Live blog: ++ EU decides to ban imports of diamonds from Russia ++

live blog

As of: December 18, 2023 5:23 p.m

The EU has decided on a new package of sanctions against Russia. This includes a ban on the import of Russian diamonds. According to a general, Ukraine also has to limit military operations due to a lack of ammunition. The developments in the live blog.

Polish truck drivers have resumed the blockade of one of the main crossings on the Ukrainian border after a week-long break. “We will now let ten vehicles through per hour,” said Tomasz Borkowski, chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Transporters and Transport Operators, to the Reuters news agency. “We have given the Ukrainian government certain requirements that it must meet by Wednesday. If it meets them, we may suspend the protest.”

According to the Polish Customs Office, the waiting time at the Dorohusk crossing on Monday was 68 hours. According to Ukrainian customs, around 2,000 trucks were in the queue. If the demonstrators’ demands are not met, fewer vehicles will be allowed through, said Borkowski.

Polish truck drivers have been blocking several border crossings with Ukraine since November 6th and are demanding that the EU reintroduce mandatory permits for Ukrainian truck drivers entering the EU and for EU truck drivers entering Ukraine. The EU abolished controls after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.

On March 1, 2024, Bulgaria will prematurely stop importing oil from Russia. In addition, the export of products made from Russian petroleum is to be stopped from January 1, 2024. The pro-Western government majority in the Bulgarian parliament passed corresponding changes to the law without debate.

Bulgaria is thus waiving a special permit from Brussels to import Russian oil until October 1, 2024. The new regulation affects the predominantly Russian oil refinery Lukoil Neftochim west of the Bulgarian port city of Burgas on the Black Sea. It was justified by the fact that the exceptional status granted by Brussels for Russian oil imports had not yet led to the oil refinery switching to alternative suppliers of crude oil. The refinery, which has been operating since 1963, is considered the largest in Southeastern Europe. It was privatized in 1999.

The EU states have decided on a twelfth package of sanctions against Russia. This also includes a ban on the import of Russian diamonds, as the Council of Member States announced in Brussels. It will apply from January 1st to diamonds and diamond jewelry imported directly from Russia – and later also to Russian diamonds that were processed in third countries. Russia is considered the world’s largest producer of rough diamonds. In 2021, the state diamond miner Alrosa had revenues of 332 billion rubles (around 3.4 billion euros).

The package also envisages tightening the price cap for Russian oil exports to third countries, which has recently had little effect. Trade restrictions are also planned for other goods. These include, for example, lithium batteries, thermostats and certain chemicals.

In addition to the economic punitive measures, according to the EU, sanctions are planned against more than 100 other people and organizations that support Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. They would then no longer be able to dispose of assets existing in the EU. The affected people will also no longer be allowed to enter the EU.

According to British estimates, members of Russian assault units are being sent back to the war against Ukraine with unhealed wounds and even amputations. The British Ministry of Defense cited “credible reports” in its daily intelligence update.

Accordingly, members of the infantry groups called “Storm Z” would receive minimal or no treatment. According to British information, these troops are penal battalions made up of former prisoners and disgraced soldiers. This will reduce the pressure on the military’s overburdened medical system.

According to a high-ranking military officer, Ukraine must also limit military operations due to a lack of ammunition. “There is a problem with ammunition – especially with post-Soviet artillery shells of 122 and 152 millimeter calibers. The shortage exists across the entire front line,” Brigadier General Olexandr Tarnavskyi told Reuters.

It is noticeable that foreign aid to Ukraine is flowing less. “The quantities we have do not cover the needs. We are replanning operations and reducing them because we have to equip them accordingly.” The USA was recently unable to launch a $60 billion aid program due to resistance from Republicans. In the EU, Hungary is blocking a 50 billion euro program.

The Russians also had problems with ammunition, Tarnawskyj said without giving details. After the end of the Ukrainian offensive, which resulted in only minor gains in terrain, Russia took the initiative again on various sectors of the front.

Despite the ongoing fighting against Russian troops, the Ukrainian economy is doing better than in the first year of the war. The gross domestic product (GDP) grew by over five percent from January to November 2023, said Economics Minister Julia Swyrydenko on X, formerly Twitter. The government expects GDP growth of 4.6 percent next year, 6.8 percent in 2025 and a further 6.8 percent in 2026. “Despite the war, the Ukrainian economy continues to recover,” said Svyrydenko, who is also deputy prime minister. “We assume that the positive trend will continue next year.”

In 2022, GDP shrank massively by 29.1 percent, the largest since independence in 1991. In February 2022, Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

Ukrainian army chief Valeriy Zalushnyj told Ukrainian broadcaster RBC that the situation at the front was not stagnating and immobile. He refused to answer the question of whether the army would continue the counteroffensive in the winter, citing the confidentiality of such information.

Almost two months ago, Saluzhnyj warned of an immobile trench war in which Russia could gain the upper hand due to greater resources. This triggered opposition from President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The NATO partners Germany and Lithuania want to have the new German combat brigade in the Baltic Republic fully operational by 2027. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius agreed with his counterpart Arvydas Anusauskas that extensive infrastructure should be built in Rudninkai near the capital Vilnius and in Rukla near Kaunas for a robust and war-fighting brigade. Barracks and residential accommodation are to be built at the two military locations according to German requirements.

The Ukrainian armed forces will receive artillery ammunition from the Düsseldorf-based Rheinmetall Group as part of an agreement with the Bundeswehr. Rheinmetall announced that the order value of the 10,000 projectiles of various types amounts to a three-digit million euro amount. Delivery is scheduled to take place during 2025. The framework agreement concluded in July runs until 2029 and has a potential gross order volume of around 1.2 billion euros.

The Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine welcomes the start of accession negotiations between the EU and Ukraine. “It was very important for the Ukrainian society, tired and sick from the war catastrophe, to feel the solidarity of European countries,” said the head of the Rome-affiliated church, Major Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk, in his weekly video message on Sunday evening. We thank the peoples of Europe for this solidarity.

There is still a long way to go until Ukraine joins the EU, said Shevchuk. “But these open doors are a moral support for us today; a consolation that the Ukrainians are not left alone in their fight for freedom with the Russian aggressor, who is stronger than us,” he added. About ten percent of Ukrainians are Greek Catholics and one percent are Roman Catholics.

An EU summit in Brussels on Thursday decided to start accession negotiations with Ukraine and the neighboring Republic of Moldova and to grant Georgia the status of a candidate country.

A Ukraine-based paramilitary group has claimed responsibility for an attack on Russia’s Belgorod region. The Legion of Freedom of Russia group, which is classified as terrorist in Russia, said it had destroyed a base of Russian troops near the village of Trebreno. It was not reported whether soldiers were killed.

The governor of the Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said that Trebreno had been fired upon by Ukrainian forces and that there had been an “exchange of fire” on the outskirts of the village. No civilians were injured, but three houses and power lines were damaged.

According to the country’s security authorities, an eavesdropping bug was discovered in one of the offices of Ukrainian army chief Valeryi Zalushnyj. But this was “not functional,” the authorities explained on Telegram on Sunday. The listening device was not found in Saluschnyj’s actual office, but in a room that he could have used in the future. An investigation has been launched into the illegal use of technical means to obtain information, the security authorities added, without providing any information about the possible origin of the bug.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba said: Report from Berlin called on European countries to stand up together against Russia. Ukraine reports one death after an air strike.

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