June 24, 2021



Contingency aid ready if Russia attacks
The United States has prepared contingency military aid in the event of further Russian military incursions into Ukraine, the White House has said. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement on June 18 that recent U.S. media reports that the United States held back security assistance to Ukraine were “nonsense.” Politico and The Washington Post reported this week that President Joe Biden’s administration set aside a military aid package to Ukraine worth tens of millions of dollars that included lethal weapons. The potential package, which was said to include arms and more anti-tank missiles, had been drawn up in response to a Russian troop and military hardware buildup near Ukraine’s borders in the spring. The military maneuvers caused consternation in Washington and European capitals about Moscow’s intentions at a time of increased fighting in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv and Kremlin-backed separatists. The U.S. media outlets reported the United States temporarily halted the proposal when Russia said in April that it intended to reduce the more than 100,000 troops it had moved near the border areas. Despite the withdrawal announcement, U.S. and Ukrainian officials say Russia has left some military hardware in place, which could be used to rapidly mobilize in the event of escalation. Moscow says the remaining forces, including armored units and rocket systems, are in place for military drills later in the year. The United States has provided more than $2.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since 2014, when Russia forcibly seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed separatists in the east, sparking a war that has killed more than 13,000 people. Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced a $150 million package to Ukraine of “defensive lethal assistance,” including counter-artillery radars, communications and electronic warfare equipment and counter-drone systems. In March, the Pentagon announced another tranche of $125 million, including additional armed Mark VI patrol boats. The assistance comes from funds already committed by Congress for the U.S. government’s fiscal year that ends in September. “The idea that we have held back security assistance to Ukraine is nonsense. Just last week – in the run-up to the U.S.-Russia summit – we provided a $150 million package of security assistance, including lethal assistance,” Ms. Psaki said in her statement. “We have also prepared contingency funds in the event of a further Russian incursion into Ukraine,” she added. “As President Biden told President [Vladimir] Putin directly, we will stand unwavering in support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Mr. Biden has said he seeks a relationship with Russia that is “stable and predictable,” a message he sought to instill ahead of a summit with Mr. Putin when the two leaders discussed wide-ranging issues from cyberattacks and arms control to the conflict in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Politico and The Washington Post)

Lawyer says allegations are ‘wrong’
Ukraine’s controversial tycoon Dmytro Firtash has denied the allegations behind Kyiv’s move to impose sanctions on him for selling titanium products that the Ukrainian government believes end up being used by Russian military enterprises. The National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, which coordinates security policy, last week announced the sanctions against Mr. Firtash, who is currently living in Vienna while fighting extradition to the United States. Mr. Firtash’s lawyer in the United States, Lanny Davis, said on June 21 that his client had not been officially notified of the decision to impose sanctions against him. Nonetheless, “Mr. Firtash categorically denies the allegations, which he says are wrong,” Mr. Davis said, refusing to comment further. Ukraine has been fighting Russia-backed separatists in its eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014, following Moscow’s illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Kyiv accuses Moscow of sending troops and arms to support the separatists, whom it calls terrorists. Mr. Firtash, one of Ukraine’s richest men and a one-time ally of ousted Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych, is wanted for bribery and racketeering charges in the United States. Mr. Firtash denies those charges as well, calling them politically motivated. He is currently seeking a new trial after Austria’s Supreme Court upheld his extradition in 2019. If extradited, the oligarch may face many years in prison in the United States. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by Reuters)

Floods kill man in occupied Crimea
Floods caused by heavy rains have killed a 26-year-old man in Ukraine’s Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula. The man died in the city of Yalta after he was taken away by water and mud, Crimea’s Moscow-imposed governor, Sergei Aksyonov, said on June 18. The identity of the man was not disclosed. The Russia-imposed mayor of Yalta, Yanina Pavlenko, said that eight local residents were injured. “Rivers overflowed their banks. The city’s central part is being flooded,” Ms. Pavlenko said in a statement. “Residents are being evacuated. Most importantly, the city’s central area is fully closed now… There are mudslides in different parts near the city. Work to clean up the roads is under way.” Ms. Pavlenko also said the entrance to the city was completely closed because “the uncontrolled amounts of water simply sweep off vehicles and people.” Heavy rains overnight flooded all underground passages in the city, leading municipal authorities to suspend public transportation. On June 17, the Crimean city of Kerch was also flooded by heavy rains. Mr. Aksyonov introduced a state of emergency across the entire peninsula on June 17 as heavy rains continued. (RFE/RL Ukrainian Service’s Crimea.Realities)

Man charged with spying for Ukraine
A Russian national detained in April in Ukraine’s Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula on espionage charges has been transferred to Moscow. The Moscow Lefortovo district court on June 21 said that Yevgeny Petrushin’s pretrial detention had been extended until September 20 after he was transferred from Crimea to the Russian capital last week. According to the court, Mr. Petrushin was arrested on April 21 in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. The Lenin district court in the city of Sevastopol said on April 22 that “a Russian citizen born in 1998” suspected of high treason had been placed under pretrial arrest until at least June 19. The name of the suspect was not disclosed at the time. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said then that its officers had detained a person who “passed classified information about Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to Ukrainian military intelligence.” Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Penin­sula in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted amid a wave of public protests. Since then, Russia has arrested dozens of people in Crimea on charges including extremism, terrorism and espionage. Rights groups have said that after imposing its control over the peninsula, Moscow aggressively moved to prosecute Ukrainian activists and anyone who questions the annexation. Russia also backs separatists in a war against Ukrainian government forces that has killed more than 13,200 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

Britain denies Russia fired at warship
The United Kingdom has denied reports that a Russian vessel fired warning shots at a British Navy ship in the Black Sea, attributing the incident to a preannounced military exercise. The Russian Defense Ministry on June 23 said a patrol ship fired warning shots at a British warship in response to an alleged violation of its territorial waters near Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014. The ministry said an Su-24 aircraft also dropped four bombs near the Royal Navy’s HMS Defender destroyer. But Britain denied the Defender had been fired upon or that it was in Russian waters. “No warning shots have been fired at HMS Defender. The Royal Navy ship is conducting innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law,” the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense said. The U.K. Ministry of Defense said it believed Russia was carrying out “gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided the maritime community with prior warning of their activity.” Russia’s official TASS news agency reported the incident took place after the HMS Defender allegedly crossed 3 kilometers into territory in the Black Sea that Russia considers its own. No casualties were reported in the incident. The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry said it would summon the British ambassador to Moscow to protest “a crude provocation.” Moscow forcibly seized Crimea in 2014 and threw its support behind pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern region of Donbas, where more than 13,200 people have been killed in a conflict that continues to this day. Russia massed troops on its border with Ukraine and in Crimea in the spring, causing consternation in Washington and European capitals about Moscow’s intentions at a time of increased fighting in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv and Kremlin-backed separatists. Russia said in April that it intended to reduce the more than 100,000 troops it had moved near the border areas, but U.S. and Ukrainian officials say Russia has left some military hardware in place. At the time, Russia announced plans to conduct six months of naval exercises and threatened to block maritime traffic off the Crimean Peninsula, potentially preventing access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov, which is connected to the Black Sea through the Kerch Strait. NATO and Ukraine condemned the threat as a violation of international maritime law and Ukraine’s sovereignty. “By international law, of course, the waters off Crimea are not Russian, as the annexation is not recognized,” Mark Galeotti, a professor of Russian studies at University College London, tweeted on June 23. “Continuing to pass those waters – without being too provocative – is a crucial way of reaffirming law over land and sea grab.” Western countries have imposed sanctions on Russia over the seizure of Crimea, the treatment of jailed opposition activist Alexei Navalny, election interference and cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure blamed on Russian hackers. (RFE/RL)