Europe prepared for Russia′s gas ′blackmail,′ EU chief says — live updates | News | DW

 Europe prepared for Russia′s gas ′blackmail,′ EU chief says — live updates | News | DW

  • Gazprom halts gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria
  • EU says Russia’s gas move is energy ‘blackmail’
  • Russia bars entry to 287 British MPs
  • Zelenskyy warns Russia’s goals go beyond Ukraine 
  • Germany to supply Ukraine with anti-aircraft tanks

This article was last updated at 13:16 GMT/UTC

Germany revises economic growth predictions amid Ukraine worries

The Ukraine crisis prompted German officials to scale down their forecast for 2022.

After previously predicting that Germany’s economy would grow by 3.6% this year, the government now expects a growth of only 2.2% by the end of 2022. However, the government also foresees 2.5% growth in 2023, slightly higher than the previous estimate of 2.3%.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said the country was facing “significant” risks.

“After two years of the COVID pandemic there is a new burden due to the war in Ukraine,” he said. “The war in Ukraine and its economic consequences remind us that we are vulnerable.”

He also said that Germany would gradually escape “the trap of Russian [energy] imports” and that the percentage of Russian gas used in Germany has already dropped from 55% to 35%. The German government believes it would take at least two years to eliminate the country’s dependency on Russia.

US swaps former marine Reed for Russian pilot Yaroshenko

Russia and the US staged a secretive prisoner swap on Wednesday, exchanging two prisoners who had been detained years before the Ukraine war.

The deal saw former US Marine Trevor Reed being released from Russia’s detention, where he was serving a 9-year prison sentence.

Reed, now 28, had been sentenced for attacking police officers after a night of heavy drinking in Moscow in 2019. He claims to have no recollection of the incident. Washington says Reed had been “wrongfully detained.”

In return, the US released Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko who had been arrested in 2010 in Liberia and sentenced to 20 years over conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the US.

The exchange took place in Turkey, according to Yaroshenko’s wife.

US President Joe Biden welcomed Reed, saying that his return “required difficult decisions that I do not take lightly.”

Russia never stopped their attack on Azovstal, Ukrainian official tells DW

Ukraine defense ministry advisor Yuriy Sak told DW that over 1,000 civilians were still trapped in the Mariupol steel mill, alongside 500 wounded Ukrainian fighters.

Russian forces “continue to throw everything they have on Mariupol and on Azovstal, despite the words of the president of Russia that the offensive […] will discontinue,” Sak said.

“They haven’t stopped for [even] an hour. The shelling continues, missile strikes continue, artillery continues, infantry continues to attack.”

Sak said Kyiv’s allies have shifted their stance on delivering heavy weapons to Ukraine, but said his country needed more from Germany.

“Yesterday, the German minister of defense made a pledge about providing Ukraine with more tanks, but this is still insufficient,” he said.

Russia withdraws from UN tourism body

Russia is withdrawing from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) ahead of a vote by its executive council to suspend Moscow’s membership over its invasion of Ukraine.

“Russia has announced its intention to withdraw from UNWTO,” the United Nation’s tourism body said in a tweet, adding that Russia’s suspension “is effective immediately.”

The decision to hold the Extraordinary General Assembly on the suspension of Russia’s membership of UNWTO was taken in early March. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the countries of Colombia, Guatemala, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and Ukraine submitted an application to suspend the Russian Federation’s membership of the organization.

Despite the Russian withdrawal, the vote at the UNWTO Extraordinary General Assembly in Madrid will continue. “Members will have their say through a democratic vote,” the organization said.

Russia bans entry to 287 British MPs

Russian Foreign Ministry said that it had imposed personal restrictions and banned entry to 287 British members of Parliament in response to the UK’s sanctions against Russian lawmakers.

“In response to the decision taken by the British government on March 11 to add 386 State Duma deputies to a sanctions list, in a reciprocal move, personal restrictions are being placed on 287 members of the House of Commons,” the ministry said in a statement.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has also accused British MPs of fueling “unwarranted Russophobic hysteria.”

The UK House of Commons has a total of 650 members.

Trans-Dniester officials say shots fired at ammo depot

Officials in Moldova’s breakaway region Trans-Dniester reported drones flying over the Ukrainian border and said shots were fired at the border village of Kolbasna.

The separatist government in Trans-Dniester is allied with Moscow. A host of Russian peacekeepers is deployed in the region, with their duties including securing a massive stockpile of Soviet-era weapons in Kolbasna. With some 20,000 tons of ammo remaining at the depot, it is believed to be the biggest ammunition stockpile in Europe.

“Last night, several drones were noticed in the sky over the village of Kolbasna,” the Trans-Dniesteran interior ministry said on its website. They added that shots were fired towards the village from the across the border, but there were no reports of causalities.

The Ukraine war has fueled speculation that Russia would attempt to take the Moldovan region by force. Kyiv has accused Russia of staging false-flag operations in an attempt to drag Trans-Dniester into the conflict.

German car club asks members to drive less to curb Russia oil reliance

Germany’s ADAC automobile club, Europe’s largest motoring association, has asked its 21 million members to help reduce the country’s reliance on oil imports from Russia by driving less.

In an open letter posted on its website, the association also called on members to drive slower to help reduce fuel consumption by up to 20%.

The ADAC also urged the public to consider alternatives such as walking, cycling or public transport.

Russia claims it destroyed ‘large batch’ of Western arms in Ukraine

Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces had destroyed a large quantity of Western-supplied weapons in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region with long-range missiles.

“On the territory of the Zaporizhzhia aluminum plant, high-precision long-range sea-based Kalibr missiles destroyed hangars with a large batch of foreign weapons and ammunition supplied by the United States and European countries for Ukrainian troops,” the ministry said in a briefing.

Officials did not say what type of weapons were destroyed. Ukrainian authorities did not comment on the Russian claim.

On Tuesday, 40 countries held a security summit at the Ramstein air base in Germany to discuss arms supplies to Ukraine. USA pledged to move “heaven and earth” to help the Ukrainian army defeat Russia.

Germany concerned but gas flows ‘stable’

Berlin is monitoring the gas supply situation “very closely” after Russia’s decision to halt deliveries to Bulgaria and Poland. Germany’s Energy Ministry said they were coordinating with energy companies and providers.

“Gas flows are at a stable level overall at this point in time,” a spokesperson for the ministry said. “However, we are concerned to see that there has been a stoppage of supplies in European partner countries.”

Separately, Germany’s official agency in charge of energy, the Bundesnetzagentur, confirmed that the gas supply in Germany was “currently” satisfactory.

Russia reports fire at ammunition depot in Belgorod

A Russian ammunition depot had apparently caught on fire overnight, according to the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov. His statement comes after several blasts were heard in the area.

The governor said preliminary information indicated a blaze at an ammunition depot in one of the border region villages. In an online post, Gladkov said that an “open fire” has now been extinguished and there were no civilian causalities.

He did not comment on the cause of the fire.

Strategically important bridge damaged in Ukraine’s Odessa region

Ukrainian officials reported about another missile attack on the strategically important bridge over the Dniester estuary in the southern Odesa region. The bridge was already targeted by a Russian air strike on Tuesday.

According to the chairman of Ukrainian Railways Oleksandr Kamyshin, no casualties among railway workers were reported. The damage to infrastructure will be determined after the air raid alert ends, he wrote on Telegram.

The Odesa military administration confirmed the incident and noted that the bridge had been destroyed.

The auto-railway bridge across the Dniester estuary connects the western and eastern parts of Odesa region. Destroying the bridge will essentially stop the rail link between them.

Last week, Major General Rustam Minnekayev, acting commander of Russia’s Central Military District, said that Moscow plans to establish full control over the Donbas region and southern Ukraine.

He also claimed that control of southern Ukraine would give Russia a gateway to the breakaway Moldovan region of Trans-Dniester.

Austria denies it would pay for gas in rubles, slams ‘Russian propaganda’

Vienna will not pay rubles for Russian gas, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Wednesday, dismissing reports by Russian news agencies that Vienna had accepted Moscow’s terms of payment.

In a tweet, Nehammer slammed the reports as “fake news of Russian propaganda.”

Austria’s energy company OMV “naturally continues to pay gas deliveries from  Russia in euros,” he said.

“Austria is sticking to all jointly-agreed EU sanctions to the final iota,” the chancellor added.

We ‘don’t expect’ Russia to turn off German gas supply, says MP

Ralph Stegner, a German lawmaker with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), told DW he “doesn’t expect” Russia to turn off the gas supply to his country, despite Gazprom doing so to Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, he said Germany was “preparing” for it, should it happen.

Stegner also said he “doesn’t see a policy shift” after Germany vowed to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine after weeks of reluctance.

“We always said that we tried to support Ukraine with everything we can and which is responsible in terms of political, economic, financial and military aid. We are talking about defense tanks, anti-aircraft tanks, not offensive ones. The second part we really have to look at is that we help the Ukrainians as best as we can, but not enhancing the risk of getting NATO or Germany being involved in the war itself.”

Stegner also refuted suggestions there is a pro-Russian sentiment within his party, even though former center-left SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder still maintains close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia stopping gas deliveries ‘unacceptable’: EU’s von der Leyen

Gazprom’s announcement that it is halting gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, both EU member states, has been roundly condemned by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“The announcement by Gazprom that it is unilaterally stopping delivery of gas to customers in Europe is yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail,” she said in statement published via Twitter.

“This is unjustified and unacceptable,” she added.

She said the move showed how unreliable Russia was as a gas supplier.

Von der Leyen stressed, however, that the EU had been prepared for Moscow’s action and been working on securing alternative supplies.

“Europeans can trust that we stand united and in full solidarity with the Member States impacted in the face of this new challenge. Europeans can count on our full support,” she said.

Switzerland has blocked over $9 billion of Russian assets — report

Swiss authorities have now frozen some 9 billion Swiss francs ($9.33 billion, €8.78 billion) in Russian assets, according to a report in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.  

The Zurich daily did not name a source for their figures, which are about 1.5 billion francs more than officially reported on April 7.

While Switzerland is not a EU member, its government joined sanctions against Russia declared by the EU over the war in Ukraine.

UK’s Raab: Russia’s decision to cut off gas will make it more isolated

After Russia’s Gazprom confirmed it was cutting off gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria, British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said the move would have a “very damaging effect” on Russia itself.

Energy exports are a key element of Russia’s economy.

By stopping the gas, Moscow is becoming “more and more, not just a political pariah, but an economic pariah,” Raab told Sky News.

Poland confirms halt of Russian gas supply

Polish state gas company PGNiG has confirmed that Russian gas supplies from Gazprom have been cut off.

Gazprom announced earlier on Wednesday that it had stopped all gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria after the two countries had failed to pay for the gas in rubles as demanded last month by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Poland’s gas storage facilities were 76% full and that his country could obtain necessary supplies from other sources. European gas prices have risen by as much as 24% following Gazprom’s statement.

A map showing natural gas pipelines from Russia to Europe

Supplies to the Yamal-Europe pipeline that cuts across Poland were cut by Gazprom on Wednesday

Russian forces take villages in Donbas offensive — Ukrainian Defense Ministry

Russian forces have been penetrating deeper into eastern Ukraine as they seek to take control of the country’s Donbas region, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said.

According to the ministry’s report, Ukrainian forces have been driven from the villages of Velyka Komyshuvakha and Zavody in the Kharkiv region and Zarichne and Novotoshkivske in the Donetsk region.

It said Russian forces were continuing to fire upon the area around the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port city of Mariupol, where an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian troops and 1,000 civilians are said to be holed up in bunkers.

Russian gas supplies shut off to Poland, Bulgaria: Gazprom

The supply of Russian gas to Poland and Bulgaria has been halted, Russia’s Gazprom announced on Wednesday morning.

In a statement carried by Russian news agencies, the firm said the supplies would be suspended as the countries had not made payments in rubles for the fuel delivery as demanded by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It said the supplies would be stopped until the payments are made.

Poland had earlier said it expected gas flows from Russia via Ukraine and Belarus to be cut at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT/UTC).

Bulgaria’s Energy Ministry had also announced that Russia’s Gazprom had said it would halt gas supplies as of Wednesday. The energy minister has said that halting its gas supply would breach the current contract, as gas deliveries for April had already been paid.

The ministry will give a news briefing on the situation later on Wednesday morning.

Austria meanwhile says Russian natural gas deliveries are continuing unrestricted, with no indication that this would change. Austria obtains 80% of its gas from Russia.

Ukraine has accused Russia of blackmailing Europe over energy to try and damage Kyiv’s allies and undermine their solidarity in taking action against Russia’s invasion of its neighbor.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on “unfriendly” countries to pay for gas imports in rubles, but most buyers have so far rejected the demand.

Ukraine still has control over most of its airspace — UK military intelligence

Russia has so far failed to gain supremacy in the skies over Ukraine, the UK Ministry of Defense has said in its latest report.

It said the Russian air force had little air access in northern and western Ukraine, with Russian attacks there being carried out from a distance using so-called stand-off weapons. The report said Russian aircraft were concentrating their operations on the south and east of the country, giving support to ground forces.

According to the report, most Russian aerial attacks in the key strategic port city of Mariupol were being carried out using unguided free-falling bombs, meaning that civilian casualties could not be prevented.

China’s DJI suspends the sale of drones in Russia and Ukraine

DJI, the world’s largest drone maker, said it would suspend business in Russia and Ukraine to ensure its products weren’t used in combat.

“DJI abhors any use of our drones to cause harm, and we are temporarily suspending sales in these countries in order to help ensure no one uses our drones in combat,” a spokesman for the company told Reuters news agency.

It is the first major Chinese firm to halt sales to Russia since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February.

The company said that it was “not to make a statement about any country, but to make a statement about our principles.”

Russian and Ukrainian forces have reportedly used DJI drones primarily for reconnaissance purposes.

Blasts heard in Russia’s Belgorod

A series of blasts were heard in the Russian city Belgorod near the Ukrainian border early Wednesday, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a message on Telegram.

The cause of the blasts was not immediately apparent.

At the start of April, Russia claimed Ukrainian military helicopters flew across the border and bombed a fuel depot in the city. Ukraine has denied it carried out the attack.

UK warns of ‘terrible consequences’ if Russia wins in Ukraine

In a keynote foreign policy speech planned for Wednesday at London’s Mansion House, UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss is expected to call for more countries to support Ukraine’s war effort.

A pre-print of the speech said countries need to “double down” on their support for Ukraine and “ramp up” military production, including tanks and warplanes.

Kyiv’s victory is a “strategic imperative for us all,” it said. “If Putin succeeds, there will be untold further misery across Europe and terrible consequences across the globe. We would never feel safe again,” it added.

Truss is expected to say it will be an imperative to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from claiming victory and to use the war as a catalyst for a new world security order.

Zelenskyy says Russia’s goals go beyond Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it must be clear to everyone that Russia’s war against Ukraine is just the beginning.

“The ultimate goal of Russia’s leadership is not just to seize the territory of Ukraine, but to dismember the entire center and east of Europe and deliver a global blow to democracy,” he said.

In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy also claimed a “global strike against democracy” is one of Moscow’s goals.

Russian President Putin claims to want negotiated settlement to war

Speaking after meeting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Moscow, the Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed “hope” that diplomatic negotiations can end the war in Ukraine. 

“Despite the fact that the military operation is ongoing, we still hope that we will be able to reach agreements on the diplomatic track. We are negotiating, we do not reject [talks],” Putin said.

He, however, added Russia could not give Ukraine security guarantees without resolving territorial issues in Crimea and separatist territories in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has previously said that a future nationwide referendum would be held to decide those issues.

Guterres called for a cease-fire, and urged Russia to allow the evacuation of civilians trapped at a giant steel mill in Mariupol surrounded by the Russian forces.

Putin said he was open to the UN and Red Cross evacuating civilians from the plant, but claimed Ukrainian forces were using civilians as shields and not allowing them to leave.

Guterres is expected to visit Kyiv on Thursday to meet with Zelenskyy and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Kyiv pulls down Soviet-era monument of brotherhood

Authorities in Kyiv dismantled a Soviet-era monument, which symbolized friendship between Russia and Ukraine.

“It took some effort but the Soviet sculpture of the two workers, symbolizing the reunification of Ukraine and Russia, was dismantled this evening,” Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko says in a statement on social media.

The statue depicted a Ukrainian and Russian worker on a plinth, holding aloft together a Soviet order of friendship. It was erected in 1982 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Soviet Union.

“This monument … symbolized friendship between Ukrainian and Russian nations. We now see what this ‘friendship’ is destruction of Ukrainian cities, ruining the lives of Ukrainians, killing tens of thousands of peaceful people. I am convinced such a monument has an entirely different meaning now,” Klitschko said.

Workers dismantle Monument of Brotherhood in Kyiv

Kyiv dismantled a statue erected in 1982 to symbolise friendship between Ukraine and Russia

Summary of Tuesday’s events in the Ukraine-Russia crisis

After weeks of mounting pressure, the German government said it would send heavy weapons to Ukraine. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht pledged to provide Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns during a speech at the US defense conference on Ukraine.

Polish and Bulgarian officials have said that Russia’s Gazprom has threatened to cut gas supplies starting Wednesday. The suspensions would be the first since Russia insisted foreign buyers pay for gas in rubles. Meanwhile, German Economy and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck said his country hopes to find an alternative to Russian oil imports in the “coming days.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed “in principle” to allow international groups to help evacuate civilians from Mariupol, the United Nations said. The UN said Putin made the concession to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during their meeting in Moscow.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN atomic watchdog Rafael Grossi decried as “very, very dangerous” Russia’s temporary occupation of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. The IAEA offered to help Ukraine repair damage caused to the stricken plant.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the war in Ukraine has already weakened Russia’s military capability. Speaking after meeting allies and partners at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, he said since the invasion started, Russia’s land forces have sustained “pretty substantial” casualties, as well as lost a lot of equipment and used a lot of precision-guided munitions.

You can revisit our live updates from April 26 here.

dh, dj, tj, lo/wmr, rs (AP,AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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