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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Major New EU Sanctions Against Russia Include Ban On Oil Imports

Testimonies are emerging of civilians being evacuated from Mariupol and Lyman, as Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities continue. Meanwhile, the EU has revealed plans to enforce its sixth package of sanctions against Moscow.

Photo of a bus transporting a group of Mariupol residents heading for Zaporizhzhia, southeastern Ukraine.

A group of Mariupol residents head for Zaporizhzhia, southeastern Ukraine.

Irene Caselli, Bertrand Hauger, Cameron Manley and Emma Albright

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced a new package of sanctions against Russia. Speaking to the European Parliament on Wednesday morning, von der Leyen unveiled plans to ban Russian oil imports as well as a proposal to ban three banks, including Sberbank, the country’s biggest, from the SWIFT international payments networks.

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Von der Leyen also announced that three big Russian state-owned broadcasters “that amplify Putin's lies and propaganda aggressively” would be banned from EU airwaves. The proposal needs to be approved by all EU member states to become effective.

The ban on oil poses a serious risk to the European economy, and will require countries to seek other energy sources after having long been reliant on Russian supply.

"Let's be clear: It will not be easy,” said von der Leyen. “But we simply have to work on it. We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, to maximize pressure on Russia, while minimizing the impact on our own economies."

Slovakia and Hungary, which rely heavily on Russian energy, have been demanding exemptions from an oil ban. Von der Leyen did not give any details during her speech, but three EU officials told CNBC that the proposal includes a longer phase-out period for the two countries.

This is the sixth package of sanctions that the EU is trying to enforce on Russia, and cutting off Sberbank has been hailed as extremely important.

Missile Attacks Continue, Though Russia Keeping Planes And Choppers Grounded

Photo of a woman crying, with a ukrainian flag painted on her left cheek, as she participates in a gathering on Kyiv's independence square

People gathered at Kyiv Independence square

Mykhaylo Palinchak/SOPA/ZUMA

Russia fired more than 20 missiles at Ukraine overnight, most aimed at infrastructure targets in the regions around Dnipropetrovsk, Kirovohrad, Lviv, Vinnytsia, Kyiv and Zakarpattia. The Pravda-Ukraine news agency reported an unspecified number of fatalities, as well as damage to six railway stations. Ukraine’s anti-missile batteries in Odessa and Kyiv destroyed eight missiles.

Yuri Ignat, spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force Command reported that Russians are keeping many of their planes and helicopters grounded, choosing not to enter the airspace controlled by the Ukraine military and risk losses.

Kremlin Spokesman Dismisses May 9 War Declaration As “Nonsense”

After 48 hours of questions of whether Vladimir Putin would use the May 9 “Victory Day” to make a formal declaration of war against Ukraine, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed the speculation: “It is not true. It is nonsense.”

May 9 commemorates Russia’s 1945 defeat against the Nazis and is one of the country’s most important national events. Commentators and politicians in the West have been speculating that Putin may take advantage of the important celebration to officially declare war on Ukraine. The Kremlin has so far called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation.”

Writing in Worldcrunch, Anna Akage argues that (whatever the date) a mass moblization of the Russian is needed to defeat Ukraine.

Testimonies Of Civilians Evacuated From Mariupol, Lyman

Azovstal evacuees who spent almost two months in the shelter at the steelworks, arrive in Zaporizhzhia, southeastern Ukraine

Dmytro Smolyenko/Ukrinform/Zuma

More testimonies are emerging from the civilians who managed to flee Mariupol, reaching the city of Zaporizhia via evacuation corridors. They said they were relieved but feared for those they were leaving behind.

"I saw the sun and it blinded me so much. Our soldiers stood by us and said everything was fine. We laughed together. And then we cried because the fighters had to stay in the factory,” Nadeschda told Die Welt.

“Dasha and her mother have been in the tunnels and bunkers of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol for two months. Two months under daily Russian attacks, without seeing the sun and almost without supplies. They have arrived in Zaporizhia with the first convoy of evacuees,” tweeted reporter Maria Sahuquillo from El País.

On Tuesday, 156 civilians from Mariupol arrived in Zaporizhia, in what Osnat Lubrani, UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, deemed a “successful” operation.

These people were taken out of Azovstal steel plant and other parts of the city on May 1. On May 3, almost 2,000 Mariupol residents were waiting to be evacuated near Berdyansk, reports Ukrainian news website Livy Bereg. Of the 14 evacuation buses with residents of Mariupol, only three reached the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government.

Meanwhile, Francesca Mannocchi, reporting for Italian daily La Stampa, speaks to several people who have been escaping another besieged Donbas town, Lyman: “The last few nights — corresponding to the intensification of Russian artillery fire in the areas around Lyman — convinced them to flee. Ihor describes last night as the hardest since the war began. He held his children in his arms trying to plug their ears. It went on like this from three in the morning until dawn when he called a neighbor, one of the few who still had a car and some fuel, and asked him to take him and his family to safety.”

Belarus Army Holds Surprise Drill

Department of Defense

The Ministry of Defense of Belarus announced a sudden, large-scale military drill, reportedly to test the army’s combat readiness. Belarus, a close ally of Russia, added that the manoeuvres did not represent a threat to any country. Still, Ukraine officials said on Wednesday that it was “ready” should Belarus enter the war.

Petition For Germany To Stop Supplying Weapons To Ukraine

German public opposition to the supply of heavy weapons to Kyiv has gained momentum, as a petition calling on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to reverse the policy has gained 203,913 signatures as of May 4, according to change.org data.

On April 29, more than 30 cultural and art figures sent an open letter to Scholz urging him not to supply heavy weapons to Kyiv. The full letter was published on the website of the German magazine EMMA, warning the chancellor of the possibility of a “World War III.”

German weekly Die Zeit reported that the open letter sparked mixed reactions within the government.

Zelensky Says $600 Billion Needed To Rebuild Ukraine

Field at the Dynamo Stadium destroyed

Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi/ZUMA

Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelensky estimates that the rebuilding of the country will require at least $600 billion, as the Russian military continues to shell cities, destroy buildings and target major infrastructure such as the nation’s water systems.

Zelensky, speaking in Ukrainian by video in an interview with the editor of The Wall Street Journal said: “We can recover everything that was destroyed, and you can help us recover. Use this opportunity for your companies, build offices in Kiev, start companies in Ukraine, and you will get access to a market of more than 40 million, the largest in Europe.”

Macron’s “No Illusions” Two-Hour Call With Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron

Gao Jing/Xinhua/ZUMA

Russian President Vladimir Putin and newly reelected French President Emmanuel Macron exchanged over the phone for more than two hours. According to French daily Le Monde, during the call — which it says happened “without any illusions” — Macron expressed his concern regarding the problem of global food security and Putin retorted that the blame is “primarily due to the sanctions of Western countries."

CIA Advises “Concerned” Russians On How To Get In Touch

The CIA has distributed instructions in Russian explaining how to get in touch with them. The materials are posted on the official pages of the CIA on social networks, as Russian daily Kommersant reports, with the CIA recommending using a VPN or the Tor browser, which makes it more difficult for the Russian special services to identify individuals.

According to The Washington Post, citing a representative of the U.S. intelligence service, the how-to guide was made public in an effort to to establish contact with Russians "concerned" by the military operation in Ukraine.

An intelligence official said that since the invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, an increasing number of Russians have tried to get in touch with the CIA in order to provide information.

Reports Of Russian Army Stealing Ukrainian Grain

Russian military officials reportedly sent an estimated total of 400,000 tons of grain back home, from the four temporarily occupied Ukrainian regions. This amounts to one-third of all reserves in the contested regions in eastern and southern Ukraine.

"These are, first of all, needed to ensure daily food security, that is feeding Ukrainians living there, and the necessary spring field work in terms of spring crops,” First Deputy Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food Taras Vysotsky was quoted as saying in news agency Pravda-Ukraine. The situation is prompting fears of famine in these regions, as reserves risk depleting should the looting continue.

Ed Sheeran Duets With Ukrainian Band To Help Victims

Antytila, one of Ukraine’s most popular bands at the moment, has collaborated with UK singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran for a new song, the proceeds of which will go to help Ukrainian victims of the Russian invasion.

Part of the video for the single, a remix of Sheeran’s song 2step, was filmed on the frontlines as Antytila members are currently serving in the Ukrainian army. "Ed feels that pain, compassion and sympathy for Ukrainian people," singer Taras Topolya told the BBC.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

What Are Iran's Real Intentions? Watch What The Houthis Do Next

Three commercial ships traveling through the Red Sea were attacked by missiles launched by Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, while the U.S. Navy shot down three drones. Tensions that are linked to the ongoing war in Gaza conflict and that may serve as an indication as to Iran's wider intentions.

photo of Raisi of iran speaking in parliament

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Iranian parliament in Tehran.

Icana News Agency via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — It’s a parallel war that has so far claimed fewer victims and attracted less public attention than the one in Gaza. Yet it increasingly poses a serious threat of escalating at any time.

This conflict playing out in the international waters of the Red Sea, a strategic maritime route, features the U.S. Navy pitted against Yemen's Houthi rebels. But the stakes go beyond the Yemeni militants — with the latter being supported by Iran, which has a hand in virtually every hotspot in the region.

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Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the Houthis have been making headlines, despite Yemen’s distance from the Gaza front. Starting with missiles launched directed toward southern Israel, which were intercepted by U.S. forces. Then came attacks on ships belonging, or suspected of belonging, to Israeli interests.

On Sunday, no fewer than three commercial ships were targeted by ballistic missiles in the Red Sea. The missiles caused minor damage and no casualties. Meanwhile, three drones were intercepted and destroyed by the U.S. Navy, currently deployed in full force in the region.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for these attacks, stating their intention to block Israeli ships' passage for as long as there was war in Gaza. The ships targeted on Sunday were registered in Panama, but at least one of them was Israeli. In the days before, several other ships were attacked and an Israeli cargo ship carrying cars was seized, and is still being held in the Yemeni port of Hodeida.

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