters Graphics

EGYPT

Egypt has a near 95% debt-to-GDP ratio and has seen one of the biggest exoduses of international cash this year – some $11 billion according to JPMorgan.

Fund firm FIM Partners estimates Egypt has $100 billion of hard currency debt to pay over the next five years, including a meaty $3.3 billion bond in 2024.

Cairo devalued the pound 15% and asked the IMF for help in March but bond spreads are now over 1,200 basis points and credit default swaps (CDS) – an investor tool to hedge risk – price in a 55% chance it fails on a payment. read more

Francesc Balcells, CIO of EM debt at FIM Partners, estimates though that roughly half the $100 billion Egypt needs to pay by 2027 is to the IMF or bilateral, mainly in the Gulf. “Under normal conditions, Egypt should be able to pay,” Balcells said.

Egypt’s falling foreign exchange reserves

KENYA

Kenya spends roughly 30% of revenues on interest payments. Its bonds have lost almost half their value and it currently has no access to capital markets – a problem with a $2 billion dollar bond coming due in 2024.

On Kenya, Egypt, Tunisia and Ghana, Moody’s David Rogovic said: “These countries are the most vulnerable just because of the amount of debt coming due relative to reserves, and the fiscal challenges in terms of stabilising debt burdens.”

Kenya’s concerns

ETHIOPIA

Addis Ababa plans to be one of the first countries to get debt relief under the G20 Common Framework programme. Progress has been held up by the country’s ongoing civil war though in the meantime it continues to service its sole $1 billion international bond. read more

Africa’s debt problems

EL SALVADOR

Making bitcoin legal tender all but closed the door to IMF hopes. Trust has fallen to the point where an $800 million bond maturing in six months trades at a 30% discount and longer-term ones at a 70% discount.

PAKISTAN

Pakistan struck a crucial IMF deal this week. read more The breakthrough could not be more timely, with high energy import prices pushing the country to the brink of a balance of payments crisis.

Foreign currency reserves have fallen to as low as $9.8 billion, hardly enough for five weeks of imports. The Pakistani rupee has weakened to record lows. The new government needs to cut spending rapidly now as it spends 40% of its revenues on interest payments.

Countries in debt distress at record high

BELARUS

Western sanctions wrestled Russia into default last month read more and Belarus now facing the same tough treatment having stood with Moscow in the Ukraine campaign.

Belarus bonds

ECUADOR

The Latin American country only defaulted two years ago but it has been rocked back into crisis by violent protests and an attempt to oust President Guillermo Lasso. read more

It has lots of debt and with the government subsidising fuel and food JPMorgan has ratcheted up its public sector fiscal deficit forecast to 2.4% of GDP this year and 2.1% next year. Bond spreads have topped 1,500 bps.

NIGERIA

Bond spreads are just over 1,000 bps but Nigeria’s next $500 million bond payment in a year’s time should easily be covered by reserves which have been steadily improving since June. It does though spend almost 30% of government revenues paying interest on its debt.

“I think the market is overpricing a lot of these risks,” investment firm abrdn’s head of emerging market debt, Brett Diment, said.

Currency markets in 2022
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Reporting by Marc Jones; Additional Reporting by Rachel Savage in London and Rodrigo Campos in New York; Editing by Susan Fenton

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Putin’s NATO comments merely effort to ‘reframe’ Ukraine invasion failures: experts

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Recent comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin amount to little more than posturing after a disastrous campaign in Ukraine, but any comment from a world leader with a nuclear arsenal should be taken seriously, military experts told Fox News Digital. 

“I think when Putin says stuff like this, all he does is really kind of reinforce the point that [Russia’s] not really responding to a legitimate external threat,” James Carafano, Vice President of The Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, said. 

Finland and Sweden reversed historically neutral positions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, explaining that the “security landscape” in Europe had changed. Turkey said it would not support either country’s bid to join the alliance, which would effectively block their entry since any applicant requires full support from native members. 

But Turkey on Tuesday said it would now support the bids after reaching an “agreement” that “paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed.

Putin on Wednesday said that Sweden and Finland could “go ahead” and join NATO, but warned that Russia would “respond in kind” if either country hosted the alliance’s military forces or infrastructure. 

PUTIN PUSHES TOWARD RUSSIA, BELARUS UNIFYING AFTER NATO EXPANSION

“I’m not sure I would read anything strategic into it because on its face: It’s a completely ridiculous statement,” Carafano said. “I don’t think you can really read anything strategic into it.”

Carafano explained that establishing any such infrastructure would take “months or even years” to complete, and the two countries already cooperate with NATO allies even if they aren’t currently members. 

“Finland and Sweden already cooperate and integrate its stuff with the U.S. military, so the notion that any NATO member would allow an outsider like Russia to dictate what kind of deployment infrastructure could be in a NATO territory is just laughable on its face,” Carafano said. 

ERNST TAKES ON PUTIN, GLOBAL FOOD SHORTAGE IN PUSH TO DE-MINE THE BLACK SEA

Carafano suggested that Putin could have intended the comments sarcastically, but that “only Putin knows what Putin is going to do.” 

“The guy’s pretty much a dictator, and he has an arsenal of nuclear weapons and a military, so I would never say, ‘Oh, geez, he’ll never do that,’” Carafano added. “But if you look at this consistent pattern of Russian behavior, where they have been threatening all kinds of things – everything from implying nuclear exchanges to military activity – in the end, all the Russians have done is annoy.” 

James Anderson, acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy under President Trump, argued that Putin needs to save face after causing two neutral countries to join the NATO alliance thanks to his invasion of Ukraine. 

RUSSIAN MISSILE STRIKE NEAR ODESA KILLS 18 UKRAINIANS, INCLUDING 2 CHILDREN, GOVERNMENT SAYS

“[The Russian people] see – and he no doubt fears they see – his aggressive actions in Ukraine have driven historically neutral countries to seek membership [in NATO],” Anderson said. “In a strategic sense, Putin’s invasion has made Russia as a whole less secure – not only because of the fact that the invasion did not go well, but now NATO is poised to grow.” 

Anderson called Putin’s recent comments efforts to “reframe” the course of the war and its outcomes, calling Sweden and Finland’s efforts to join NATO “strategically significant.” 

“All one has to do is look at the map to see that [Sweden and Finland] are in a geographically important position on the northern flank: It will become easier for NATO to operate in the Baltic Sea,” Anderson explained. “It will also complicate to an extent Moscow’s Arctic strategy.”

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“Within NATO, there’s an East-West divide: You have countries that are closer to the border, including Poland, the Baltics … who more directly feel the threat of the Russian bear,” he added. “I think both Helsinki and Stockholm are doing this given what Russia has done in Ukraine and what they fear Putin may do in the future. They want that NATO Article Five guarantee – and who can blame them?”

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Russia’s Putin to make first foreign trips since launching Ukraine war

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a BRICS+ meeting during the BRICS summit via a video link in the Moscow region, Russia June 24, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin via REUTERS

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LONDON, June 26 (Reuters) – Vladimir Putin will visit two small former Soviet states in central Asia this week, Russian state television reported on Sunday, in what would be the Russian leader’s first known trip abroad since ordering the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion has killed thousands of people, displaced millions more and led to severe financial sanctions from the West, which Putin says are a reason to build stronger trade ties with other powers such as China, India and Iran.

Pavel Zarubin, the Kremlin correspondent of the Rossiya 1 state television station, said Putin would visit Tajikistan and Turkmenistan and then meet Indonesian President Joko Widodo for talks in Moscow.

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In Dushanbe, Putin will meet Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon, a close Russian ally and the longest-serving ruler of a former Soviet state. In Ashgabat, he will attend a summit of Caspian nations including the leaders of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Turkmenistan, Zarubin said.

Putin also plans to visit the Belarus city of Grodno on June 30 and July 1 to take part in a forum with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, RIA news agency citedValentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia’s upper chamber of parliament, as telling Belarus television on Sunday.

Putin’s last known trip outside Russia was a visit to the Beijing in early February, where he and Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled a “no limits” friendship treaty hours before both attended the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games.

Russia says it sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 to degrade its neighbour’s military capabilities, keep it from being used by the West to threaten Russia, root out nationalists and defend Russian-speakers in eastern regions. Ukraine calls the invasion an imperial-style land grab.

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Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Graff and Mark Porter

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Ukraine pleads for air defence as Russia turns sights on Lysychansk

  • This is not an accidental hit, Zelenskiy says of strike on mall
  • Russian attack on frontline eastern city kills eight: Ukraine
  • G7 leaders promise nearly $30 billion in new aid for Kyiv

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine, June 27 (Reuters) – Russian missiles struck a crowded shopping mall in central Ukraine on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, as Moscow fought for control of a key eastern city and Western leaders promised to support Kyiv in the war “as long as it takes”.

More than 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the mall in the city of Kremenchuk, southeast of Kyiv, Zelenskiy wrote on Telegram. At least 16 people were killed and 59 injured, Ukraine’s emergency services said. Rescuers trawled through mangled metal and debris for survivors.

“This is not an accidental hit, this is a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an evening video address, adding there were women and children inside. He said the death count could rise.

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Russia has not commented on the strike, which was condemned by the United Nations and Ukraine’s Western allies. But its deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, accused Ukraine of using the incident to gain sympathy ahead of a June 28-30 summit of the NATO military alliance.

“One should wait for what our Ministry of Defence will say, but there are too many striking discrepancies already,” Polyanskiy wrote on Twitter.

As night fell in Kremenchuk, firefighters and soldiers brought lights and generators to continue the search. Family members, some close to tears and with hands over their mouths, lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers had set up a base.

Kiril Zhebolovsky, 24, was looking for his friend, Ruslan, 22, who worked at the Comfy electronics store and had not been heard from since the blast.

“We sent him messages, called, but nothing,” he said. He left his name and phone number with the rescue workers in case his friend is found.

The United Nations Security Council will meet Tuesday at Ukraine’s request following the attack on the shopping mall. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the attack was “deplorable”.

Leaders of the Group of Seven major democracies, gathered for their annual summit in Germany, condemned what they called an “abominable” attack.

“We stand united with Ukraine in mourning the innocent victims of this brutal attack,” they wrote in a joint statement tweeted by the German government spokesperson. “Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account.”

Dmyto Lunin, governor for Poltava which includes Kremenchuk, said it was the most tragic day for region in more than four months of war.

“(We) will never forgive our enemies … This tragedy should strengthen and unite us around one goal: victory,” Lunin said on Telegram.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukraine endured another difficult day following the loss of the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk after weeks of bombardment and street fighting.

Russian artillery was pounding Lysychansk, its twin across the Siverskyi Donets River. Lysychansk is the last big city still held by Ukraine in the eastern Luhansk province, a main target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take the capital Kyiv early in the war.

A Russian missile strike killed eight and wounded 21 others in Lysychansk on Monday, the area’s regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. There was no immediate Russian comment.

Ukraine’s military said Russia’s forces were trying to cut off Lysychansk from the south. Reuters could not confirm Russian reports that Moscow’s troops had already entered the city.

‘AS LONG AS IT TAKES’

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” to rid the country of far-right nationalists and ensure Russian security. The war has killed thousands, sent millions fleeing and laid waste to cities.

During their summit in Germany, G7 leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, said they would keep sanctions on Russia for as long as necessary and intensify international pressure on President Vladimir Putin’s government and its ally Belarus.

“Imagine if we allowed Putin to get away with the violent acquisition of huge chunks of another country, sovereign, independent territory,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC.

The United States said it was finalising another weapons package for Ukraine that would include long-range air-defence systems – arms that Zelenskiy specifically requested when he addressed the leaders by video link on Monday. read more

In his address to the G7 leaders, Zelenskiy asked again for more arms, U.S. and European officials said. He requested help to export grain from Ukraine and for more sanctions on Russia.

The G7 nations promised to squeeze Russia’s finances further – including a deal to cap the price of Russian oil that a U.S. official said was “close” – and promised up to $29.5 billion more for Ukraine. read more

“We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” a G7 statement said.

The White House said Russia had defaulted on its external debt for the first time in more than a century as sweeping sanctions have effectively cut the country off from the global financial system.

Russia rejected the claims, telling investors to go to Western financial agents for the cash which was sent but bondholders did not receive. read more

The war has created difficulties for countries way beyond Europe’s borders, with disruptions to food and energy exports hitting the global economy. read more

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Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Angus MacSwan, Nick Macfie and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Catherine Evans

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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