Polish Leopard tanks arrive in Ukraine as west piles new sanctions on Russia

Poland’s PM visits Kyiv as allies demonstrate support on first anniversary of invasion

The first Polish Leopard tanks have arrived in Ukraine, as western allies including the G7 and EU announced a range of further economic, military and financial sanctions against Russia, in a renewed effort to weaken Vladimir Putin’s war machine.

Speaking on the first anniversary of the Russian invasion, Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, confirmed that four Leopard tanks had been delivered to Ukraine. “Poland and Europe stand by your side. We will definitely not leave you, we will support Ukraine until complete victory over Russia,” he said, standing alongside the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, during his visit to Kyiv.

As ceremonies to remember the dead took place in Kyiv, western allies sought to demonstrate their support. Ukraine’s blue and yellow colours were projected on the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate, the Empire State Building and EU headquarters, and were painted on the street by activists outside the Russian embassy in London.

On Friday evening the G7 announced it was determined to strengthen sanctions and take unprecedented measures in order to weaken Russia, promising measures against Russian diamond exports, a controversial issue for Europe. It warned that third countries that help Russia evade sanctions would face “severe costs” and is understood to be setting up an “enforcement coordination mechanism” to stop evasion of G7 sanctions already imposed.

In a joint statement, G7 leaders said: “We call on third-countries or other international actors who seek to evade or undermine our measures to cease providing material support to Russia’s war, or face severe costs.”

Ahead of the G7 meeting, the US led the way with an announcement of further military aid for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia and its supporters, including Chinese companies.

The military assistance package will include several new drone and anti-drone systems the US has not previously made available, as well as equipment to help Ukraine counter Russian electronic warfare. The new drones include the Switchblade 600, a bigger version of the loitering munition (or kamikaze drone) than has already been supplied, as well as the CyberLux K8, Altius-600, and the Jump 20, which can be used for surveillance or adapted to carry bombs.

The US will also send more ammunition for the high mobility artillery rocket systems (Himars) and 155mm howitzer guns Washington has provided over the course of the year.

The US commerce department will list more than 80 companies from Russia, China and other countries accused of sanctions busting, including “backfill activities in support of Russia’s defence sector”, replenishing material that Moscow has used up in the invasion. The Biden administration has become increasingly vocal about Chinese aid to the Russian war machine, and has raised concerns recently that Beijing is contemplating supplying weapons directly. The companies named would be blocked from purchasing hi-tech items such as semiconductors made in the US, or using US technology abroad.

Tariffs will be raised on imports from Russia of more than 100 metals, minerals and chemical products, including aluminium smelt or cast in Russia, worth an estimated $2.8bn (£2.3bn) in revenue to Moscow.

Unveiling its latest sanctions, the UK said it was banning the export of every item Russia has been found using on the battlefield to date, a list covering hundreds of goods, including aircraft parts, radio equipment and electronic components.

The British government is also imposing sanctions on senior executives at Russia’s state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom, who Ukraine says are complicit in the seizure and forced nationality change of staff at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and their children.

UK sanctions also target 34 top officials from Russia’s two largest defence companies, Rostec and Almaz-Antey, and four banks.

The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said sanctions were working. “Russia is falling backwards towards an autarkic economy cut away from the world. Our sanctions are eroding sharply its economic base, slashing any prospect to modernise it,” she said in Tallinn, where she attended ceremonies to mark Estonia’s independence day.

The EU agreed late on Friday to ban on exports of critical technologies to Russia, as part of a 10th round of sanctions. Despite plans to have the measures in place by the first anniversary of the invasion, the measures were held up by a last-minute dispute over how quickly to ban synthetic rubber imports from Russia.

Italy objected to a rapid phase-out, while Poland blindsided other member states with its insistence the trade be stopped as soon as possible. EU diplomats voiced frustration that Poland, one of the bloc’s most hawkish voices on sanctions, was prepared to hold up a deal over a relatively minor issue.

Some sources attributed Warsaw’s position to hopes of gaining ground for its domestic rubber industry. “Poland is basically stopping this whole package on 24 February to carve out some putative advantage for the Polish rubber industry,” said one diplomat.

Morawiecki had said earlier the package was “too soft, too weak” and called on allies to adopt a tougher position. Poland eventually climbed down on an immediate ban; a Polish diplomat said they accepted a deal on six conditions, including launching work to sanction 150 Russian propagandists and a review clause on rubber imports. Talks between the 27 member states this week also became bogged down over a proposal to fine European companies and individuals if they failed to report on the location of Russian state assets. That idea was dropped as member states said they needed more time to study the idea.

The latest EU package will ban the export of components for drones and helicopters, as well as spare parts for vehicles, items that were found on the battlefields of Ukraine and were missed off previous sanctions lists.

Western countries are increasingly concerned about Russia’s ability to dodge sanctions by sourcing technology from front companies or friendly exporters in neighbouring countries.

EU and UK exports to Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, all members of the Eurasian Customs Union with Russia and Belarus, jumped by between 15% and 90% following the invasion of Ukraine, according to a paper by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development released on Friday. The increase was particularly marked for sanctioned goods no longer available to Russia, and showed “a pattern suggestive of new supply chains”, the authors said.

Western officials have also noted with concern the growth in Russian trade with the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and China.

Officials are now studying how to prevent sanctions dodging, via a mix of persuasion or threats to cut market access.

Meanwhile, the US has this week begun disbursing $9.9bn in financial assistance to help fund healthcare, education and emergency services in Ukraine, while the G7 as a whole has increased its commitment of budget and economic support to $39bn for this year. Part of the US assistance will be a third delivery by the energy department of equipment to help patch the Ukrainian power grid equipment which has been weakened by repeated Russian missile attacks over the course of the year.


Jennifer Rankin in Brussels and Julian Borger

The GuardianTramp

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