BREAKING: US and EU announce task force on reducing dependence on Russian oil and gas
US President Joe Biden and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Friday announced a joint task force in an effort to wean Europe from its dependence on Russian oil and gas.
The panel, chaired by representatives from the White House and the European Commission, will aim to find alternative supplies of liquified natural gas and reduce overall demand for natural gas.
The United States will work toward supplying Europe with at least 15 billion cubic meters of liquified natural gas in 2022, in partnership with other nations, the White House said.
Some context: Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and oil has proved a major sticking point in Western efforts to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. While the US banned Russian energy imports, Europe found it far more difficult to cut off its supplies.
The group will also work toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions by paring down methane emissions and using clean energy.
Ukrainian forces have retaken towns and defensive positions on the eastern outskirts of Kyiv, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said Friday in its latest intelligence update.
“Ukrainian counter-attacks, and Russian Forces falling back on overextended supply lines, has allowed Ukraine to re-occupy town and defensive positions up to 35 kilometers (21 miles) east of Kyiv,” the ministry said.
“Ukrainian Forces are likely to continue to attempt to push Russian Forces back along the north-western axis from Kyiv towards Hostomel Airfield.”
Meanwhile, the advance of Russian forces toward the Black Sea port city of Odesa was stalling, the ministry said.
“Russian forces are still attempting to circumvent Mykolaiv as they look to drive west towards Odesa with their progress being slowed by logistic issues and Ukrainian resistance,” the ministry added.
Some context: According to official Ukrainian accounts, the country’s forces have retaken territory to the east of Kyiv following intense fighting Thursday, reversing previous Russian gains. Social media videos geolocated by CNN showed Ukrainian troops along with some captured Russian armor in the small settlement of Lukyanovka, some 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of the capital.
If there’s one nation that understands Ukraine’s torment, it’s Poland, which welcomes President Joe Biden on Friday as part of his emergency mission to shore up NATO’s defenses following Russia’s brutal invasion.
In the United States, Biden’s warnings that democracy is under siege from menacing autocrats can seem remote, even after former President Donald Trump’s US Capitol insurrection and attempt to steal the 2020 election.
But in Poland, which neighbors Ukraine, freedom is fresh enough to still be a novelty. In a tortured 20th-century history, the country — torn between East and West — was repeatedly conquered, was ruled by foreign tyrants and saw millions of its people purged or driven as refugees from homes destroyed by warfare.
Poland again finds itself on the front line of conflict. It’s on the dividing line between states in the NATO club, to which it now belongs, and President Vladimir Putin’s Russian orbit, which includes another Polish neighbor, Belarus. Poland has opened its borders to more than 2 million of the nearly 3.7 million Ukrainians who have fled Putin’s onslaught, and the war came close to its borders with a Russian strike on a base in western Ukraine earlier this month.
Like Ukraine, Poland lived for decades under Moscow’s Communist iron fist. Like Ukrainians, Poles are often gritty, are deeply suspicious of Russians and have fighting for their freedom and sovereignty ingrained in their DNA. Unlike Ukraine, one of the founding republics of the Soviet Union, Poland made it to the West after decades under the Warsaw Pact umbrella. And in addition to being in NATO, it’s a member of the European Union, albeit one that has had tensions recently with Brussels over its own flirtations with populist nationalism.
As Putin’s threat mounted in recent years, Poland hosted rotations of US troops and jets. In February, before Putin invaded Ukraine, Poland was one of the nations to which Biden ordered 3,000 troops to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank. If the war in Ukraine spills over into a broader conflict between Russia and the West, a frightening prospect, there’s a good chance it could happen in Poland.
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On Thursday, as Western leaders gathered in Brussels for security summits, North Korea launched what it said was a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) — its first long-range test in more than four years.
According to analysts, the recent spate of North Korean missile tests suggest the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, is attempting to show an increasingly turbulent world that Pyongyang remains a player in the struggle for power and influence.
“North Korea refuses to be ignored and may be trying to take advantage of global preoccupation with the war in Ukraine to force a fait accompli on its status as a nuclear weapons state,” Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, told CNN.
“North Korea is nowhere near initiating aggression on the scale of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But Pyongyang’s ambitions likewise exceed self-defense as it wants to overturn the postwar security order in Asia.”
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Intense clashes around Izyum have left much of the city destroyed, city officials say, with new satellite images revealing the extent of the devastation in the eastern Ukrainian city.
The images were taken on Thursday by Maxar Technologies.
They show a massive crater about 40 feet (12 meters) wide in a field in the city’s central area. The burnt wreckage of a school lies on one side of the crater, with a football field on the other. Part of a hospital across the street is also seen destroyed.
The city has been caught in the crossfire as Russia attempts to link advances made in the Kharkiv region of northern Ukraine with its stronghold in the far east of the country.
Council deputy Max Strelnyk told CNN on Thursday the city had been “completely destroyed” by Russian aircraft and artillery, even as fierce battles continued inside Izyum for control of the ground.
North of the school in the satellite images, a large boiler building and every nearby residential building appears destroyed. There does not appear to be any identifiable military targets in this part of central Izyum.
About 3 miles (5 kilometers) northwest of Izyum, a convoy of Russian self-propelled artillery is seen moving toward the city.
Russian troops now control the city sectors on the northern bank of the Seversky Donets River, which splits Izyum in half, Strelnyk said. The Ukrainians control the city sectors on the southern bank of the river.
Three miles northeast of the city, Russian self-propelled artillery are also seen positioned in a field, their turrets pointing toward central Izyum.
Another image shows two vehicle bridges crossing the Seversky Donets River have been partially destroyed, in what appears to be a purposeful strike to stop a Russian advance across the river.
But the Russians have found a way around, and are now advancing on the city from the south.
To bypass the blown bridges, the Russians have erected two pontoon bridges over the Seversky Donets River to encircle the city. A mile from those bridges, on the southern bank of the river, a convoy of tanks are seen moving along a highway toward the Ukrainian-controlled sectors of Izyum.
Japan will freeze the assets of 25 more Russian citizens and ban exports to 81 Russian organizations, the country’s Ministry of Finance said in a news release on Friday.
It brings the total number of Russians targeted by Japan’s asset freezes to 101 people.
Targets of the new sanctions include Igor Shuvalov, a former Russian deputy prime minister and chairman of major state-owned bank Vnesheconombank, and five of oligarch Sergey Chemezov’s relatives, according to Japan’s Finance Ministry.
The export of luxury goods will also be banned, the ministry said.
Tokyo has unveiled a raft of punitive measures against Moscow in recent weeks. The latest sanctions come as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged on Wednesday to unveil more support for Ukraine at the G7 summit in Brussels.
Nine European and US fossil fuel companies have paid a collective $15.8 billion to Russia in various forms of taxes and fees since the country annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a group of NGOs said Thursday.
The groups, Global Witness, Greenpeace USA and Oil Change International, used data from Oslo-based Rystad Energy, an independent energy research firm, to calculate how much money oil and gas companies based in North America and Europe had sent to the Russian state. They looked only at companies with exploration and production operations in Russia.
They looked at royalties, export duties, bonuses, taxes and fees, as well as “government profit oil,” which includes the value of any oil the companies may have given to Russia. It came up with a list of nine companies from these regions that had paid the most money to Russia. All those payments were legal, and other multinational companies outside the energy sector have also have made similar kinds of payments to the Russian state.
Shell, which is registered in the UK, sent $7.85 billion, the highest amount of the companies listed, the groups said in a statement, shared first with CNN. It was followed by US-based ExxonMobil ($2.81 billion). Two companies registered in Germany, Wintershall and Wintershall DEA, which have since merged, paid a combined total of $2.86 billion. BP, the British multinational oil and gas company, paid $817 million, the data from Rystad shows.
The data was shared amid criticisms that the West’s purchases of Russian coal, oil and gas — which are largely state-owned assets — have helped fund Russia’s war in Ukraine. The addition of taxes, fees and royalties for companies that have chosen to operate in Russia underscores how much capital Western energy companies have transferred to Russia.
The three groups that compiled the data said that while the $15.8 billion figure was substantial, the companies identified were also responsible for tens of billions of dollars more flowing to the Russian state because of stakes they hold in Russian oil and gas companies.
President Joe Biden will travel to Poland on Friday, his second stop on a last-minute trip through Europe aimed at coordinating the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The President’s day begins in Brussels, where he’ll meet with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen before departing for Poland.
Upon his arrival at Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport, Biden will be greeted by Polish President Andrzej Duda and receive a briefing on the humanitarian response to the war. He’ll meet with service members from the 82nd Airborne Division in Rzeszów before traveling to Warsaw in the evening.
On Saturday, the White House says Biden will hold a bilateral meeting with Duda to discuss how the US and allies are responding to the refugee crisis that has ensued as a result of the war. He’ll also deliver remarks before returning to Washington.
Biden’s travel to Poland comes after meetings on Thursday in Brussels, where he attended a slate of emergency summits, announced new actions — such as sanctions against hundreds of members of Russia’s parliament and a commitment to admit 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine — and conferred with global leaders on how the world will respond if Russia deploys a chemical, biological or nuclear weapon.
Refugee crisis: The White House has said the Poland visit is intended to highlight the massive refugee crisis that has ensued since Russia’s war in Ukraine began a month ago.
The President confirmed on Thursday that he hopes to meet with Ukrainian refugees while in Poland. It’s not clear, however, when or where those potential meetings would take place.
More than 3.6 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, according to data from the United Nations refugee agency. A vast majority of those refugees have fled to Ukraine’s western neighbors across Europe.
Poland, which borders Ukraine to the west, has registered more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees crossing into the country. However, the number of refugees staying in Poland is lower, with many continuing on in their journey to other countries.
Thursday marked one month since the war in Ukraine began, with world leaders gathering in Brussels for emergency meetings of NATO, the EU, and the G7.
Here’s the latest:
- NATO summit: US President Joe Biden announced new sanctions on Russian politicians and a plan to accept up to 100,000 refugees in the United States. He also said he supported ejecting Russia from the G20, a group of the world’s 20 leading economies that is scheduled to meet in November. On the prospect of Russia using chemical weapons, Biden said only “we would respond.”
- Zelensky’s appeal: Addressing the G7 on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged member nations to take greater action, including a “full embargo” on trade with Russia and creating security guarantees for Ukraine. He thanked countries for imposing sanctions, but called the action “a little late.” He stopped short of asking for a no-fly zone, and appealed to NATO leaders to provide fighter jets — something the US is still opposed to.
- Where the fighting is: Intense combat is ongoing in several directions around Kyiv, though Ukrainian forces appear to have retaken territory to the east of the capital, pushing back Russian forces. The assault on Mariupol is continuing, with local leaders saying they need weaponry including artillery and anti-tank missiles. Six people were killed when a missile hit a shopping mall parking lot in Kharkiv as civilians lined up inside to receive humanitarian aid. The town of Izyum has been “completely destroyed” by Russian aircraft and artillery, a council deputy said. The Ukrainian Navy also said a Russian ship was destroyed in the occupied port of Berdyansk on the Azov Sea.
- Civilian casualties: The civilian death toll in Ukraine has exceeded 1,000, the UN said Thursday — warning that “the actual figures are considerably higher.” Most casualties were caused by explosives, including missiles and air strikes. Among the deaths are 90 children.
- Refugees: More than 3.6 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began, according to UN estimates. The majority have entered Poland.