There are growing indications that North Korea is moving forward with plans for its first nuclear weapons test in over four years. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been on the rise lately, though this has been underreported in light of the war in Ukraine. Last week, Kim Jong Un promised to continue development of its nuclear weapons “at the fastest possible speed.” This has prompted concerns that a test will be scheduled to disrupt the late May visit of US President Joe Biden to South Korea. Chinese and South Korea diplomats met in Seoul on Tuesday with China pledging to play a ‘constructive role’ in attempting to get North Korea to resume negotiations.
South Korea, with a new administration taking power on 10 May, is quite interested in deterring North Korea from escalating the situation. One element that appears to be coaxing the North along the slippery path it’s on at present is Russia. Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin have forged close ties over the years and the North is one of the few nations supporting Russia in its war without misgivings. In exchange for this loyalty, Russia could return the favor by blocking a UN effort to impose severe sanctions on North Korea if it does move forward with a nuclear test.
Having said this, it must be mentioned that the global economic fallout from Russia’s adventure in Ukraine and the recent COVID-19 outbreaks in China could hit the North Korean economy especially hard. Supply chain issues now coming into play will exacerbate food shortages. Inflation will also play a greater role. Food prices in North Korea often mirror global prices. With food prices rising around the world, the North’s prices are expected to do the same in the coming weeks, taking the country’s economic issues from bad to worse in the process.
The death toll from Friday morning’s attack on a train station in eastern Ukraine has risen to over fifty, with five of the victims confirmed to be children. Right before 10:30 AM (Local Time) Russian SS-21 ballistic missiles struck the area surrounding the main railway station in Kramatorsk. Nearby witnesses reported multiple explosions within a short amount of time, leading to some reports that the missiles were equipped with cluster-munition warheads. This was later found not to be the case. The Ukrainian government immediately condemned the attack. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy even went as far as to accuse Russia of deliberately targeting civilians with this attack.
The arrival of US Army Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries in Slovakia has enabled the Bratislava government to donate its own SA-10 Grumble SAM systems to Ukraine. Slovakia’s prime minister, Eduard Heger is in Ukraine today discussing future aid shipments with the Ukrainian government and EU officials.
The latest wave of European Union sanctions against Russia were announced earlier today. Bans on imports of coal, wood, chemicals and other goods will reduce the total imports from Russia by 10%. Russian ships and trucks will also be prevented from accessing EU ports and nations. This package of sanctions is decidedly larger than what was expected. The increase probably has to do with alleged atrocities committed by Russian troops in a number of Ukrainian towns since the start of the war.
With the Russian withdrawal from north of Kiev now complete, more or less, the new focus of the war will be in the Donbas region. If Russia can seize control of the Luhansk and Donetsk breakaway republics in their entirety, it may open the door to a renewed push towards Kiev at some point in the future. Certainly not in the short term, however.
Amid growing pressure both at home and abroad, the Biden administration will announce a ban on Russian oil imports to the United States this morning. The move is intended to hold Russia accountable for its invasion of Ukraine, which is now entering its thirteenth day. The ban is not expected to have too great of an impact on US oil imports, certainly not to the level a ban by European nations would bring about.
The humanitarian corridor and attached ceasefire in Ukraine’s Sumy region appears to be holding at present. Evacuations of civilians from Sumy to Poltava have started and remain underway. In a related development, the Ukrainian government has also confirmed that evacuations from Irpin, a town located near Kiev are now underway. Efforts to evacuate civilians from Mariupol are meeting with considerably less success.
Japan has announced a new batch of sanctions aimed at Russia and Belarus. The assets of nearly three dozen Russian and Belarusian officials, business executives with close connections to the governments and oligarchs have been frozen. Exports of Russia-bound oil refinery equipment and Belarus-bound general-purpose items that could be used by its military will also be banned.
Good evening. It has been a busy Ash Wednesday for me, and I apologize for not putting together an update earlier in the day. I am trying to maintain at least two updates per 24 hours. For the most part I have. Today was an exception, unfortunately.
-After two Chinese banks restricted financing for Russian commodity purchases last week, there was a sense of optimism in the West that China might condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and apply sanctions. Today, China drew a line in the sand and made it clear it will not condemn Russia or apply severe sanctions. ‘Normal trade cooperation’ between the two countries will continue, according to the Chinese government. Clearly, there will be no condemnation of Russian actions in Ukraine either.
“China firmly opposes all illegal unilateral sanctions, and believes that sanctions are never fundamentally effective means to solve problems,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Webin said Wednesday. “They will only create serious difficulties to the economy and livelihood of relevant countries and further intensify division and confrontation.”
-Separate estimates of Russia’s battlefield casualties have been released by the governments in Kiev and Moscow today and they are as different as night and day. The Russian Defense Ministry claimed 500 KIAs and about 1500 casualties so far in the conflict. The Ukrainian government, on the other hand, puts the number of Russian casualties at around 7,000. Russia’s military has dismissed this number and declared it to be Ukrainian disinformation. As for its own estimate of Ukrainian casualties, Moscow claims 2,870 Ukrainian troops have been killed and some 3,700 more sustained injuries. 572 others have become prisoners of war. The dueling casualty claims will continue on for the length of the conflict and probably beyond. Common occurrence in times of war, especially in this age of digital rumors and disinformation.
-There have been violations of Swedish airspace made by Russian combat aircraft today, 48 hours after Sweden banned Russian aviation from its airspace. The incidents took place east of the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Swedish fighters intercepted two Russian Su-27 Flanker fighters and a pair of Su-24 Fencer fighter-bombers and escorted them out of the area. The Swedish Air Force General Carl-Johan Edström criticized the Russian move. “In light of the current situation, we take the incident very seriously. It is an unprofessional and irresponsible action on the part of Russia.”
The European Union has been active in the past eighteen hours preparing additional actions to be launched at Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Russian domestic airlines and private aircraft registered to Russia will be barred from the airspace of all EU member-states. Many pro-Russia media outlets are also facing suspensions and bans. These moves, according to the EU, will be put into effect ‘within hours’ and mark an increasingly stringent posture now being adopted by Brussels. Earlier today, the EU also announced some of its nations will be supplying fighter aircraft to Ukraine following a request by the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. The EU will not supply the planes directly but intends to provide the financing needed for its member states to expedite the transfer of planes. These jets will be surplus MiGs and Sukhoi aircraft from the Cold War years. Germany, Poland and many other former Soviet-bloc nations still have these types of aircraft in storage.
Comments made by Kiev’s mayor earlier today are being disputed and walked back. Vitali Klitchko, the city’s executive and former heavyweight boxer claims Kiev is not under siege and Russian disinformation is responsible for the rumor. However, some Western and Ukrainian sources still claim the Ukrainian capital city is under siege at the present time. From all indications, it seems clear to me that even if Kiev is not currently surrounded, it will be in the coming hours. The noose around the city continues to tighten and convoys of additional Russian troops are reportedly approaching the city from the east and north.