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Biden puts sanctions on Russian banks and elites over Ukraine invasion

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(Last Updated On: February 23, 2022)

US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday the United States was imposing a first tranche of sanctions against Russia for launching an invasion of Ukraine and promised that more would come if there are further incursions.

Biden, speaking to reporters at the White House, said the United States would impose sanctions against two large Russian financial institutions and Russian sovereign debt. Sanctions were imposed against Russian elites and their family members as well, administration officials said, Reuters reported.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Monday told Russia’s defense ministry to deploy what he called peacekeeping forces into two breakaway regions of Ukraine after recognizing them as independent, raising fears of imminent war in Europe.

“This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Biden said. “Russia has now undeniably moved against Ukraine by declaring these independent states.”

The United States had promised severe sanctions against Russia if it invaded Ukraine, which the White House previously defined as any movement of troops across the border, Reuters reported.

The United States deployed its most powerful sanctioning tool, placing Russian elites and two banks on the Specially Designated Nationals list, effectively kicking them out of the U.S. banking system, banning them from trading with Americans, and freezing their U.S. assets.

Biden said the sanctions in the initial tranche applied to VEB bank and Russia’s military bank – Promsvyazbank, which does defense deals. He said the sanctions against Russia’s sovereign debt meant the Russian government would be cut off from Western financing.

“As Russia contemplates its next move, we have our next move prepared as well,” Biden said. “Russia will pay an even steeper price if it continues its aggression, including additional sanctions.”

Biden said the United States would continue to provide “defensive assistance” to Ukraine but had no intention of fighting Russia. He said he authorized additional movements of U.S. forces already stationed in Europe to strengthen Baltic allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Reuters reported.

On Monday a senior administration official said Russia sending troops to the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine did not represent a further invasion because Russia had troops there previously. But on Tuesday, White House officials changed their language to say an invasion had begun.

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Estonia to buy US rocket artillery system in $200 million deal

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(Last Updated On: December 3, 2022)

NATO member and Russia’s neighbor Estonia is boosting its defense capabilities by acquiring an advanced US rocket artillery system in the Baltic country’s largest arms procurement project ever, defense officials said Saturday.

A deal signed Friday for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is worth more than $200 million and includes equipment such as ammunition and rockets as well as training, Associated Press reported.

The package includes HIMARS rockets with ranges of 70-300 kilometers, the Estonian Center Defense Investment said in a statement. Lockheed Martin Corp. is expected to make the first deliveries in 2024.

“The HIMARS multiple rocket launchers are a new important step in the development of Estonia’s defense capabilities,” Lt. Col. Kaarel Mäesalu, head of the capability development department at the Estonian Defense Forces. “This makes it possible to decisively influence the enemy even before coming into contact with our infantry units.”

Estonia’s Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania either have or are currently in the process of acquiring their own HIMARS.

Washington has provided Ukraine with the rocket launchers during Russia’s invasion of the country. The Estonian Defense Ministry said the HIMARS systems “have helped to destroy Russian military ammunition warehouses, transport nodes, and command and control centers with pinpoint accuracy beyond the range of the howitzers Ukraine has been using.”

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Ukraine, Russia swap 50 prisoners in PoW exchange

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(Last Updated On: December 2, 2022)

Russia’s Defence Ministry and the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration said the two countries had swapped 50 service personnel on Thursday in the latest prisoner exchange between the two sides, Reuters reported.

Earlier on Thursday, the top Russian-installed official in Ukraine’s partly-occupied Donetsk region said Moscow and Kyiv would each hand over 50 prisoners of war.

Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, reported the release of 50 “protectors of Ukraine” and said that the exchanges of prisoners of war would continue “until the liberation of the last Ukrainian”.

“The defenders of Mariupol and Azovstal have returned, also those captured … in the battles in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia directions,” Yermak wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Russia said it would fly its released prisoners to Moscow for medical checks and rehabilitation, read the report.

Yermak also said an unspecified number of Ukrainian prisoners of war who were released on Thursday had been kept in the Olenivka detention centre.

According to Reuters dozens of Ukrainian prisoners held by Moscow-backed separatists in the eastern frontline town of Olenivka, near Donetsk, were killed in an attack in July.

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Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin dies at 96

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(Last Updated On: November 30, 2022)

Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who led the country for a decade of rapid economic growth after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, died on Wednesday at the age of 96, Chinese state media reported.

Jiang died in his home city of Shanghai just after noon on Wednesday of leukaemia and multiple organ failure, Xinhua news agency said, publishing a letter to the Chinese people by the ruling Communist Party, parliament, Cabinet and the military, Reuters reported.

“Comrade Jiang Zemin’s death is an incalculable loss to our Party and our military and our people of all ethnic groups,” the letter read, saying its announcement was with “profound grief”.

According to Reuters Jiang’s death comes at a tumultuous time in China, where authorities are grappling with rare widespread street protests among residents fed up with heavy-handed COVID-19 curbs nearly three years into the pandemic.

The zero-COVID policy is a hallmark or President Xi Jinping, who recently secured a third leadership term that cements his place as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong and has taken China in an increasingly authoritarian direction since replacing Jiang’s immediate successor, Hu Jintao.

China is also in the midst of a sharp economic slowdown exacerbated by zero-COVID, read the report.

Numerous users of China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform described the death of Jiang, who remained influential after finally retiring in 2004, as the end of an era.

“I’m very sad, not only for his departure, but also because I really feel that an era is over,” a Henan province-based user wrote.

“As if what has happened wasn’t enough, 2022 tells people in a more brutal way that an era is over,” a Beijing Weibo user posted.

The online pages of state media sites including People’s Daily and Xinhua turned to black and white in mourning, read the report.

Wednesday’s letter described “our beloved Comrade Jiang Zemin” as an outstanding leader of high prestige, a great Marxist, statesman, military strategist and diplomat and a long-tested communist fighter.

Jiang was plucked from obscurity to head China’s ruling Communist Party after the bloody Tiananmen crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989, but broke the country out of its subsequent diplomatic isolation, mending fences with the United States and overseeing an unprecedented economic boom.

He served as president from 1993 to 2003 but held China’s top job, as head of the ruling Communist Party, from 1989 and handed over that role to Hu in 2002. He only gave up the position as head of the military in 2004, which he also assumed in 1989.

According to Reuters when Jiang retired, it was said by sources close to the leadership at the time that everywhere Hu looked he would see the supporters of his predecessor.

Jiang had stacked China’s most powerful leadership body, the Politburo Standing Committee, with his own protégées, many of them from the so-called “Shanghai Gang”.

But in the years after Jiang retired from his final post, the military commission chairmanship in 2004, Hu consolidated his grip, neutralised the Shanghai Gang and successfully anointed Xi as a successor, Reuters reported.

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