Russia’s economy is falling apart and “time is working against Russia” and its president, Vladimir Putin, a top German official said Thursday.
German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck made the remarks the same day Russian officials revealed that five more generals had been fired.
Since invading Ukraine more than three months ago, Russia has secured modest gains in its battle for control of the eastern Donbas region. Income from energy sales to Europe has played a major role in funding Russia’s war, and Habeck acknowledged that Russia has been aided by historically high energy prices and Europe’s inability to completely halt purchases.
“We can only be ashamed that we haven’t yet managed to reduce this dependence more significantly,” said Habeck, who is also Germany’s economy minister. But he added that “Putin is still getting money, but he can hardly spend it” because of Western sanctions.
“Time is not working for Russia. It is working against Russia, it is working against the Russian economy,” he said. “No one wants to invest in Russia any more.”
►European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says it’s in the European Union’s strategic interest but also “our moral duty” to make it possible for Ukraine to join the 30-nation bloc.
►A memorial was held in the Russian region of Karachay-Cherkessia for retired Russian Gen. Kanamat Botashov, 63, a legendary pilot shot down in Ukraine. Local authorities said he “died heroically while performing his military duty.”
►Ukraine’s soccer team won at Scotland, setting up a fixture against Wales for a spot in the World Cup tournament that begins Nov. 21 in Qatar.
►Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said Thursday that he expects Denmark to join the European Union’s common defense on July 1. In a referendum on Wednesday, two-thirds of voters opted to abandon a 30-year-old waiver that kept the NATO member from full participation.
►Britain says it will send sophisticated medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine. The U.S. and Germany made similar pledges this week.
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Putin fires 5 more generals
Russian President Vladimir Putin has fired five generals and a police colonel in what state-run media outlet Pravda described as “a standard employee reshuffle procedure.” All six had been assigned to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is responsible for law enforcement across the nation of 145 million people.
Putin has fired several high-ranking military members amid the mixed results his troops have seen. Lt. Gen. Serhiy Kisel, a leader of the Russian Army’s failed effort to capture the northeastern city of Kharkiv was dismissed, as was Vice Adm. Igor Osipov, who led Russia’s Black Sea fleet when Ukrainian forces sank its flagship, the Moskva.
Vice Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk appealed to teachers in areas occupied by Russian troops to leave rather than work for any Russian-installed government. She also urged parents not to send their children to school in occupied areas.
In a message on Telegram, she said there would be no normal life in the temporarily occupied settlements until they were reunited with Ukraine. A wrong decision now by a teacher “can forever destroy professional life,” she said.
“Do not work for the occupiers. Just move to the territory controlled by the government of Ukraine. You will find work here,” she said. “If you will work for the occupiers, you may avoid legal liability, but your career as a teacher will be over.”
The new U.S. ambassador to Ukraine presented her credentials to Ukraine President Zelenskyy and pledged that her top priority will be to “help Ukraine prevail against Russian aggression.” Bridget Brink said delivery of military aid is being accelerated and that, within days of a decision, military hardware is transferred to the Ukrainian military.
“There is no place on the planet I would rather be,” Brink said. “President Biden has said that we’re going to be here, helping Ukraine, for as long as it takes. And that’s what we’ll do.”
The Biden administration announced a new round of sanctions Thursday against top Russian oligarchs. The State Department said the sanctions are targeting prominent Russian government officials and business leaders, luxury property of elites, and luxury asset management. The White House also said the actions will crack down on evasion and tighten sanctions to “increase pressure on Putin and his enablers.”
Targets include God Nisanov, a real estate investor and one of the richest people in Europe; Evgeny Novitskiy, a Russian elite with close ties Russia’s government; Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry; and Sergey Gorkov, the head of RosGeo and a former executive of sanctioned banks.
In addition, Servergroup, Russia’s multi-billion dollar investment company, and the companies leader, Alexey Mordashov are also being sanctioned. Several of Mordashov’s family members were also sanctioned.
“The United States will continue to support the people of Ukraine while promoting accountability for President Putin and those enabling Russian aggression,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
– Rebecca Morin
A Turkish defense contractor responded to a Lithuanians fund drive aimed at buying a drone for Ukraine by saying it will donate the drone. A total of $6.2 million was crowdfunded in less than week, mostly in small donations, according to Laisves TV, the Lithuanian internet broadcaster that launched the drive. The Turkish company, Baykar, is donating a medium-altitude, long-endurance armed drone that is about 21 feet long with a 39-foot wingspan.
“Upon learning this, Baykar will gift a Bayraktar TB2 to Lithuania free of charge and asks those funds go to Ukraine for humanitarian aid,” the company tweeted.
More than $1.5 million of the money raised by Lithuanians will be spent on drone munition, and the rest will provide that aid, Lithuanian officials said.
Basketball star Brittney Griner, in Russian custody since days before the Ukraine invasion, is receiving and responding to emails from other WNBA players. All correspondence is vetted by Russian officials. Vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were allegedly found in the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s luggage at an airport near Moscow. She’s accused of drug smuggling and could face 10 years in prison. Her lawyers say the charges are bogus.
“She jokes in her letters. I don’t know how she does it with what she’s going through. She’s an amazing soul,” Los Angeles Sparks forward Amanda Zahui B. said. “She brings light in a situation like this. I don’t think a lot of people could manage to do that.”
Referendums to join Russia are likely to be organized this summer in the separatist Ukrainian territories of Donetsk and Luhansk along with the occupied cities of Kherson Zaporozhye, a high-ranking Russian lawmaker said Thursday. Leonid Slutsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party and chairman of the Russian Duma’s Committee on International Affairs said it is “no secret that there is such sentiment in Donbas and the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions.”
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said such referendums would require “the will and the desire of the people living there” along with other conditions.
Russian troops are making steady gains in separatist Luhansk Oblast, enabled by a heavy concentration of artillery, the British Ministry of Defense said Thursday. But the assessment adds that those gains “have not been without cost,” citing losses sustained by Russian forces.
Crossing the Siversky Donets River is vital for Russian forces as they secure Luhansk and switch focus to Donetsk Oblast, the assessment says. Potential crossing sites remain controlled by Ukrainian forces that have destroyed existing bridges.
“It is likely Russia will need at least a short tactical pause to re-set for opposed river crossings,” the assessment says. “To do so risks losing some of the momentum they have built over the last week.”
Impact of long-range rockets on war unclear
President Joe Biden’s decision to provide Ukraine with longer-range precision rockets unleashed angst in Moscow and applause in Kyiv. But it’s not clear yet how much of a difference the advanced weapons will make in what has become a stalemate with no clear end game. It also remains to be seen how Russia will respond to the U.S. move. As the U.S. has ramped up the flow of American-made weapons to Ukraine, the Kremlin has increasingly tried to frame its invasion of Ukraine as a proxy war between Washington and Moscow, although Biden has repeatedly said he would not send American troops to fight in the conflict.
“The Biden administration argues this most recent military aid package will help Kyiv target Russian artillery behind the front and give the Ukrainians more leverage when or if negotiations resume,” said Daniel DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities, a Washington-based think tank that advocates for military restraint. “Unfortunately, no negotiations are on the horizon.” Read more here.
– Tom Vanden Brook, Maureen Groppe and Deirdre Shesgreen
Contributing: The Associated Press