Global Review – 9th May

Bulgaria to veto EU sanctions if it does not get oil derogation

Bulgaria will not support the European Union’s new set of sanctions against Russia if it does not get a derogation from the proposed ban on buying Russian oil, Deputy Prime Minister Assen Vassilev said late on Sunday. EU member-states moved closer on Sunday to agreeing to tough sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, but scheduled more talks for today, Monday, to work out how to ensure countries most dependent on Russian energy would cope. The talks could also continue on Tuesday. Landlocked Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which all depend heavily on Russian crude delivered via Soviet-era pipelines face a challenge to secure alternative sources and have asked for a derogation from the ban, as did Bulgaria. The European Commission proposed changes on Friday to its initial planned embargo on Russian oil to give the three countries more time to shift their energy supplies, while Bulgaria was not offered concessions, EU sources said. Cyprus, Greece and Malta are also concerned about the idea of prohibiting the transport of Russian oil. The three countries have the largest shipping fleets within the bloc.

US, allies announce new sanctions against Russians

The US and its allies announced a rash of new sanctions against Russia on Sunday, targeting 2,600 Russian military officials, executives of the Russian bank Gazpombank, state-owned media outlets, and other individuals and businesses that the West believes are either party responsible or complicit in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. President Biden and other G-7 leaders met with President Zelenskyy on Sunday and promised to also phase out their dependence on Russian oil. “We will ensure that we do so in a timely and orderly fashion, and in ways that provide time for the world to secure alternative supplies,” the leaders of the US, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and Japan said in a joint statement. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has told NHK TV his intention to start a process of phasing out oil supplies from Russia, in line with what was discussed in the online summit of the G7 countries.

60 killed in Russian airstrike on Ukraine school

Sixty people have been killed after a village school in eastern Ukraine took a direct hit in a Russian air raid, with rescue attempts said by the regional governor to be “impossible” due to constant shelling.About 90 people had been using the school in Bilohorivka, a village 97km north-west of the Russian-controlled city of Luhansk, as a shelter after the previous place of refuge, a clubhouse, had been destroyed in an earlier attack. “As a result of a Russian strike on Bilohorivka in the Luhansk region, about 60 people were killed, civilians, who simply hid at the school, sheltering from shelling,” President Zelenskiy confirmed in his nightly video address on Sunday. Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai said the attack on the school had been followed by a constant barrage in the surrounding area that had made rescue attempts impossible.

Guterres ‘appalled’ by attack on school

UN Secretary-General António Guterres  issued a statement Sunday saying he was “appalled” by the attack on the school. “This attack is yet another reminder that in this war, as in so many other conflicts, it is civilians that pay the highest price,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the secretary-general. Ukraine’s prosecutor general said that as of 8 May, 225 Ukrainian children had died since Russian launched its invasion on 24 February.

Putin moves forces to Mariupol

Russia is moving troops from combat zones in Ukraine to Mariupol in preparation for President Putin’s “Victory Day” parade. Officials have said that Putin will use the parade as an attempt to prove his military success in eastern Ukraine even though brutal fighting continues in the region. Putin last month claimed victory over Mariupol despite Russia’s inability to take the city.

Russians intensify attacks

Russian attacks in the east and south intensified at the weekend ahead of today’s symbolic Victory Day celebrations, with the Black Sea city of Odesa coming under repeated missile strikes. Fighting also continued on the Ukrainian resistance’s final stronghold in Mariupol under the Azovstal steel plant where an estimated 200 soldiers remain trapped. They staged a media conference on Sunday saying they had been “abandoned” by the government as Russian attacks continued. Illya Samoilenko, a lieutenant in the Azov regiment in Mariupol, said his fellow soldiers would be executed if captured by the Russians and that surrender would be a “gift” to the enemy.

Rescued civilians reach saftey

Meanwhile, the last civilians rescued from the besieged complex reached safety in Ukrainian held-territory late on Sunday evening. The journey of just over 200km took two days, as the convoy of buses was held for hours at Russian checkpoints and those inside interrogated. There were 51 civilians who had been sheltering in the Azovstal complex, and around 120 others who had walked or hitched lifts across the city to a pickup point in a ruined shopping mall.

In other developoments…

  • US first lady Jill Biden made an unannounced trip to western Ukraine on Sunday, holding a surprise Mother’s Day meeting with first lady Olena Zelenska as Russia pressed its punishing war in the eastern regions. The meeting was held outside a public school in Uzhhorod.
  • Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was one of several western leaders who made a surprise visit to Ukraine. During his visit, he announced that Canada would be providing an additional $50m in military assistance.
  • President Zelensky also met Sunday with the German parliament speaker, Barbel Bas, in Kyiv to discuss further defense assistance as well as sanctions against Russia, according to the Ukranian president’s press office.
  • U2’s Bono and David Howell Evans (The Edge) arrived in Kiev and improvised a concert in the Khreshchatyk metro station. The frontman and guitarist of the legendary Irish band sang classics from their repertoire: ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, ‘Desire’ and ‘With or without you’

Philippines votes for new president

Filipinos have begun voting for a new president with the son of an ousted dictator and a champion of reforms and human rights as top contenders in a tenuous moment in a deeply divided Asian democracy. Monday’s election pits Vice President Leni Robredo against former senator and congressman Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son and namesake of a dictator whose 20-year rule ended in a public revolt and his family’s humiliating retreat into exile. Opinion polls put Marcos, popularly known as “Bongbong”, leading his rival by over 30 percentage points, having topped every poll this year.

Costa Rica president vows to tackle sex abuse

Costa Rica’s new President Rodrigo Chaves, elected despite a cloud of sexual harassment allegations, has taken the oath of office with promises to revive the economy and end the abuse of women in his country. As feminist organisations protested nearby, the right-wing economist said on Sunday the “first political commitment” of his four-year term would be to stamp out gender discrimination and harassment. Chaves, 60, was investigated over sexual harassment complaints brought by women while he was a senior official at the World Bank, where he worked for 30 years. He was demoted over the claims, and later resigned.

John Lee is new Hong Kong leader

John Lee, a hard-line security chief who oversaw the crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, was elected on Sunday more than  99% of the vote by a 1500-strong pro-Beijing committee. Lee, who replaces outgoing Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, was the only candidate, which led to immediate criticism from some quarters. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, said Lee’s election violated democratic principles. 

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