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Who is Buying Russia’s Oil?

So far, Russia’s oil exports have not slowed down a bit from the war in Ukraine and international sanctions. In fact, Russia exported more oil in April than it did before the war. And high oil prices mean Moscow is raking in money. That’s one reason Europe is considering a Russian oil ban: Current sanctions are not hurting Moscow enough. Europe gets more of its oil from Russia than anywhere else. It would have to make up for those banned barrels somewhere else, and that won’t be easy. And it’s likely to push oil prices everywhere up even further.


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Russian UN Envoy Quits in Protest of Ukraine Invasion

A veteran Russian diplomat to the United Nations office in Geneva resigned Monday because he said he was “so ashamed” of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine three months ago.

In a rare, but not unprecedented protest within the Russian diplomatic corps, Boris Bondarev, 41, handed in his resignation in a letter addressed to Ambassador Gennady Gatilov and then released a scathing denunciation of the Russian war effort.

“The aggressive war unleashed by Putin against Ukraine, and in fact against the entire Western world, is not only a crime against the Ukrainian people,” Bondarev said, “but also perhaps the most serious crime against the people of Russia, with a bold letter Z (signifying support for the war) crossing out all hopes and prospects for a prosperous free society in our country.”

Bondarev, who has focused on Russian disarmament issues in Geneva, contended “that those who conceived this war want only one thing — to remain in power forever, live in pompous tasteless palaces, sail in yachts comparable in tonnage and costs to the entire Russian navy, enjoying unlimited power and complete impunity.”

“To achieve that, Bondarev said, “they are willing to sacrifice as many lives as it takes. Thousands of Russians and Ukrainians have already died just for this.”

He said that during his 20 years as a Russian diplomat, including postings in Cambodia and Mongolia, “the level of lies and unprofessionalism in the Foreign Ministry has been increasing all the time.”

Bondarev attacked Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as a “good illustration of the degradation of this system,” someone who had fallen from a “professional and educated intellectual” held in “high esteem” by his diplomatic colleagues to “a person who constantly broadcasts conflicting statements and threatens the world (that is, Russia too) with nuclear weapons!”

“Russia no longer has allies,” he concluded, “and there is no one to blame but its reckless and ill-conceived policy. …. I cannot any longer share in this bloody, witless and absolutely needless ignominy.”

Almost as an aside, he added, “Job offers are welcome.”

Bondarev told The Associated Press he had not received any reaction yet from Russian officials, but added, “Am I concerned about the possible reaction from Moscow? I have to be concerned about it.”

Asked if some colleagues felt the same, he added, “Not all Russian diplomats are warmongering. They are reasonable, but they have to keep their mouths shut.” 

Russia has cracked down on protests against the Ukraine invasion, arresting street protesters, curbing media criticism and approving up to 15-year prison terms for those spreading “false information” about the invasion, including calling it a war instead of a “special military operation.” 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.


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German Chancellor Scholz Kicks off Africa Trip in Senegal

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country is interested in a major gas exploitation project in Senegal as he began a three-nation visit to Africa on Sunday that also is focused on the geopolitical consequences of the war in Ukraine.

Senegal is believed to have significant deposits of natural gas along its border with Mauritania at a time when Germany and other European countries are trying to reduce their dependence on importing Russian gas.

“We have begun exchanges and we will continue our efforts at the level of experts because it is our wish to achieve progress,” Scholz said at a joint news briefing with Senegalese President Macky Sall.

The gas project off the coast of Senegal is being led by BP, and the first barrels are not expected until next year.

This week’s trip marks Scholz’s first to Africa since becoming chancellor nearly six months ago. Two of the countries he is visiting — Senegal and South Africa — have been invited to attend the Group of 7 summit in Germany at the end of June.

Participants there will try to find a common position toward Russia, which was kicked out of the then-Group of Eight following its 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

Leaders at the G-7 summit also will be addressing the threat of climate change. Several G-7 countries, including Germany and the United States, signed a ‘just energy transition partnership’ with South Africa last year to help the country wean itself off heavily polluting coal.

A similar agreement is in the works with Senegal, where Germany has supported the construction of a solar farm.

German officials also said Scholz will make a stop in Niger, a country that like its neighbors has long been battling Islamic extremists.

Earlier this month, the German government backed a plan to move hundreds of its soldiers to Niger from neighboring Mali. The development comes amid a deepening political crisis in Mali that prompted former colonial power France to announce it was withdrawing its troops after nine years of helping Mali battle insurgents.

Germany officials say their decision also was motivated by concerns that Malian forces receiving EU training could cooperate with Russian mercenaries now operating in the country.

Germany, though, will increase its participation in a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, providing up to 1,400 soldiers. The Cabinet’s decisions still need to be approved by parliament.

Niger is also a major transit hub for illegal migration to Europe. People from across West Africa connect with smugglers there to make the journey northward to attempt the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea.


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Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 23

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:

5:30 a.m.: U.S. President Joe Biden said Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin “must pay a dear price for his barbarism in Ukraine.” 

Speaking during a visit to Japan, Biden cited the importance of sending a message with long-term sanctions penalties for Russia. 

“If, in fact, after all he’s done there’s a rapprochement between the Ukrainians and Russia, and the sanctions are not continued to be sustained in many ways, then what signal does that send to China about attempting to take Taiwan by force?” Biden said. 

5:00 a.m.: Ukrainian officials have called for sanctions against Russia to be strengthened further, including action by European nations to cut off energy imports from Russia.  European Union leaders have proposed a ban on Russian oil, but heavy reliance by several member countries has so far blocked those efforts. 

Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukraine’s lead negotiator with Russia and an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, highlighted that situation Monday saying Europe is buying about $1 billion of Russian oil and gas every day. 

“Russia continues to kill children, rape women and destroy cities,” Podolyak tweeted. “Ukraine continues to defend European borders and democratic civilization. Draw conclusions.”  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the international community to impose even stronger sanctions against Russia as he spoke to Ukraine’s parliament Sunday. 

“Half-measures should not be used when aggression should be stopped,” Zelenskyy said. 

Russian deputy foreign minister said Monday that Moscow will be ready to return to negotiations with Kyiv when Ukraine demonstrates “a constructive response,” Reuters reported citing Interfax News Agency. 

4:30 a.m.: The energy security crisis wrought after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine must not lead a deeper dependence on fossil fuels, International Energy (IEA) chief Fatih Birol told the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Monday, Reuters reported.

The right investments, especially in renewable energy and nuclear power, mean the world need not choose between energy shortages and accelerated climate change due to fossil fuel emissions, Birol told delegates in Davos, Switzerland.

3:30 a.m.: Poland has decided to terminate an intergovernmental agreement with Russia regarding the Yamal gas pipeline, Polish Climate Minister Anna Moskwa said on Twitter on Monday, Reuters reported.

“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has confirmed the accuracy of the Polish government’s determination to become completely independent from Russian gas. We always knew that Gazprom was not a reliable partner,” Moskwa said.

2:30 a.m.: New Zealand said Monday it is deploying additional 30 defense force personnel to the United Kingdom in support of Ukrainian armed forces, CNN reported.

“The soldiers will be stationed in the United Kingdom until the end of July,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

In April, New Zealand deployed a C-130 Hercules and 58 personnel to Europe to further support Ukraine against Russia’s invasion, according to Reuters.

2:00 a.m.: Russian citizens may express their discontent with the way the war against Ukraine is going, the British defense ministry predicted Monday, based on the number of casualties Russian forces have suffered.

“Russia has likely suffered a similar death toll to that experienced by the Soviet Union during its nine year war in Afghanistan,” The ministry said in its daily update posted on Twitter.

 

1:30 a.m.: The U.N.’s refugee agency said conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution around the world, including the war in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, have driven more than 100 million people from their homes in total.

“100 million refugees and displaced people are a terrible indicator of the state of our world,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi said Monday in a Twitter post.

 

1:00 a.m.: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country is interested in a major gas exploitation project in Senegal as he began a three-nation visit to Africa on Sunday that also is focused on the geopolitical consequences of the war in Ukraine. The Associated Press has the story.

12:30 a.m.: During U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Japan this week, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told Biden Monday that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “undermines the foundation of global order,” The New York Times reported.

“We can in no way allow whatsoever such attempts to change the status quo by force wherever it may be in the world,” Kishida said.

Information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.


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Cannes: Transylvania-set ‘R.M.N.’ Probes a Ubiquitous Crisis

Cristian Mungiu’s Cannes Film Festival entry “R.M.N.” is set in an unnamed mountainous Transylvanian village in Romania, but the conflicts of ethnocentricity, racism and nationalism that permeate the multi-ethnic town could take place almost anywhere.

Of all the films competing for the top Palme d’Or prize at Cannes, none may be quite as of the moment as “R.M.N.” The movie, using a Romanian microcosm, captures the us-vs-them battles that have played out across Europe and beyond, wherever immigration and national identities have collided.

Mungiu, the celebrated Romanian filmmaker of the landmark 2007 abortion drama “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” has long been accustomed to his films being written off as grim portraits of a faraway Eastern Europe. It’s a caricature he rejects, especially when it comes to “R.M.N.”

RMN is the Romanian abbreviation for an MRI, which, when scanning the brain, can reveal fascinating secrets of how human beings are wired, Mungiu told Agence France-Presse.

“Whenever journalists interpret that it’s yet again another somber painting of this country, well, it’s not about that country — or not only about that country,” Mungiu told reporters Sunday. “It’s good to check your own elections in your own countries.”

When a local bakery in need of workers — most of the town’s men have gone abroad to find work — hires a few men from Sri Lanka, a Romanian village’s already complicated mix of ethnicities — Romanian, Hungarian, German — turn increasingly volatile.

But “R.M.N.,” which features a powerhouse 17-minute single shot of a contentious town meeting, from the start teases at the question of who, exactly, is an outsider and who gets to define tradition. In the end, even the village’s local bears could be said to have their say.

“What is tradition? We do something because someone did this before. But why precisely do we do is this?” Mungiu said. “If you dig deep down, it’s a way of fighting back the fear you have of something. It’s a way of unleashing these violent impulses that you have.”

“I’m sorry to say this, but we are a very, very violent species of animal. And we need very, very little to identify an enemy as other,” added Mungiu. “You can see this today in the war in Ukraine.”

The Palme d’Or will be awarded May 28.


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Explainer: Why Will Russia’s Ukraine War Affect Wimbledon?

The usual trophies and prize money will be on the line for Novak Djokovic, Iga Swiatek and other top players at Wimbledon, but there is a significant change there this year: No one will earn ranking points, a valuable currency in tennis, when play begins June 27.

The women’s and men’s professional tours announced Friday they will not award those points at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament because of the All England Club’s decision to bar players from Russia and Belarus over the invasion of Ukraine.

Both the WTA and ATP said they were reacting to what they called “discrimination.”

Here is a look at how this unprecedented move came about and what it means:

What is happening in Ukraine?

Russia, with help from Belarus, launched an invasion of neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24. Russia’s bombardment and siege of the southern port city of Mariupol killed over 20,000 civilians, according to Ukraine, including strikes on a maternity hospital and a theater where civilians had taken shelter.

Why did Wimbledon bar Russians and Belarusians?

The All England Club, which runs the oldest Grand Slam tournament (Wimbledon was first held in 1877), announced in April it would not allow players from Russia or Belarus to enter the event in 2022. Chief Executive Sally Bolton defended the club’s move as following a directive from the British government, and she cited a “responsibility to play our part in limiting the possibility of Wimbledon being used to justify the harm being done to others by the Russian regime.”

Have other sports banned Russian athletes?

Yes, including in soccer, where the Russian men’s team was kicked out of qualifying matches for this year’s World Cup. Figure skating and track and field are among the other sports to have taken action against Russian and Belarusian athletes. In tennis, players from those countries have been allowed to compete — including at the French Open, the year’s second Grand Slam tournament, which begins Sunday in Paris — but as “neutral” athletes who are not being identified by their nationalities.

Who can’t play at Wimbledon?

The most prominent Russian tennis player at the moment is Daniil Medvedev, who won the U.S. Open in September and briefly reached No. 1 in the men’s rankings this year. Andrey Rublev, who is ranked No. 7 in the ATP, is another top male player. The WTA’s No. 7, Aryna Sabalenka, who was a semifinalist at Wimbledon a year ago, and former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, are from Belarus.

Why cancel ranking points?

The WTA and ATP condemned the invasion of Ukraine, but said it was not fair for the All England Club to prevent certain players from playing because of the actions of their countries’ governments.

“Our rules and agreements exist in order to protect the rights of players as a whole,” the ATP said. “Unilateral decisions of this nature, if unaddressed, set a damaging precedent for the rest of the tour.”

The International Tennis Federation also withdrew its ranking points from the junior and wheelchair events at Wimbledon.

Taylor Fritz, the highest-ranked American man and seeded No. 13 at the French Open, said he thinks “most players agree” that athletes from Russia and Belarus should be allowed to play at Wimbledon. The ban, he said, “is a sign to show support for Ukraine, but you’re just kind of punishing people based off of where they were born … and they can’t really change that.”

How do ranking points work? Why do they matter?

The WTA and ATP official rankings date to the early 1970s and currently are based on each player’s best results over the preceding 52 weeks (women count their top 16 tournaments, men their top 19). Swiatek is the 28th woman to sit atop the WTA; Djokovic is one of 27 men to lead the ATP and has spent more weeks in that spot than anyone else. Wimbledon and the three other Grand Slam tournaments award 2,000 points apiece to the women’s and men’s singles champions, more than any other events. In addition to other measures such as trophies or prize money, rankings are a way for fans, sponsors and others — including the players themselves — to understand where athletes stand in the sport’s hierarchy. Technically, any tennis event that does not award ranking points is considered an exhibition.

Has this happened before?

Representatives of the ATP, WTA and ITF said they were unaware of any previous instances of ranking points being withheld from a tournament.

Will any players skip Wimbledon because there aren’t ranking points?

It’s too soon to know, but even without ranking points, Wimbledon still offers plenty of prestige and millions of dollars in payouts. “If you win it, I think you’d still be pretty happy,” said Jessica Pegula, an American seeded 11th at Roland Garros. “But I think it’s just up to each individual person — how they’re feeling, their motivation.”

What will happen at the US Open?

It is not yet known whether players from Russia or Belarus will be able to enter the U.S. Open, the year’s last Grand Slam tournament, which begins in New York Aug. 29. “We continue to monitor events,” U.S. Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier wrote in an email, “and are in active dialogue with the Ukraine and Russian/Belarusian players, the tours, the other Grand Slams, and other relevant parties.”


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African Union Chief Announces Visits to Moscow, Kyiv

Senegalese President Macky Sall said Sunday he would travel to Russia and Ukraine soon on behalf of the African Union, whose presidency he currently holds.

The trip had been due to take place on May 18 but didn’t go ahead due to scheduling issues and new dates have been put forward, Sall said at a joint press conference with visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

He had received a mandate from the African Union to undertake the trip, for which Russia had extended an invitation, he added.

“As soon as it’s set, I will go of course to Moscow and also to Kyiv and we have also accepted to get together all the heads of state of the African Union who want to with (Ukrainian) President (Volodymyr) Zelensky, who had expressed the need to communicate with the African heads of state,” he said. “That too will be done in the coming weeks.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has hit African economies hard due to rising cereal prices and fuel shortages, has met with a divided African response.

In early March, Senegal abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution — overwhelmingly adopted — that called on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. 

However, a few weeks later it voted in favor of another resolution demanding Russia halt the war.

Nearly half of African nations abstained or did not vote in the two resolution votes.


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‘A Long Journey’: Volunteers From Belarus Fight for Ukraine

One is a restaurateur who fled Belarus when he learned he was about to be arrested for criticizing President Alexander Lukashenko. Another was given the choice of either denouncing fellow opposition activists or being jailed. And one is certain his brother was killed by the country’s security forces.

What united them is their determination to resist Lukashenko by fighting against Russian forces in Ukraine.

Belarusians are among those who have answered a call by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for foreign fighters to go to Ukraine and join the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine, given the high stakes in a conflict which many see as a battle pitting dictatorship against freedom.

For the Belarusians, who consider Ukrainians a brethren nation, the stakes feel especially high.

Russian troops used Belarusian territory to invade Ukraine early in the war, and Lukashenko has publicly stood by longtime ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, describing him as his “big brother.” Russia, for its part, has pumped billions of dollars into shoring up Lukashenko’s Soviet-style, state-controlled economy with cheap energy and loans.

Weakening Putin, the Belarusian volunteers believe, would also weaken Lukashenko, who has held power since 1994, and create an opening to topple his oppressive government and bring democratic change to the nation of nearly 10 million.

For many of the Belarusians, their base is Poland, a country on NATO’s eastern flank that borders Belarus and Ukraine, and which has become a haven for pro-democracy Belarusian dissidents before becoming one for war refugees from Ukraine.

Some of the volunteer fighters are already in Poland, and some only pass through briefly on their way to Ukraine.

“We understand that it’s a long journey to free Belarus and the journey starts in Ukraine,” said Vadim Prokopiev, a 50-year-old business owner who used to run restaurants in Minsk. He fled the country after a rumor spread that he would be arrested for saying publicly that the government wasn’t doing enough for small businesses.

“When the Ukraine war will be eventually over, our war will just start. It is impossible to free the country of Belarus without driving Putin’s fascist troops out of Ukraine,” he said.

Prokopiev heads a unit called “Pahonia” that has been training recruits. The Associated Press interviewed him as he oversaw an exercise involving firing pistols and other weapons into old cars in simulations of war scenarios. They were being trained by a Polish ex-police officer who is now a private shooting instructor.

Prokopiev wants his men to gain critical battle experience, and he hopes that one day soon a window of opportunity will open for democratic change in Belarus. But he says it will require fighters like himself to be prepared, and for members of the security forces in Belarus to turn against Lukashenko.

The 2020 presidential election in Belarus was widely seen as fraudulent, but massive street protests against Lukashenko being awarded a sixth term were met with a brutal government crackdown, leading to Prokopiev’s belief that no “velvet revolution” can be expected in Belarus.

“Power from Lukashenko can only be taken by force,” he said.

 

On Saturday, men with another unit, Kastus Kalinouski, gathered in Warsaw in the Belarus House, where sleeping bags, mats and other Ukraine-bound equipment were piled high. They sat together, talking and snacking on chocolate and coffee as they prepared to deploy to Ukraine later in the day. Most didn’t want to be interviewed out of concerns for their security and that of family back home.

The regiment, formally part of Ukraine’s armed forces, was named after the leader of an anti-Russian insurrection in the 19th century who is viewed as a national hero in Belarus.

Lukashenko has called them “crazy Belarusian citizens,” and authorities have put 50 members of Kastus Kalinouski on a wanted list and initiated criminal cases against them.

One willing to describe his motivations was a 19-year-old, Ales, who has lived in Poland since last year. He fled Belarus after the country’s security service, which is still called the KGB, detained him and forced him to denounce an anti-Lukashenko resistance group in a video. He was told he would be jailed if he didn’t comply.

Dressed all in black from a hooded sweatshirt to his boots, he admitted to feeling nervous as the moment arrived to head into Ukraine. He had never received any military training but would get it once he arrived in Ukraine. But just how much, and where he would be deployed, he didn’t yet know.

He said he was going to fight not only to help Ukraine “but to make Belarus independent.” He said it was also important for him that people realize that the Belarusian people are very different from the Lukashenko government.

It is a dangerous mission. At least four volunteers from the Kastus Kalinouski unit have already died. A deputy commander, Aliaksiej Skoblia, was killed in a Russian ambush near Kyiv and was later recognized by Zelenskyy as a ‘Hero of Ukraine.’

Still, the fighting in Ukraine can feel less dangerous at times than seeking to resist Lukashenko at home, where many activists are in prison facing harsh conditions.

Organizing the Kastus Kalinouski recruits was Pavel Kukhta, a 24-year-old who already fought in Ukraine’s Donbas region in 2016, suffering burns and the loss of most of the hearing in one ear.

Kukhta said his half brother, Nikita Krivtsov, was found dead by hanging in a wooded area outside Minsk in 2020. Police said there was no evidence of foul play, but Kukhta says he and the rest of the family are certain Krivtsov was killed for joining the anti-Lukashenko protests.

He insists that his support for Ukraine is not about revenge, and only about fighting for democratic change.

“If Putin is defeated, Lukashenko will be defeated,” he said.


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