The challenges of making that happen, though, become clear when climbing the confined, 334-step stairwell that winds up to the belfry. Also evident: the quality of the renovation.

Bright morning light shone in through the four restored clock faces — perched high above the Houses of Parliament — each with 324 pieces of pot opal glass produced in Germany. Newly refurbished golden orbs that decorate the tower’s stonework glinted in the sun.

The sheer size of Big Ben, weighing a little over 15 tons, is impressive, as is the intricacy of a clock mechanism based on the most advanced technology available to its 19th-century creators. It still loses no more than a second in accuracy a week.

The Elizabeth Tower is not the first clock tower to watch over Parliament — that one is thought to date from around 1290. In 1834, a fire destroyed the Palace of Westminster, leading to the construction of the modern-day building that is one of the most famous examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the world.

And when the original clock tower was built, it was constructed with a rising scaffold, “so it rose as if by magic, it was noted at the time,” Mr. Watrobski said.

In May 1859, crowds lined the streets to greet Big Ben’s arrival. The enormous bell was pulled by 16 horses to Westminster, where it took 18 hours to haul it nearly 200 feet to the belfry before it could first ring out.

Back then, the clock tower was the most advanced and ambitious public building of its age, but by 2017, stonework was deteriorating, water was leaking into the belfry, and the steps, ironwork and guttering were all in need of repair. There was even still damage dating from 1941, when Parliament was bombed during World War II.

“Like all historic buildings, you don’t really know until you peel off the skin what you are going to find underneath,” Mr. Watrobski said. “There was a considerable amount of damage to cast iron and to stonework.”

The restoration work has gone a long way to modernizing the Elizabeth Tower, which will reopen this year to tourists. But the improvements will benefit visitors and maintenance staff alike.

An elevator has been installed, as has a restroom at the top — the lack of which previously meant Big Ben’s maintenance workers had to trek down the 334 steps whenever they were in need of one. There is even now a spot for the staff to make tea.

While Big Ben needs constant maintenance, the clock had never been fully serviced until this restoration. After it was dismantled, it was secreted away from London, more than 280 miles, to the workshop of the Cumbria Clock Company in northwestern England.

Given its symbolic importance, its whereabouts while being serviced was never disclosed.

To help keep the work under wraps, the Cumbria Clock Company removed signs from its building to make it harder for uninvited visitors to find. When a group of walkers once peered through a window and asked if they were looking at the famous clock, they were told that they were instead viewing one from Manchester Town Hall.

“It was very important that what we were doing was kept secret,” said the company’s director, Keith Scobie-Youngs, who was worried that it might attract thieves or vandals as well as curious tourists.

Mr. Scobie-Youngs said that the clock had been in remarkably good condition and that he had been awed by the skill of the 19th-century clockmakers.

“Nobody had ever attempted to build a clock that size to the accuracy demanded,” he said, adding, “I refer to it as being the smartphone of the 1850s.”

Mr. Scobie-Youngs also lauded Big Ben: “There is a unique sound to it,” he said. “It is that unique heartbeat.”

The bell’s bong, he said, was instantly recognizable to Britons. “When people were a long way from home, and it was on the radio, that unique sound brought people home again,” Mr. Scobie-Youngs said.

Freshly painted, finished with enough gold to cover four tennis courts, and complete with more than 7,000 replacement stones and carvings, the exterior of the Elizabeth Tower stands as a monument to what can be achieved by modern restoration, protecting it, hopefully, for the next 75 years.

Even for those who spent years on the project, the result was a pleasant surprise, said Charlotte Claughton, a senior project leader. She said that she was taken aback when the scaffolding came down and she saw the building shining, “as if it was new,” in the sunlight.

“It was hugely exciting to see it. There are a few moments that catch you off guard, and that was one of them,” Ms. Claughton said. “It was heartwarming.”

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West Seeks a More Effective Way to Tighten Sanctions on Russia

Credit…Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Russia missed a deadline for making bond payments on Sunday, a move signaling its first default on international debt in more than a century, after Western sanctions thwarted the government’s efforts to pay foreign investors. The lapse adds to efforts to seal Moscow off from global capital markets for years.

About $100 million in dollar- and euro-denominated interest payments failed to reach investors within a 30-day grace period after a missed May 27 deadline. The grace period expired Sunday night.

A formal declaration of default would need to come from bondholders because ratings agencies, which normally declare when borrowers have defaulted, have been barred by sanctions from reporting on Russia. The Credit Derivatives Determinations Committee, a panel of investors that rules on whether to pay out securities linked to defaults, hasn’t been asked to make a decision on these bond payments yet.

But it appeared that the payments had not reached bondholders’ accounts as of Sunday night, as required by the bonds’ contracts. On Monday, Russia’s finance ministry said that it had made the payments in May and that they had been transferred to Euroclear, a Brussels-based clearinghouse, but subsequently blocked from reaching bondholders.

Russia is rejecting the default declaration, on the grounds that it has made efforts to pay. Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, told reporters on Monday that the statements about default were “absolutely illegal.”

“The fact that Euroclear withheld this money, did not transfer it to the recipients, it is not our problem,” Mr. Peskov said. “In other words, there are no grounds to call this situation a default.”

The finance ministry added that the actions of foreign financial institutions were beyond its control and that “it seems advisable for investors to contact the relevant financial institutions directly” over the payments.

Euroclear declined to comment.

“We can expect Russia to stick to its alternative narrative: The default isn’t a default, we tried and it isn’t our fault,” said Tim Samples, a legal studies professor at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business and an expert on sovereign debt, adding that Russia also hasn’t submitted to jurisdiction in foreign courts. Still, “that has to be a bit humiliating, even for a country that can survive and maintain a war on its hydrocarbon revenues,” he said.

The risk of default emerged in late February after Russia invaded Ukraine and sanctions were imposed to sever the country from international financial markets. In late May, Russia tried to navigate tightening sanctions that cut off its access to American banks and bondholders by sending the payments to a Moscow-based institution. But ultimately, the funds didn’t make it all the way to bondholders’ accounts because of far-reaching American and European sanctions.

News of Monday’s apparent default showed “just how strong” international sanctions against Russia have been, a senior U.S. administration official said in a background briefing for reporters at the Group of 7 summit in Germany, highlighting the “dramatic” effect on Russia’s economy.

This default is unusual because it’s a result of economic sanctions blocking transactions, not because the Russian government has run out of money. Moscow’s finances remain resilient after months of war, with nearly $600 billion in foreign currency and gold reserves, though about half of that is frozen overseas. And Russia continues to receive a steady influx of cash from sales of oil and gas. Still, a default would be a stain on the country’s reputation that will linger in investors’ memories and probably push up its borrowing costs if it is able to tap international capital markets.

Unlike other major defaults in recent history, such as in Greece and Argentina, this default is expected to have a relatively small impact on international markets and Russia’s budget. For one thing, Russia has already lost access to international investors, traditionally the worst consequence of default.

“The only clear negative outcome of the default is that the external market will be effectively closed for the ministry of finance,” said Sofya Donets, an economist at Renaissance Capital in Moscow. “But it’s already closed.”

The head of Russia’s central bank, Elvira Nabiullina, said this month that there wouldn’t be any immediate consequences of a default because there had already been an outflow of investors and a drop in the value of Russia’s assets. The central bank is more concerned about inflation, most recently at about 17 percent, and supporting the economy through a “large-scale structural transformation” after an exodus of foreign companies and imports.

The Western sanctions alone are expected to block Russia from large parts of international capital markets for a long time. Regardless, Russia has been reluctant to give up its reputation as a reliable borrower, which was hard won after its economic collapse in 1998, when the government defaulted on ruble-denominated bonds amid a currency crisis.

Last month, Russia insisted that it had fulfilled its debt obligations by sending funds to its payment agent in Moscow, the National Settlement Depository. Since then, the depository has fallen under European sanctions, further restricting Russia’s ability to pay bondholders. The finance minister, Anton Siluanov, has accused the West of artificially manufacturing a default and has threatened legal action against U.S. authorities.

This is Russia’s first major default on foreign debt since 1918, soon after the Bolshevik Revolution.

On Wednesday, President Vladimir V. Putin signed a decree saying that future payments to holders of debt denominated in dollars or euros would be made through Russian financial institutions and that the obligations would be considered met if paid in rubles and converted. Most of the bond contracts don’t allow for payment in rubles.

Over the following two days, nearly $400 million in dollar-denominated debt payments were due from bonds that had 30-day and 15-day grace periods. The finance ministry said it had sent the payments, in rubles, using the new procedure laid out by the presidential decree. But it remains unclear how foreign investors will gain access to the funds.

Overseas investors held about half of Russia’s $40 billion in outstanding foreign-currency debt at the end of last year. As the risk of default grew this year, PIMCO, the investment management firm, saw the value of its Russian bond holdings decline by more than $1 billion, and pension funds and mutual funds with exposure to emerging market debt have also experienced declines.

But exposure to Russian assets is limited in the United States and Europe because sanctions imposed since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 have discouraged investors who didn’t want the geopolitical risk.

By international standards, Russia doesn’t have that much debt. Its public debt was only about 17 percent of gross domestic product last year, according to the International Monetary Fund, one of just a handful of countries with debt ratios under 25 percent. The United States, whose assets are in demand among global investors and deemed low risk, has a debt ratio of 125 percent of G.D.P.

Russia’s low debt levels are partly a result of “this new geopolitical era” since the annexation of Crimea, Ms. Donets said. “But it’s also a product of the default of 1998,” she added, when “the ministry of finance was burned badly.” Since then, the ministry has not been that active in issuing new foreign-currency debt, she said.

Russia hasn’t relied on borrowing from international investors for its budget. The finance ministry hasn’t issued dollar-denominated debt since 2019, when U.S. sanctions barred American banks from buying the debt directly. It last issued euro-denominated debt in May 2021.

Instead, Russia has depended on its oil and gas exports, and those dollar revenues that went into reserves and grew the national wealth fund.

“Why would you borrow and pay additional rates when you are a country that is accumulating oil funds, accumulating in hard currency, a country which has $600 billion in reserves?” Ms. Donets said.

The war hasn’t changed that calculation. Russia’s current account surplus, a broad measure of trade and investment, has soared as revenues from energy exports jumped, capital controls stopped investments fleeing and sanctions slashed imports. It has helped push the ruble to its highest level in seven years.

If Russia does issue more debt, it will lean on local banks and residents in the short term to buy ruble-denominated bonds.

Russia “will have no access to the capital markets until the war stops and the sanctions are lifted,” said Richard Portes, an economics professor at the London School of Business.

The long-term consequences of a default are unclear because of the unusual nature of the financial breach. But it’s possible to envision a future where Russia is able to sell debt on international markets again, analysts say, if the war ends and Russia’s geopolitical ambitions change. Without Mr. Putin and with hundreds of billions of dollars in international reserves unfrozen, it could return to markets.

“Capital market access can be restored very quickly,” Mr. Portes said. “Once Russia is back in good political graces and sanctions are lifted.”

“If it’s not a political pariah, it won’t be an economic pariah,” he added.

Reporting was contributed by Ivan Nechepurenko, Andrés R. Martínez, Jim Tankersley and Alan Rappeport.

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G7 to hike sanctions on Russia, nears oil price cap deal

  • G7 to announce new Russia sanctions on Tuesday – U.S. official
  • G7 to work with other countries, private sector on oil price cap
  • Japan tries to cut zero-emission vehicles goal from G7 statement

SCHLOSS ELMAU, Germany, June 27 (Reuters) – The Group of Seven rich democracies will commit on Tuesday to a new package of coordinated actions meant to raise pressure on Russia over its war in Ukraine, and will finalise plans for a price cap on Russian oil, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.

The announcement came as the White House said Russia had defaulted on its foreign sovereign bonds for the first time in decades – an assertion Moscow rejected – and as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke virtually with G7 leaders meeting at an alpine resort in southern Germany. read more

Zelenskiy asked leaders of the Group of Seven leading industrial democracies for a broad range of military, economic and diplomatic support, according to a European official.

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G7 nations, which generate nearly half the world’s economic output, want to crank up pressure on Russia without stoking already soaring inflation that is causing strains at home and savaging the global south.

The price cap could hit Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war chest while actually lowering energy prices.

“The dual objectives of G7 leaders have been to take direct aim at Putin’s revenues, particularly through energy, but also to minimize the spillovers and the impact on the G7 economies and the rest of the world,” the U.S. official said on the sidelines of the annual G7 summit.

G7 leaders would also make an “unprecedented, long-term security commitment to providing Ukraine with financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support as long as it takes”, including the timely provision of advanced weapons, the White House said in a fact sheet.

Western sanctions have hit Russia’s economy hard and the new measures are aimed at further depriving the Kremlin of oil revenues. G7 countries would work with others – including India – to limit the revenues that Putin can continue to generate, the U.S. official said.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of the five leaders of guest nations joining the G7 for talks on climate change, energy, health, food security and gender equality on the second day of the summit.

“Since it is a mechanism that could benefit third countries more than Europe,” one EU official said. “These countries are asking questions about the feasibility, but in principle to pay less for energy is a very popular theme.”

TARGETING RUSSIAN GOLD, DEFENCE SECTOR

A U.S. official said news that Russia defaulted on its foreign sovereign bonds for the first time since the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 showed how effective Western sanctions have been.

“This morning’s news around the finding of Russia’s default, for the first time in more than a century, situates just how strong the actions are that the U.S., along with allies and partners, have taken, as well as how dramatic the impact has been on Russia’s economy,” the official added.

The Kremlin, which has the funds to make payments thanks to rich energy revenues, swiftly rejected the U.S. statement, accusing the West of driving it into an artificial default. read more

New sanctions planned by the G7 countries will target Moscow’s military production, crack down on its gold imports and target Russian-installed officials in contested areas. read more

The G7 leaders would task their governments to work intensively on how to implement the Russian price cap, working with countries around the world and stakeholders including the private sector, the official said.

The United States said it would also implement sanctions on hundreds of individuals and entities adding to the more than 1,000 already sanctioned, target companies in several countries and impose tariffs on hundreds of Russia products. read more

The agencies involved would release details on Tuesday to minimize any flight risk, a second senior administration official said.

The Ukraine crisis has detracted attention from another crisis – that of climate change – originally set to dominate the summit. Activists fear Western nations are watering down their climate ambitions as they scramble to find alternatives to Russian gas imports and rely more heavily on coal, a dirtier fossil fuel, instead.

Japan is also pushing to remove a target for zero-emission vehicles from a G7 communique expected this week, according to a proposed draft seen by Reuters. read more

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Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Sarah Marsh, Additional Reporting by Angelo Amante, Phil Blenkinsop; Editing by Thomas Escritt, Mark Heinrich and Alex Richardson

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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

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U.S. likely to announce this week purchase of missile defense system for Ukraine

U.S. and Ukrainian flags are pictured prior to the start of the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group meeting hosted by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, at U.S. Airbase in Ramstein, Germany, April 26, 2022. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

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WASHINGTON, June 26 (Reuters) – The United States is likely to announce this week the purchase of an advanced medium to long range surface-to-air missile defense system for Ukraine, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday.

Washington is also expected to announce other security assistance for Ukraine, including additional artillery ammunition and counter-battery radars to address needs expressed by the Ukrainian military, the source added.

The weaponry is the latest assistance to be offered to Ukraine by the United States since Russia invaded its eastern European neighbor in February.

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This month, President Joe Biden agreed to provide Ukraine with $700 million in military aid, including advanced rocket systems that can strike with precision at long-range targets.

Ammunition, counter fire radars, a number of air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles, as well as anti-armor weapons are also part of that package, officials said.

Another effort, to sell four large, armable drones to Ukraine, was paused earlier this month amid concerns that their radar and surveillance equipment could create a security risk for the United States if it fell into Russian hands. read more

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Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif., writing by Ismail Shakil; Editing by Ross Colvin and Himani Sarkar

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G7 aims to raise $600 bln to counter China’s Belt and Road

SCHLOSS ELMAU, Germany, June 26 (Reuters) – Group of Seven leaders pledged on Sunday to raise $600 billion in private and public funds over five years to finance needed infrastructure in developing countries and counter China’s older, multitrillion-dollar Belt and Road project.

U.S. President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders relaunched the newly renamed “Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment,” at their annual gathering being held this year at Schloss Elmau in southern Germany.

Biden said the United States would mobilize $200 billion in grants, federal funds and private investment over five years to support projects in low- and middle-income countries that help tackle climate change as well as improve global health, gender equity and digital infrastructure.

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“I want to be clear. This isn’t aid or charity. It’s an investment that will deliver returns for everyone,” Biden said, adding that it would allow countries to “see the concrete benefits of partnering with democracies.”

Biden said hundreds of billions of additional dollars could come from multilateral development banks, development finance institutions, sovereign wealth funds and others.

Europe will mobilize 300 billion euros ($317.28 billion) for the initiative over the same period to build up a sustainable alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative scheme, which Chinese President Xi Jinping launched in 2013, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the gathering.

The leaders of Italy, Canada and Japan also spoke about their plans, some of which have already been announced separately. French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were not present, but their countries are also participating.

China’s investment scheme involves development and programs in over 100 countries aimed at creating a modern version of the ancient Silk Road trade route from Asia to Europe.

White House officials said the plan has provided little tangible benefit for many developing countries.

U.S. President Joe Biden attends a working lunch with other G7 leaders to discuss shaping the global economy at the Yoga Pavilion, Schloss Elmau in Kuren, Germany, June 26, 2022. Kenny Holston/Pool via REUTERS

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian defended the track record of BRI when asked for comment at a daily briefing in Beijing on Monday.

“China continues to welcome all initiatives to promote global infrastructure development,” Zhao said of the G7’s $600 billion plan.

“We believe that there is no question that various related initiatives will replace each other. We are opposed to pushing forward geopolitical calculations under the pretext of infrastructure construction or smearing the Belt and Road Initiative.”

Biden highlighted several flagship projects, including a $2 billion solar development project in Angola with support from the Commerce Department, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, U.S. firm AfricaGlobal Schaffer, and U.S. project developer Sun Africa.

Together with G7 members and the EU, Washington will also provide $3.3 million in technical assistance to Institut Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal as it develops an industrial-scale flexible multi-vaccine manufacturing facility in that country that can eventually produce COVID-19 and other vaccines, a project that also involves the EU.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will also commit up to $50 million over five years to the World Bank’s global Childcare Incentive Fund.

Friederike Roder, vice president of the non-profit group Global Citizen, said the pledges of investment could be “a good start” toward greater engagement by G7 countries in developing nations and could underpin stronger global growth for all.

G7 countries on average provide only 0.32% of their gross national income, less than half of the 0.7% promised, in development assistance, she said.

“But without developing countries, there will be no sustainable recovery of the world economy,” she said.

($1 = 0.9455 euros)

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Europe must give developing nations alternative to Chinese funds, von der Leyen says

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends the official welcome to the G7 leaders summit at Bavaria’s Schloss Elmau castle, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany June 26, 2022. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Pool

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BERLIN, June 26 (Reuters) – Europe will mobilize 300 billion euros in private and public funds over five years to fund infrastructure in developing countries as part of the G7’s drive to counter China’s multitrillion-dollar Belt and Road project, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday.

“It is up to us to give a positive and powerful investment impulse to the world to show our partners in the developing world that they have a choice and that we intend to step up in solidarity to meet their development needs,” von der Leyen said at a news conference alongside the leaders of Germany, Italy, Canada, the United States and Japan.

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G7 to announce ban on import of new Russian gold on Tuesday, U.S. official says

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An employee stores newly casted ingots of 99.99 percent pure gold after weighing at the Krastsvetmet non-ferrous metals plant, one of the world’s largest producers in the precious metals industry, in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

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KRUEN, Germany, June 26 (Reuters) – The Group of Seven rich democracies will announce a ban on imports of Russian gold on Tuesday, as part of ongoing efforts to hold Russia accountable for its war in Ukraine and block attempts to evade Western sanctions, a senior U.S. administration official said on Sunday.

Britain and the United States would announce the move on Sunday, followed by an official announcement on Tuesday, the official said.

“The president and other G7 leaders will continue to work to hold (Russian President Vladimir) Putin accountable. Today the U.S. and the U.K. are announcing that G7 leaders will ban imports of Russian gold. The official announcement will come on Tuesday,” the official said.

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Ukraine War’s Latest Victim? The Fight Against Climate Change.

BERLIN — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seemed like an unexpected opportunity for environmentalists, who had struggled to focus the world’s attention on the kind of energy independence that renewable resources can offer. With the West trying to wean itself from Russian oil and gas, the argument for solar and wind power seemed stronger than ever.

But four months into the war, the scramble to replace Russian fossil fuels has triggered the exact opposite. As the heads of the Group of 7 industrialized nations gather in the Bavarian Alps for a meeting that was supposed to cement their commitment to the fight against climate change, fossil fuels are having a wartime resurgence, with the leaders more focused on bringing down the price of oil and gas than immediately reducing their emissions.

Nations are reversing plans to stop burning coal. They are scrambling for more oil and are committing billions to building terminals for liquefied natural gas, known as L.N.G.

coal plants that had been shuttered or were scheduled to be phased out.

as top economic officials in Ukraine, say it would serve two key purposes: increasing the global supply of oil to put downward pressure on oil and gasoline prices, while reducing Russia’s oil revenue.

Proponents say it is likely that Russia would continue to produce and sell oil even at a discount because it would be easier and more economical than capping wells to cut production. Simon Johnson, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, estimates that it could be in Russia’s economic interest to continue selling oil with a price cap as low as $10 a barrel.

Some proponents say it is possible that China and India would also insist on paying the discounted price, further driving down Russian revenues.

floating ones.

Critics charge that building all 12 terminals would produce an excess capacity. But even half that number would produce three-quarters of the carbon emissions Germany is allowed under international agreements, according to a recent report published by a German environmental watchdog. The terminals would be in use until 2043, far too long for Germany to become carbon neutral by 2045, as pledged by Mr. Scholz’s government.

And countries are not just investing in infrastructure at home.

Last month, Mr. Scholz was in Senegal, one of the developing countries invited to the Group of 7 summit, to discuss cooperating not just on renewables but also on gas extraction and L.N.G. production.

In promoting the Senegal gas project, analysts say, Berlin is violating its own Group of 7 commitment not to offer public financing guarantees for fossil fuel projects abroad.

These contradictions have not gone unnoticed by poorer nations, which are wondering how Group of 7 countries can push for commitments to climate targets while also investing in gas production and distribution.

One explanation is a level of lobbying among fossil fuel companies not seen for years, activists say.

“It looks to me like an attempt by the oil and gas industry to end-run the Paris Agreement,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, an advisory group in Berlin, referring to the landmark 2015 international treaty on climate change. “And I’m very worried they might succeed.”

Ms. Morgan in the German Foreign Ministry shares some of these concerns. “They’re doing everything that they can to move it forward, also in Africa,” she said of the industry. “They want to lock it in. Not just gas, but oil and gas and coal.”

But she and others are still hopeful that the Group of 7 can become a platform for tying climate goals to energy security.

Environmental and foreign policy analysts argue that the Group of 7 could support investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, while pledging funds for poorer nations hit with the brunt of climate disasters.

Above all, activists warn, rich countries need to resist the temptation to react to the short-term energy shortages by once again betting on fossil fuel infrastructure.

“All the arguments are on the table now,” said Ms. Neubauer, the Fridays for Future activist. “We know exactly what fossil fuels do to the climate. We also know very well that Putin is not the only autocrat in the world. We know that no democracy can be truly free and secure as long as it depends on fossil fuel imports.”

Katrin Bennhold Bennhold reported from Berlin, and Jim Tankersley from Telfs, Austria. Erika Solomon and Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.

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Ukraine News: Mariupol’s Mayor Describes Grim Russian Rule

Credit…Clemens Bilan/EPA, via Shutterstock

BRUSSELS — European leaders meeting in Brussels this week were eager to focus on granting Ukraine E.U. candidate status, but have also had to address a pressing problem linked to the war: Russia has slowly been turning off the gas tap.

The tapering of gas to Germany in recent days has forced the country, Europe’s economic engine, to escalate its energy emergency protocol and urge Germans to save power. The next step is rationing.

E.U. leaders on Friday asked the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, to come up with policy proposals to collectively handle the possibility that Russia, using Europe’s enduring dependence on its gas supplies to inflict pain on Ukraine’s supporters, could further reduce the gas flow or even cut off countries completely.

“We have seen the pattern not only of that last weeks and months, but looking back in hindsight, also the pattern of last year, when you look at Gazprom filling the storage — or I should say not filling the storage, because last year they were at a 10 years low,” the commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Friday.

“Now it’s 12 member states that have either been totally cut off or partially,” she added.

Ms. von der Leyen said she would ask her experts to propose an emergency plan to tackle possible shortages going into the winter. The commission has already promoted joint purchasing and storing of gas by E.U. members as a safety measure, should one nation get disconnected. After gas supplies were cut off to Bulgaria, for example, Greece stepped up to help supply its neighbor and fellow E.U. member.

But if Russia decides to hurt Europe for its support of Ukraine by further slashing supplies from its energy giant, Gazprom, it is far from clear that such ad hoc solidarity would work in the winter, when the bloc’s energy demands are much higher.

The E.U. has imposed sanctions on Russian fossil fuels, including a broad ban on Russian oil imports that will come into effect at the end of the year. But it has not been able to do the same with Russian gas, on which it is hugely reliant, because it has not yet lined up sufficient alternatives. Gas prices, meanwhile, have surged, costing European buyers dearly and softening the effect of the sanctions on Russia.

And whatever solutions European leaders devise for the growing problem would take effect in months. For now, member states have to tackle possible shortages largely on their own.

Ms. von der Leyen said that she had been asked to present her proposals at the next E.U. leaders’ summit in October, and that she expected her staff to finish drafting them in September.

In the meantime, she urged people to use less power.

“We should not only replace the gas, but also always take the opportunity of the energy savings. I cannot emphasize that enough,” she said, adding that Europeans could save greatly if they turned down their air-conditioners in the summer and their heaters as the temperature drops.

Gas is not the only urgent question facing world leaders. Diplomats also gathered in Berlin on Friday, ahead of a G-7 summit in Germany on Sunday, to discuss the growing global food crisis set off by the inability of Ukraine to export its grain. Earlier this week, the United Nations said that the war had pushed tens of millions of people into food insecurity.

Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, welcomed Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi di Maio; and other officials to discuss possible solutions.

Before the war, Ukraine exported millions of metric tons of grain monthly, mostly via seaports that are now blockaded. Officials weighed the possibility of moving the grain by land, a far slower and more complicated endeavor.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Blinken said that while the food crisis would continue for some time, it was important to not let Russia get away with violating fundamental human rights of the Ukrainian people.

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