Ukraine, Briefly

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This week, Ukrainian officials confirmed that its weapons firm Lviv Arsenal and officials from the Ukrainian defense ministry were involved in a fraud scheme over a 2022 artillery shell deal worth $40 million, the Associated Press reported. The ammunition was never delivered, while the money was sent to bank accounts in Ukraine and in the Balkans. The Ukrainian security service on Saturday said five people have been charged in the scheme.

Closer to the frontlines, a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia saw 207 Ukrainians return to their country on Wednesday, the Kyiv Post reported. Meanwhile, as military officials ask the government to draft another half-million civilians, the realization that the war may continue for years has left Ukrainians divided on the issue, NPR wrote. Civilians unwilling to serve say that conscription officers have become more aggressive.

Also on Wednesday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Russia had violated two United Nations treaties on terrorism and discrimination in a case brought by Ukraine, Reuters reported, while denying Ukraine the right to reparations from Moscow. The ICJ is expected to rule within days on Russia’s objections to Kyiv’s lawsuit regarding Kremlin claims of acts of genocide in the Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday was officially registered as a candidate in the presidential election set for March 15-17, which he is almost sure to win, while nationalist – and marginal – candidate Sergei Baburin withdrew to support him. On Wednesday, popular opponent Boris Nadezhdin, who promised to end the Ukraine war, submitted the 100,000 signatures of endorsement he needed to enter the race, Al Jazeera reported. Observers have wondered how far Baburin will be allowed to go, as many Kremlin critics have been imprisoned.

One of these, Russian-British national Vladimir Kara-Murza, has vanished from jail. Then on Tuesday, his attorneys said he was transferred to another prison in Siberia, the BBC reported. Kara-Murza was handed a 25-year sentence in April for sharing “false” information about the Russian army. Meanwhile, members of Bi-2, a prominent Russian rock band known for its criticism of the war, are facing deportation from Thailand, where they were touring, and arrest in Russia. A person familiar with the case told the Guardian Moscow had sent Bangkok a “blacklist” of Russian musicians it would like the country to repatriate.

Five European Union (EU) leaders admitted the EU had “fallen short” of their goal of supplying arms to Ukraine, and stressed that “all states” needed to step up. As pro-Russian Hungary still shows reluctance to support Ukraine, Brussels has drafted a confidential plan seen by the Financial Times to target Budapest’s economic weaknesses and force it to cave; one EU diplomat called it “blackmail.” On Thursday, though, the bloc agreed on a $50 billion aid package for Ukraine, after a compromise deal on an annual review mechanism led Hungarian leader Viktor Orban to retract his veto.

Meanwhile, India is steering away from Russia, otherwise its largest arms supplier, in preference for domestic production of weapons with Western technology, Reuters reported. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Tuesday expressed his hope for similar partnership switches in Africa, where military-led countries often work with Russia or its mercenary Wagner Group. Case in point: Burkina Faso this week thanked Moscow for its gift of 28,000 tons of wheat, a commodity many African and Middle Eastern countries have struggled to import since the outbreak of the war two years ago.

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