‘Get the Stretcher!’ Life and Death on Ukraine’s Front Line.

DONETSK REGION, Ukraine — Between the cracks of mortar fire and the metallic bangs of Russian self-detonating mines, Yurii, a Ukrainian Army medic, readied an intravenous line for the soldier sprawled on the stretcher below him.

The soldier looked to be in his mid-20s. His face was smeared with dirt and fear.

“Do you remember your name?” Yurii asked.

“Maksym,” the soldier whispered back.

Earlier that morning Maksym had been under a Russian bombardment at the front in eastern Ukraine that had left him severely concussed. Yurii and other Ukrainian medics were tending to him at an aid station barely removed from what has come to be known as the “zero line” where the shelling is relentless.

several anti-vehicle mines around the road and aid station where Yurii and his crew were treating Maksym. Even if the mines are not disturbed, they are set to detonate on a daylong timer.

Ukrainian forces had cleared some of the soda-bottle-shaped explosives, one soldier said, pointing to a video taken on his phone in the predawn darkness that showed troops shooting at a mine until it exploded. But mines were still in the bushes, waiting to detonate.

Yurii and the other medics tried to keep their focus on the wounded soldier. But the immediate demands stretched beyond their checklist of treating intense bleeding or assessing the airway. How to comfort the wounded? How to reassure them that they have survived and made it away from the front? How to give hope even if dozens of their friends have died?

“Don’t be afraid, my friend. You’ve arrived,” Yurii said soothingly as Maksym wormed around on the stretcher, his eyes wide and frantic.

It was clear that in Maksym’s mind, the shelling hadn’t stopped. He was breathing hard, his chest rising and falling in rapid bursts.

“Don’t worry. I am putting the needle in the vein. You’ve arrived, it’s a hard concussion,” Yurii soothed again.

The soldiers who carried Maksym to the aid station piled back in their truck to drive the roughly two miles back to the front line. They were returning to the same task their friend had been carrying out before he was nearly killed: waiting for a Russian attack or for an incoming Russian artillery round to find them.

As they departed, a soldier beyond the trees yelled “Fire!” A Ukrainian mortar launched a shell toward Russian positions. Smoke drifted up from the firing site.

The artillery war in Ukraine’s east is seemingly never-ending. Even without either side attacking or counter attacking, the shelling is constant — wounding and killing and driving those soldiers cowering in trenches and foxholes slowly insane.

At the sound of mortar fire, Maksym lurched on the stretcher once more.

“It’s all good! Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. It’s all fine. All fine. These are ours. These are ours,” Yurii told Maksym, assuring him that he wasn’t being shelled again.

Maksym’s breathing slowed. He covered his face with his hands and then looked around.

The first complete thought Maksym organized and communicated was a string of expletives directed at the Russians.

“Go on, talk to us. You got a wife? You got kids?” Yurii nudged, seizing the opportunity to bring Maksym back among the living.

“The shrapnel,” he muttered.

“Shrapnel?” Yurii asked. He was surprised. Maksym was clearly concussed, but showed no signs of other wounds.

“He’s got shrapnel right here, and here,” Maksym said, his voice trailing off. The medics quickly realized that he was talking about his friend who was wounded when the Russian artillery struck earlier.

“He’s been driven away, taken to the hospital,” Yurii said, though the medic had no idea what had happened to Maksym’s friend. He was just trying to keep his patient from panicking again.

“Is he alive?” Maksym asked cautiously.

“He has to be,” Yurii replied, though he didn’t know.

For Yurii’s ambulance crew and other medics assigned to the area, these types of calls are common. Some days they wait a few miles from the bus station-turned-aid station, the determined pickup point between the front lines and safety, and their 24-hour shift ticks by uneventfully: Yurii calls his wife several times a day. Ihor sleeps. Vova, the son of an armorer, thinks about how to modernize Ukraine’s Soviet-era weaponry.

Other days the casualties are frequent and the medics are left with a constant rotation between the hospital and the aid station as they place bloodied men with tourniquets strapped to their extremities in the back of their ambulances.

Yurii stared down at Maksym, encouraged by his newfound ability to communicate.

“You’re not hurt anywhere else?” Yurii asked.

Maksym put his hand behind his neck and pulled away, looking at his appendage, almost expecting blood to be there.

“We were all covered by shelling,” Maksym said quietly.

“It’s all good, you’re alive,” Yurii said, trying to change the subject. “The main thing is you did well. Good lad.”

As Yurii readied the stretcher and Maksym for the ambulance, an aging red sedan, a Russian Lada, pulled up to the aid station. The Soviet-era staple came to an abrupt halt, practically skidding on the churned up pavement.

The dust settled. In the distance artillery thudded in a familiar rhythm.

A man in a baggy gray T-shirt, clearly distraught, jumped from the car’s driver seat. The passenger opened his door and yelled: “The woman is wounded!”

She was an older woman named Zina, they would soon learn, and she was facedown in the back seat.

Another group of medics would take Maksym to the hospital while Yurii’s crew handled the newly arrived patient in the sedan, the medics decided.

The two men who had driven Zina to the aid station — her husband and her son-in-law — had asked Ukrainian military positions near their home where to take her after shrapnel from an artillery blast struck her head. The troops had directed them to Yurii’s aid station.

In the Lada, Zina’s blood had begun to pool on the fabric. She seemed to be at least in her 50s, unconscious, another civilian wounded in the four-month-old war, like so many who have been caught between the guns.

“Get the stretcher!” Yurii called.

It was not quite 11 a.m., and another of the Russian-strewn mines suddenly exploded near the aid station.

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Investigators of War Crimes in Ukraine Face Formidable Challenges

KOROPY, Ukraine — Four men tugged at long strips of fabric to lift a coffin out of the gaping hole in the backyard of a small house. They flung the lid open to reveal the moldy corpse of Oleksiy Ketler, who had been killed instantly by shrapnel when a mortar fell on the road in Koropy, a village outside Khavkiv in northeastern Ukraine, in March.

Mr. Ketler, a father of two young children, would have celebrated his 33rd birthday on June 25, if he had not been outside his house at the wrong time. Now, his body has become another exhibit in Ukraine’s wide-ranging effort to collect evidence to prosecute Russia and its military for war crimes in the brutal killings of Ukrainian civilians.

Experts say the process is proceeding with extraordinary speed and may become the biggest effort in history to hold war criminals to account. But it faces an array of formidable challenges.

rape, execution-style killings and the deportation of what Mr. Belousov said could be tens of thousands of Ukrainians to Russia — were being investigated.

At the same time, hundreds of international experts, investigators and prosecutors have descended on Ukraine from an alphabet soup of international agencies.

Early in the war, the top prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, arrived in Ukraine with several dozen investigators. But the court, which is based in the Netherlands, tries a limited number of cases, and usually seeks to prosecute only the upper echelon of political and military leaders.

It is also slow: Investigators working on the 2008 Russian-Georgian war did not apply for arrest warrants until this year.

There are a number of other initiatives, too. Amal Clooney, an international human rights lawyer, is part of a team advising the Ukrainian government on bringing international legal action against Russia. The United Nations has started a commission to investigate human rights violations in Ukraine — with three human rights experts — but cannot establish a formal tribunal because Russia wields veto power on the U.N. Security Council.

Investigators in Poland are collecting testimonies from refugees who fled there to feed to Ukrainian prosecutors. France has sent mobile DNA analysis teams to embed with the Ukrainian authorities to collect evidence. Nongovernmental organizations based in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, are going to territories recently occupied by Russian soldiers to collect witness statements.

The involvement of multiple countries and organizations does not necessarily lead to a more productive investigation, said Wayne Jordash, a British criminal lawyer who lives in Ukraine. Mr. Jordash, who is part of an international task force supporting Ukrainian prosecutors, was critical of some of the efforts to assist Ukraine judicially, describing it as “smoke and mirrors,” without results and clear priorities.

The International Criminal Court’s investigators were only just getting going, he noted, and experts from other countries have also been cycling in for stints of several weeks.

“You can’t just parachute into an investigation for two weeks and expect it to be meaningful,” Mr. Jordash said.

Iva Vukusic, a scholar of post-conflict justice at the University of Utrecht, said, “Resources are being poured in, but maybe down the line we will see that they were not being spent the right way,” for instance, duplicating investigation efforts rather than providing psychosocial support to victims.

Ms. Vukusic pointed out the large size of the endeavor. Across the country, she said, “there are thousands of potential suspects, and thousands of potential trials.” All of the material needs to be properly marshaled and analyzed, she said.

“If you have 100,000 items — videos, statements, documents — if you don’t know what you’re sitting on, it limits the use of material,” Ms. Vukusic said.

She also cautioned that the International Criminal Court’s leadership could face criticism by collaborating too closely with the Ukrainian authorities because, she said, Ukraine was also “an actor in this war.”

She feared Ukrainian officials were setting expectations for justice very high, and possibly wasting scarce resources on absentia trials.

“No big case is going to be finished in two years or five years because of the scale of the violence and the fact it is going on for so long,” she said.

Mr. Belousov, the Ukrainian war crimes prosecutor, acknowledged as much. “We are playing a long game,” he said. Even if the perpetrator is tried and convicted in absentia, Mr. Belousov said, “We understand in a year, or two or three or five, these guys won’t be able to avoid punishment.”

Mr. Belousov said that he appreciated the international assistance but that coordinating it was the “biggest challenge” law enforcement authorities experienced.

For example, the Kharkiv prosecutors used a shiny new forensic investigation kit donated by the European Union for their exhumation in Koropy, the village in northeast Ukraine. But a police officer from a unit in Dmytrivka, a 45-minute drive west of Kyiv, said they had not seen or met with any international investigators or received any equipment from them.

Mr. Belousov said Ukraine wanted to take the lead in prosecuting the cases — a divergence from previous post-conflict situations in which the national authorities initially left the process to international tribunals.

But most Ukrainian investigators have little experience in these kinds of inquiries.

For example, Andriy Andriychuk, who joined the police force in the region west of Kyiv two years ago, said his work previously involved investigating local disputes or livestock theft. Now it involves “a lot more corpses,” he said.

On a recent sunny afternoon, he was called to a wooded area near the town of Dmytrivka. Several days before, police officers had received a call from foresters who had come upon a man’s grave. The dead man, Mykola Medvid, 56, had been buried with his passport; his hat was hung on top of a cross made out of sticks.

His daughter and his cousin identified his body. The local morgue officially established the cause of death: a fatal shot in the chest.

Since then, his daughter Mariia Tremalo has not heard from the investigators. No witnesses have come forward, and it was unclear who might have killed her father, or why. Still, she is hungry for justice.

“My father will never be returned,” she said. “But I would like the perpetrators to be punished.”

Right now that seems all but impossible.

In Koropy, the village near Kharkiv, Mr. Ketler’s mother, Nadezhda Ketler, was inconsolable as the gravediggers and inspectors worked. She wandered down the road to another part of her property. Six officials stood over her son’s body, photographing and documenting as his best friend, Mykhailo Mykhailenko, who looked petrified and smelled of stale alcohol, identified him.

The next day, Mr. Ketler’s body was taken to the city’s morgue, where the final cause of death was established.

Eventually, Ms. Ketler gathered the strength to show investigators the crater made by the bomb that killed him, leading the police to the exact spot where he died. Ms. Ketler stood looking at the trees as they rustled in the wind. She did not speak to anyone. She said she did not know if a guilty verdict in a war crimes trial, if it ever came, would ease the pain of losing her child.

“I had to bury my son twice,” Ms. Ketler said later. “You understand, this is hard enough to do once, and to have to do it a second time. The pain of a mother will not go anywhere.”

Evelina Riabenko, Diana Poladova and Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting.

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Gas Prices Around the World Threaten Livelihoods and Stability

“NO ES SUFICIENTE” — It’s not enough. That was the message protest leaders in Ecuador delivered to the country’s president this past week after he said he would lower the price of both regular gas and diesel by 10 cents in response to riotous demonstrations over soaring fuel and food prices.

The fury and fear over energy prices that have exploded in Ecuador are playing out the world over. In the United States, average gasoline prices, which have jumped to $5 per gallon, are burdening consumers and forcing an excruciating political calculus on President Biden ahead of the midterm congressional elections this fall.

But in many places, the leap in fuel costs has been much more dramatic, and the ensuing misery much more acute.

Britain, it costs $125 to fill the tank of an average family-size car. Hungary is prohibiting motorists from buying more than 50 liters of gas a day at most service stations. Last Tuesday, police in Ghana fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators protesting against the economic hardship caused by gas price increases, inflation and a new tax on electronic payments.

largest exporter of oil and gas to global markets, and the retaliatory sanctions that followed have caused gas and oil prices to gallop with an astounding ferocity. The unfolding calamity comes on top of two years of upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, off-and-on shutdowns and supply chain snarls.

World Bank revised its economic forecast last month, estimating that global growth will slow even more than expected, to 2.9 percent this year, roughly half of what it was in 2021. The bank’s president, David Malpass, warned that “for many countries, recession will be hard to avoid.”

ratcheting down gas deliveries to several European countries.

Across the continent, countries are preparing blueprints for emergency rationing that involve caps on sales, reduced speed limits and lowered thermostats.

As is usually the case with crises, the poorest and most vulnerable will feel the harshest effects. The International Energy Agency warned last month that higher energy prices have meant an additional 90 million people in Asia and Africa do not have access to electricity.

Expensive energy radiates pain, contributing to high food prices, lowering standards of living and exposing millions to hunger. Steeper transportation costs increase the price of every item that is trucked, shipped or flown — whether it’s a shoe, cellphone, soccer ball or prescription drug.

“The simultaneous rise in energy and food prices is a double punch in the gut for the poor in practically every country,” said Eswar Prasad, an economist at Cornell University, “and could have devastating consequences in some corners of the world if it persists for an extended period.”

Group of 7 this past week discussed a price cap on exported Russian oil, a move that is intended to ease the burden of painful inflation on consumers and reduce the export revenue that President Vladimir V. Putin is using to wage war.

Price increases are everywhere. In Laos, gas is now more than $7 per gallon, according to GlobalPetrolPrices.com; in New Zealand, it’s more than $8; in Denmark, it’s more than $9; and in Hong Kong, it’s more than $10 for every gallon.

Leaders of three French energy companies have called for an “immediate, collective and massive” effort to reduce the country’s energy consumption, saying that the combination of shortages and spiking prices could threaten “social cohesion” next winter.

increased coal production to avoid power outages during a blistering heat wave in the northern and central parts of the country and a subsequent rise in demand for air conditioning.

Germany, coal plants that were slated for retirement are being refired to divert gas into storage supplies for the winter.

There is little relief in sight. “We will still see high and volatile energy prices in the years to come,” said Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency.

At this point, the only scenario in which fuel prices go down, Mr. Birol said, is a worldwide recession.

Reporting was contributed by José María León Cabrera from Ecuador, Lynsey Chutel from South Africa, Ben Ezeamalu from Nigeria, Jason Gutierrez from the Philippines, Oscar Lopez from Mexico and Ruth Maclean from Senegal.

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Ill-Prepared for Combat, Volunteers Die in Battles Far From Home

RUDNE, Ukraine — Yurii Brukhal, an electrician by trade, didn’t have a very dangerous role when he volunteered for Ukraine’s territorial defense forces at the start of the war. He was assigned to make deliveries and staff a checkpoint in the relative safety of his sleepy village.

Weeks later, his unit deployed from his home in the west to a frontline battle in eastern Ukraine, the epicenter of the fiercest fighting against Russian forces. He was killed on June 10.

Andrii Verteev, who worked in a grocery store in the village, spent the first months of the war guarding a small overpass after work and returning home to his wife and daughter at night. Then he, too, volunteered to head east. He died in battle in Luhansk, just weeks before Mr. Brukhal.

small protests as wives, mothers and daughters of some of the those who died express their discontent.

But others, like Mr. Brukhal’s family, said they supported their family members’ decision, despite their grief.

Before he left for the war, he had been building a home for his two daughters. At a memorial two weeks after his death, villagers gathered in prayer around a long table inside the house, its cinder block walls still exposed, a spread of food laid out in front of them.

It was the first meal in the still unfinished home, Ms. Datsko, his sister, said.

“It’s just horrible when you see what’s happening in the cemetery, and you don’t know when it will stop,” she said, reflecting on the rows of new graves appearing in Lviv’s military cemetery since her brother’s burial. “We are going to have lots of women without husbands and children without fathers.”

Oksana Stepanenko, 44, is also dealing with grief, along with her daughter Mariia, 8. Her husband, Andrii Verteev, was killed on May 15.

Like Mr. Brukhal, he had been a volunteer, tasked with protecting an overpass just up the road during the early weeks of the war. Then he joined an anti-aircraft unit of the military, and was redeployed to the east.

His death added a new level of pain to the family. Ms. Stepanenko’s son, Artur, died of an illness at age 13 three years ago. Now a corner of their small living room has become a shrine to the boy and his father.

Ms. Stepanenko said she finds solace in her faith and the fact that it was her husband’s choice to go to the front lines. But, like so many others in Ukraine she asked, “How many guys have to die before this ends?”

Despite the losses, families of fighters sent to the east said they viewed it as their patriotic duty to defend their nation.

Natalia Rebryk, 39, who married her husband, Anton Tyrgin, just three months before the Russian invasion, said she naïvely thought she would be spared any personal connection to the war.

“This war began twice for me,” Ms. Rebryk said. “The first time it started was the day of the invasion, and the second time was when Anton joined the arm

Mr. Tyrgin worked in the music industry before the war and had no military background when he volunteered for the Ukrainian National Guard. He spent the early weeks of the conflict guarding strategic sites, but in early June, his unit was told that it may also be sent east.

Ms. Rebryk said worries that he doesn’t have enough training and braces herself daily for that call she hopes never comes.

“We expected it to end in two or three weeks. Then in another two or three weeks,” she said. “When you talk with the soldiers, you realize it may not even end this year.”

In Rudne, away from the chaos, destruction and death on the frontline, the war’s brutality can sometimes seem remote. While air-raid sirens still ring out, it has been months since they sent residents scrambling for shelters.

But the funerals of men like Mr. Brukhal bring it startlingly close, and others from the small community of Rudne are still fighting in the east.

Yordana Brukhal, 13, said that her father felt it was his duty to join the war, even though he had been her primary caretaker after he separated from her mother last year.

“Up until recently, I felt this war only mentally, not physically,” she said. “And since my father died, I feel it physically as well.”

Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak contributed reporting from Druzhkivka, Ukraine.

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NATO Summit Ends, Leaving Leaders to Sell Their Pledges Back Home

Credit…Str/EPA, via Shutterstock

The United Nations is coordinating talks among Ukraine, Russia and Turkey in the hopes of hammering out security guarantees that would allow Ukraine to export its grain and help ease a global food crisis that is being exacerbated by the war.

But the Ukrainian government’s negotiator expressed skepticism in a recent interview with The New York Times that Russia would abide by any guarantee unless Kyiv had the military power to enforce it.

The Ukrainian negotiator, Rustem Umerov, told the Times that the country was preparing for talks in Istanbul to discuss a way to end Russia’s de facto blockade of the Black Sea port of Odesa to allow the shipment of the 20 million metric tons of grain Ukraine has in storage silos.

But he said that only the delivery of powerful naval weapons committed by Western allies would be an effective security guarantee, and he accused Russia of seeking to use the issue to shore up its own position in the Black Sea.

“If we will open up the ports, it means that the northwestern Black Sea will open up to them,” he said. No international backer, he added, “whoever guarantees us,” could be relied on to strike back if Russia then attacked Ukrainian shipping.

“And they understand it,” he said. “That’s why they are pressurizing the world to squeeze Ukraine to open up the ports.”

Before the war began, Ukraine exported about six million metric tons of grain a month, Kate Newton, an emergency coordinator for the U.N. World Food Program in Ukraine, said at a news conference in Kyiv on Thursday. Now, the country is only able to to export about one million metric tons per month, she said.

“We are doing everything we can,” she said, “exporting grain by truck, rail and river.” But, she said, without use of the Black Sea ports, it would not be possible to raise export levels much.

Russian forces have also bombed grain storage centers and fields across Ukraine. When Ukraine started shipping grain from a port on the Danube River, the Russians bombed the primary bridge trucks could use to get there.

In previous negotiations, Moscow has insisted on the right to “inspect” all vessels carrying Ukrainian grain — a condition that Kyiv would not accept.

Credit…Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

Ukraine’s military on Thursday said it had driven Russian forces from Snake Island, a strategically important outcrop whose loss could undermine Moscow’s control over Black Sea shipping lanes. But Russia’s de facto blockade showed no sign of easing.

Mr. Umerov and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have accused Russia of sowing disinformation about who is to blame for the blockade. The grain issue, and even the prospect of famine, have become part an information war waged by Moscow, Mr. Umerov said.

“They are weaponizing the famine,” Mr. Umerov said. “They are addressing the African states, saying, ‘We are always ready to support you, it’s Ukrainians who are not opening the ports.’” African countries are heavily dependent on grain from Russia and Ukraine.

The Russian defense ministry cast its withdrawal from Snake Island as a humanitarian gesture and repeated that it was not to blame for the food crisis. But at a recent appearance, Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of the Kremlin mouthpiece RT, appeared to suggest that the crisis could be to Moscow’s political benefit.

“I’ve heard it several times in Moscow from many people: ‘All our hope is in the famine,’” she told the St. Petersburg Economic Forum on June 20, adding that those people’s expectation was that famine would drive countries to lift sanctions on Russia.

Kyiv has been working to counter that narrative. Last week, Mr. Kuleba spent an hour speaking to journalists from Africa, emphasizing Ukraine’s urgency to resume exporting.

“The only country that is not really under time pressure here is Russia,” he said in an interview. “Everyone else is running out of time, be it us as suppliers, African and Asian countries as recipients, or the United Nations, whose reputation is at stake.”

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Ukraine Updates: Turkey Agrees to Allow Sweden and Finland to Join NATO

Credit…Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

MADRID — NATO leaders will formally invite Finland and Sweden to join the alliance on Wednesday after Turkey lifted its veto on their membership, NATO’s secretary-general said Tuesday evening, clearing the way for what would be one of the most significant expansions of the alliance in decades.

The historic deal, following Turkey’s agreement to a memorandum with the two Nordic countries, underscored how the war in Ukraine has backfired for President Vladimir V. Putin, subverting Russian efforts to weaken NATO and pushing Sweden and Finland, which were neutral and nonaligned for decades, into the alliance’s arms.

After weeks of talks, capped by an hourslong meeting in Madrid, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey agreed to lift his block on Sweden and Finland’s membership in return for a set of actions and promises that they will act against terrorism and terrorist organizations.

“As NATO allies, Finland and Sweden commit to fully support Turkey against threats to its national security,” NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, providing some details of the agreement. “This includes further amending their domestic legislation, cracking down on P.K.K. activities and entering into an agreement with Turkey on extradition,” he added, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party which seeks an independent Kurdish state on territory partly within Turkey’s borders.

Mr. Erdogan had been blocking the Nordic countries’ NATO bids amid concerns over Sweden’s longtime support for the P.K.K. which has attacked nonmilitary targets and killed civilians in Turkey, is outlawed in that country and is designated by both the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

But the memorandum does not specify the extradition of any of the 45 people or so Mr. Erdogan wanted sent to Turkey to face trial on terrorism charges. Sweden has already passed tougher legislation against terrorism that goes into effect July 1.

Both Finland and Sweden had been militarily nonaligned for many years, but decided to apply to join the alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. With Russia attacking a neighbor, both countries felt vulnerable, though Sweden, with a long tradition of neutrality, was more hesitant.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia warned both countries against joining NATO, but his threats proved counterproductive.

The two countries bring geostrategic benefits to the alliance. Finland shares an 830-mile border with Russia and has a well-equipped modern army; Sweden can control the entrance to the Baltic Sea, which will help a great deal in NATO planning to defend the more vulnerable countries in Eastern Europe.

The final push to resolve the dispute started early Tuesday morning, when President Biden called Mr. Erdogan to urge him to “seize the moment” on the eve of the summit, to allow discussions on other topics to proceed, according to a senior administration official with knowledge of the discussion.

The official, who requested anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said the president conveyed the substance of his conversation with Mr. Erdogan to the leaders of Finland and Sweden. And after several hours of negotiations later that night, the two Nordic leaders consulted with Mr. Biden again before announcing the agreement with Turkey.

The American official said that the deal between Turkey and the two Nordic countries involved a series of compromises on both sides, including the statement by Turkey welcoming Finland and Sweden to apply and issues involving an arms embargo imposed on Turkey and Turkey’s belief that Finland and Sweden had offered safe havens to groups they considered terrorists.

American officials had for days played down Mr. Biden’s role in the negotiations, saying he would not be a broker between the other countries and insisted that it was up to Turkey, Finland and Sweden to resolve their differences.

After the agreement was announced Tuesday night, the senior administration official conceded that it was considered more diplomatic to publicly minimize Mr. Biden’s involvement. Doing so prevented Turkey from seeking concessions from the United States for agreeing to lift its veto, which might have complicated the discussions, the official said.

The next steps for Finland and Sweden are clear: NATO will vote on Wednesday to accept their applications. There will also be a quick study of their defense capacities and needs. But the talks are expected to be routine, since both countries are NATO partners and have exercised together with NATO allies.

The more difficult last step requires the legislatures of all 30 current members to vote to amend the NATO founding treaty to accept the new members. That has in the past taken up to a year, but is expected to be much quicker for the Nordic countries.

The U.S. Senate is already pressing ahead with hearings on the application and Mr. Biden has been a firm proponent of the new members.

Johanna Lemola contributed reporting from Helsinki, Finland.

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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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Spain turns to Africa, lobbies NATO, allies over Ukraine-driven migration

  • Spain hosts NATO summit this week
  • Spain likely to push for more shared intelligence, sources
  • Families making dangerous crossings from Africa to Canaries
  • Morocco clamping down on migration after deal with Spain
  • Migrant deaths in Melilla highlight dangers, NGOs say

MADRID/LAS PALMAS, June 27 (Reuters) – Spain is shifting its foreign policy towards Africa while lobbying the EU and NATO for support to address migration from the continent, aggravated by the Ukraine invasion, two senior government officials and two diplomatic sources told Reuters.

Spain will use a NATO summit in Madrid this week to press its case, and is likely to ask for increased intelligence sharing by the alliance including on issues related to migration, the diplomats said.

Even before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez had revived a strategy mothballed by previous governments of working with African partners to contain migration and to tackle root causes such as instability and climate change, two officials close to him said.

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That drive has now taken on more urgency, they added.

“We are looking for good relations with all the neighbours around us and jointly managing phenomena that no one, not even the most powerful state on the planet, can deal with on its own,” Spain’s foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares told Reuters. He declined to give details.

Spain, its southern neighbours and EU officials are increasingly alarmed that a hunger crisis worsened by the disruption of Ukraine’s grain exports will trigger chaotic migration from the Sahel and sub-Saharan regions of Africa, with numbers already on the rise this year, the sources said.

On Friday, at least 23 migrants died after clashes with Moroccan security forces when around 2,000 people tried to cross into Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla. Morocco in recent weeks has toughened containment measures following Spain’s new diplomatic approach. read more

Migration by sea to the Canary Islands, another risky but popular entrance point into Europe, jumped 51% between January and May this year compared to last year, Spanish data showed, with the busiest period of the year still to come.

Reuters Graphics

Spain is used as a gateway to Europe by migrants from other continents, including Africa and Latin America. Although it is largely a transit country, previous jumps in arrivals have put its border resources under intense pressure.

Albares said the new strategy, which has seen Sanchez visit nine African countries since last year, was designed to keep migrants from danger.

“We cannot allow the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, to become enormous watery tombs where every year thousands of human beings die when all they aspire to is a better life,” Albares said.

Human rights groups and migration advocates, however, say Spain’s quest to outsource enforcement puts vulnerable people in the hands of security forces in countries with a history of abuses and heavy-handed policing.

The deaths in Morocco “are a tragic symbol of European policies of externalizing the borders of the EU,” groups including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights and Spanish migration charity Walking Borders said in a joint statement on Saturday.

Sanchez’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

INTELLIGENCE SHARING

In a sign of its growing anxiety, Madrid hopes to secure a commitment at the NATO summit to better policing of “hybrid threats,” including the possibility irregular migration is used as a political pressure tactic by hostile actors. It will also lobby NATO to dedicate resources to securing the alliance’s Southern Flank. read more

Madrid will ask NATO for “allied intelligence sharing,” including on issues related to migration, a senior Spanish diplomatic source and an EU diplomat said. This could formalise and expand on existing intelligence cooperation.

At the summit, NATO will reinforce cooperation efforts with southern countries and agree a package for Mauritania to help “the fight against terrorism, border control and strengthening its defence and security,” NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg told newspaper El Pais at the weekend.

The expanded NATO presence could see Mauritania, which works closely with Spain, help coordinate with other countries in the Sahel region, said Felix Arteaga, senior defence analyst with Madrid’s Elcano Institute, a think tank.

Foreign Minister Albares declined to give details on how NATO could expand operations in Africa.

NATO sources and academics signal that Spain’s proposals will face resistance amid conflicting needs from countries such as Russia’s vulnerable neighbours in the Baltic States. read more

Spain says the growing influence of Russia in unstable countries including the Central African Republic and Sahel nation Mali risks fuelling insecurity to the south of Europe. read more

Citing the presence of Russian military contractors in Mali, the blockade of grains exports from Ukraine and Moscow ally Belarus’ policy last year of allowing migrants into the EU, Madrid says President Vladmir Putin could use migration and hunger as part of his war effort.

“Putin wants to use food crisis to orchestrate a repeat of migration crisis of the magnitude we have seen in 2015-16 to destabilise the EU,” one European Union official told Reuters.

Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions that limit its own exports of grains for a jump in global prices.

Russia’s foreign ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

FUNDING FOR THE SAHEL

In recent weeks, Sanchez has held a flurry of bilateral meetings with heads of state and officials from Nigeria, Morocco and Mauritania to discuss economic cooperation, human trafficking, capacity building for controlling borders and the fight against terrorism.

In June, the government sent to parliament a new development bill to channel funding to the Sahel. The legislation would mark a significant expansion of existing funding for migration control to eight African countries.

Italy too has sought to enlist support, with the government earlier hosting a meeting of southern European nations to push for a post-Ukraine migration policy that distributes arrival numbers more evenly throughout Europe. read more

People are already on the move. Data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) shows departures from the Sahelian nation of Niger in the first four months of this year have risen by 45%, and from neighbouring Mali they have doubled.

The rise has not yet been reflected by arrivals to European shores.

A Reuters review of data from European border and coast guard agency Frontex showed migrant numbers arriving in the Canary Islands from the Sahel region of Africa and below it, from Guinea, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, rose in the first five months of 2022 compared to the same period last year.

Whole families are increasingly making the trip to the Atlantic islands in fragile rubber dinghies from as far south as Senegal and Guinea, citing insecurity, climate change and, in more recent cases, high food prices, said Jose Antonio Rodríguez Verona, a Red Cross official in the Canary Islands.

Morocco remains the biggest origin country and transit point for migrants to Spain, with record numbers of Moroccans reaching the Canary Islands in January and February this year.

Those figures however fell by 85% in March and April from the previous two months, according to figures from Frontex, after Spain changed its policy on the disputed Western Sahara to align with Morocco’s stance. Albares has attributed the drop directly to the change of policy.

Reuters Graphics

“I would like to thank the extraordinary cooperation we have with the Kingdom of Morocco,” Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez said on Saturday, after the deaths in Melilla, which he blamed on human trafficking gangs.

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Reporting by Belen Carreno, Joan Faus and Borja Suarez, additional reporting Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, Emma Farge in Geneva, Ed McAllister in Dakar, Ahmed El Jechtimi in Rabat, editing by Aislinn Laing and Frank Jack Daniel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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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

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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