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Ukraine updates: Swiss envoy defends ban on ammo exports

Published April 24, 2023last updated April 25, 2023

Neutrality is "part of the DNA," Switzerland's ambassador to Germany has said about a block on sending Swiss-made ammunition for Leopard tanks to Ukraine. DW has the latest.

A Gepard anti-aircraft tank firing at a German firing range
Some of the Leopard or Gepard ammunition in Germany's possession has been made in SwitzerlandImage: Carsten Rehder/dpa/picture alliance

Swiss ambassador to Berlin, Paul Rene Seger said he was surprised by the "extent of the criticism that is raining down" on his country over Switzerland's ban on re-exporting ammunition for Germany's Leopard (or Gepard) tanks to Ukraine.

Germany has delivered dozens of the Leopard tanks to the country together with around 60,000 rounds of ammunition. However, Berlin would need Switzerland's approval to deliver another 12,000 anti-aircraft shots which were made in Switzerland.

Talking to Germany's Augsburger Allgemeine daily, Seger defended Switzerland's policy of not exporting weapons to countries that are involved in conflicts.

"The impression is being given that Switzerland is complicit if Putin wins the war. But 12,000 rounds will not influence, let alone decide the war," Seger told the paper.

He pointed to Switzerland's long-running tradition of neutrality, which is one of the basic principles of Swiss foreign policy.

"For us it's a part of the DNA," he said.

Until Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Germany had a very similar policy about not sending weapons to hot conflicts as Switzerland's and often faced criticism in 2022 for its perceived reluctance to provide weaponry for Kyiv.

Here are some of the other headlines concerning Russia's war in Ukraine on Monday, April 24:

Russia's top diplomat slammed for chairing UN Security Council meeting

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and representatives from Western nations berated Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as he chaired a UN Security Council meeting in New York.

Russian FM condemned at UN Security Council

Russia took over the presidency of the UN's most powerful body earlier this month, as each of the council's members take up the presidency for a month on a rotational basis.

Russia last held the presidency in February 2022 when it launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Olof Skoog, the European Union's ambassador to the UN, said that "By organizing this debate Russia is trying to portray itself as a defender of the UN charter and multilateralism. Nothing can be further from the truth. It's cynical."

Guterres said the war in Ukraine "is causing massive suffering and devastation to the country and its people, and adding to the global economic dislocation triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic."

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, told the meeting that, "Our hypocritical convenor today, Russia, invaded its neighbor in Ukraine and struck at the heart of the UN charter."

Lavrov responded by defending his country's military action and accused the US and its allies of undercutting global diplomacy, saying: "Let's call a spade a spade. Nobody allowed the Western minority to speak on behalf of all of humankind."

"As during the Cold War, we have reached the dangerous, possibly even more dangerous, threshold," Lavrov said, and added, "The situation is worsened with the loss of trust in multilateralism." 

UN chief outlines proposal to extend key grain deal

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed a "way forward aimed at the improvement, extension and expansion" of a critical deal that allows Kyiv to export grain through the Black Sea.

Guterres outlined his proposal in a letter he asked Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to deliver to President Vladimir Putin, deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement after Guterres and Lavrov met in New York.

Lavrov flew from Moscow to New York to preside over the Security Council meeting. He is expected to discuss Russia's terms for renewing the deal, which expires mid-May.

Ukraine and the UN pushed for a 120-day extension of the agreement in March, but Russia agreed to acknowledge the deal for 60 days.

Latvia and Estonia urge 'definite roadmap' for Ukraine NATO accession

Latvia and Estonia are aiming for clear progress on Ukraine's application to join NATO when leaders of the alliance meet in Vilnius in mid-June. 

"We expect a definite roadmap for Ukraine on its path into NATO," Latvian President Egils Levits said after meeting Estonian President Alar Karis in Riga. "I believe that this is in line with the joint interests of NATO and also the interests of Ukraine, as well as in the security interests of all of Europe and the world," Levits said. Ukraine's accession would boost the security of all NATO members, he added.

Meanwhile, Estonian Prime Minister Kajas Kallas visited Ukraine. "Estonia stays by your side and will support you militarily, economically, politically — until you win the war," she said at a press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the city of Zhytomyr, west of Kyiv. 

"Your struggle, your losses and sacrifices have made it crystal clear — the path to lasting peace leads through the elimination of gray areas in European security," said the 45-year-old during her previously unannounced visit. "For peace in Europe we need Ukraine in the European Union, we need Ukraine in NATO," she added.

'Allies have agreed that Ukraine will become a NATO member'

EU will send mission to help Moldova face Russia threats

EU countries agreed to send a civilian mission to Moldova to help bolster its ability to cope with destabilization efforts from Russia. 

Pro-European Moldova, which borders Ukraine, has repeatedly accused Moscow of plotting to topple its government through saboteurs disguised as anti-government protesters. Russia has denied the claims.

"As one of the countries most affected by the fallout of Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine, we witness increased and continued Russian attempts to destabilize Moldova with hybrid actions," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. 

"The deployment of this new mission is yet another important political sign of the EU's support in the current difficult circumstances," he added. 

The mission — which has an initial mandate of two years — will include cyber and crisis experts looking to help prepare Moldova to repel potential Russian interference.

UN chief denounces 'devastation' of Ukraine invasion

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday denounced the "devastation" caused by Moscow's invasion of Ukraine during a Security Council meeting chaired by Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Guterres said that Russian invasion of Ukraine is "causing massive suffering and devastation to the country and its people" and fueling "global economic dislocation triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic."

"Tensions between major powers are at an historic high. So are the risks of conflict, through misadventure or miscalculation," Guterres added.

Lavrov chaired the meeting on multilateralism and the founding UN Charter because Russia holds the monthly rotating presidency of the 15-member body for April.

Moscow pushing ahead with 'Russification' of occupied Ukrainian territories — UK

Russia is pushing ahead with the "Russification" of occupied territories in Ukraine, according to British assessments. 

Locals are being coerced to accept Russian passports, an intelligence update from the UK's Defense Ministry said. "Residents in Kherson have been warned that those who have not accepted a Russian passport by June 1, 2023, will be 'deported' and their property seized," it said. 

Russia formally annexed the partially-occupied Ukrainian provinces of Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk after sham referendums. The latest bureaucratic integration was intended to help portray the invasion as a success, especially in view of the Russian presidential election in 2024, the ministry wrote.

Russia says it repelled naval drone attack on Sevastopol

Russia repelled an attack by naval drones on its Black Sea fleet stationed in the Crimean port of Sevastopol in the early hours of Monday, Russia's Defense Ministry said.

Sevastopol, which is on the Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, has come under repeated air attack since Russia sent troops into Ukraine last February. Russian officials have blamed the attacks on Ukraine.

"At about 3.30 a.m. (0030 GMT), the Kyiv regime tried to attack the base of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol with three unmanned high-speed boats," the ministry said in a statement. Russia destroyed all three of the naval drones, suffering no casualties or losses in the process, it said.

There was no immediate reaction from Ukraine. Kyiv almost never publicly claims responsibility for attacks inside Russia and on Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine.

Separately on Monday, a local Russian official said a Ukrainian-made drone packed with explosives had been found crashed in a forest in the Moscow region. No casualties were reported.

Kremlin sticks to 2024 presidential elections despite war

The Kremlin says it intends to hold presidential elections in early 2024 despite the ongoing war in Ukraine. "The elections will take place," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin had already made his position on this clear in his presidential address in February, Peskov said. Speculation about a postponement or cancellation of the election nevertheless spread, in part due to statements by officials. 

Election chief Ella Pamfilova, for example, has accused the West of sabotaging the presidential election. "Huge sums of money were spent on this by Western states, especially the US," Pamfilova said during an appearance at a university in the eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk. 

Peskov reiterated Pamfilova's accusations. The pressure will increase many times over "under the conditions of the special military operation," as Moscow calls Russia's war against Ukraine. He nevertheless expressed his conviction that the vote will take place. 

Wagner head Prigozhin threatens to stop taking prisoners

The head of Russia's Wagner mercenary company, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, said that the group would "not take a single prisoner" in the future and would instead "kill everyone who is on the battlefield."

His comments came in response to an audio clip which allegedly captured Russian-speaking Ukrainian soldiers receiving orders to execute a Wagner prisoner. DW was not able to verify the origin of the recording.

In an audio message, Prigozhin said the alleged incident has "a very serious humanitarian significance."

Military spending jumps sharply in Europe

European countries boosted their military spending by 13% in 2022, the biggest jump in 30 years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a leading global security think tank. Military spending has also increased worldwide, by 3.7%.

Western allies bolster support for Ukraine

With Russia launching its full-scale invasion in February last year, Ukraine boosted its military spending by nearly six and a half times to $44 billion (around €40 billion), though it also received massive amounts of foreign military aid. The US alone has pledged over 43.2 billion in military aid, according to Germany's Kiel Institute.

In turn, Russia boosted its own military budget by only 10%, to $86.4 billion.

China 'respects sovereignty' of ex-Soviet states after Crimea remarks

Amid a diplomatic row, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Beijing respects "the sovereign state status of the participating republics after the dissolution of the Soviet Union."

The comments are seen as an attempt to smooth out the statements made by China's ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, on Friday, in relation to Crimea.

When asked if he believed Crimea is part of Ukraine, Ambassador Lu Shaye told a French television channel that, historically, Crimea was part of Russia and had been offered to Ukraine by former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

"These ex-USSR countries don't have actual status in international law because there is no international agreement to materialize their sovereign status," Lu told the LCI news channel.

How reassuring is China's pledge not to send arms to Russia?

This prompted an outcry in France and Ukraine, but also in the Baltic nations, with Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia all summoning Chinese ambassadors on Monday to clarify the remarks.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Mao Ning insisted that Beijing's stance hadn't changed.

"China respects the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries and upholds the purposes and principles of the UN Charter," Mao said on Monday.

rm, dh, dj/msh, jcg (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)