Andrey Melnichenko, a Russian oligarch worth more than $20 billion, has lost one $600 million yacht to global sanctions but not a more modest, $300 million model thanks to a haven created by a US ally.
Melnichenko once ran SUEK, one of the world’s largest energy companies. He met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine. Sanctions quickly followed, and Melnichenko was on the list. Italian authorities impounded Melnichenko’s “Sailing Yacht A” in March.
Melnichenko’s lesser yacht, “Motor Yacht A,” is longer than a football field and contains a 2,500 square-foot master suite – larger than most single-family US homes – a helipad, three pools and four staterooms. It has been safely anchored for weeks in the United Arab Emirates port of Ras al-Khaimah.
UAE, a close counterterrorism ally of the US, abstained on a UN Security Council vote in February condemning Russia’s invasion – and has declined to enforce sanctions. Wealthy Russians have taken note.
The result, writes Financial Times Dubai correspondent Simeon Kerr: “Thousands of wealthy, non-sanctions-hit Russians have relocated to the UAE to escape economic uncertainty and political instability at home.”
►The Dutch government on Wednesday announced the biggest boost in its military spending since the end of the Cold War. The money will fund the military’s six new F-35 fighter jets and four MQ-9 Reaper drones, among other items.
►Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his country will serve as an “economic hub” for neighboring Ukraine, helping it export grain and other products while Russia blocks Ukraine’s export routes.
►Portugal has sent 146 Marines to join a NATO force stationed in Lithuania as part of efforts to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank. The deployment includes various specializing in deactivating mines and other explosive devices.
►Polling stations are open in Denmark for voters to decide whether to abandon their country’s 30-year-old opt-out from the European Union’s common defense policy. This month Sweden and Finland announced historic bids to join NATO.
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NATO chief working on deal for Finland, Sweden memberships
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he will be meeting with senior officials from Turkey, Finland and Sweden in Brussels in coming days to clear a path for Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance. All NATO nations must approve any new members, and Turkey has raised concerns. Stoltenberg, who met with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Washington on Wednesday, said he was confident a deal could be worked out.
“President Putin wanted less NATO. He is getting more NATO – more troops and more NATO members,” Stoltenberg said.
US, Germany to send desperately needed missile systems to Ukraine
Germany on Wednesday said it would send anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems to Ukraine and the US was poised to unveil details of its own security package as Ukraine struggled to fend off a ferocious Russian offensive.
Russian troops in recent days have seized most of the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, one of the last major cities under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told lawmakers that the IRIS-T SLM missiles it will send are “the most modern air defense system that Germany has.” They will enable Ukraine to defend an entire city from Russian air attacks, he said. Germany will also supply Ukraine with radar systems to help locate enemy artillery.
The US will reveal details of a $700 million security package to include High Mobility Rocket Systems (HIMARS). US officials said Ukraine has assured the United States the rockets would only be used to repel Russian forces in Ukraine and not to attack Russian territory.
Russian press presidential secretary Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin does not believe the Ukrainian pledge. He accused the United States of deliberately “adding fuel to the fire” and said missiles won’t encourage kyiv to resume peace talks.
Swiss reject Denmark’s effort to ship tanks to Ukraine
The Swiss government has rejected Denmark’s request to send 20 Piranha III infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine – for now. Swiss broadcaster SRF reported that Denmark needs Switzerland’s agreement because the tanks were built there, and Switzerland bans the export of Swiss-made weapons to conflict zones due to its neutral status.
Swiss officials previously rejected a German request to ship Swiss-made ammunition to Ukraine but will review that decision as soon as Friday. Pirmin Bisch, Swiss councilor of states, said he his country should take a more generous interpretation of the law and “correct this practice.”
Rail exports of Ukraine grain may not be the answer
Alternate means to export Ukraine grain would only carry one-fifth of usual total, EU says. European Union leaders are trying to find a way around the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports that’s preventing the export of 22 million tons of grain, but they acknowledge alternatives to sea transportation would only carry a fraction of the product. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen the bloc is exploring getting food out by road and rail, which would transport just one-fifth of Ukraine’s usual monthly exports.
“It is of course more tedious and expensive, but it is necessary to get this wheat out,” she said.
Russian control of Sievierodonetsk grows
A regional governor in eastern Ukraine says Russian forces control 70% of Sievierodonetsk, a focus of Moscow’s offensive. Luhansk region governor Serhiy Haidai said in a Telegram post Wednesday that some Ukrainian troops were fighting with the Russians while others had pulled back. Humanitarian cargoes cannot be delivered, but for now the local hospital has a sufficient number of medicines and other medical supplies, and the humanitarian headquarters have food supplies.
“We are fighting for every settlement of Luhansk region,” Haidai said. “We are waiting for Western weapons and preparing for de-occupation.”
Contributing: The Associated Press