Ukraine Latest: Zelenskiy May Meet with Pope Francis Saturday

(Bloomberg) -- President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told the BBC that Ukraine needs more time to prepare for its anticipated counteroffensive against Russian occupation forces. Zelenskiy earlier said that Kyiv was conducting intensive work with partners on new defense packages and decisions are expected shortly.

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The UK has provided Ukraine with multiple Storm Shadow cruise missiles, with a firing range in excess of 250 kilometers (155 miles), to use in Kyiv’s expected counteroffensive. The US has accused South Africa of supplying arms to Russia, according to a South African news website; President Cyril Ramaphosa said he’s looking into the claims.

A two-day meeting on the Black Sea grain deal between United Nations officials and deputy defense ministers from Turkey, Russia and Ukraine ended in Istanbul with “constructive progress” but no resolution.

Key Developments

  • Ukraine Needs More Than a $30 Billion Arsenal for Counterstrike

  • UK Sends Long-Range Storm Shadow Cruise Missiles to Ukraine

  • Zelenskiy Says Ukraine Needs More Time to Start Counteroffensive

(All times CET)

Pope Could Meet With Zelenskiy This Weekend (8:52 p.m.)

A Vatican official said Pope Francis could meet with Zelenskiy this weekend, according to the Associated Press.

Francis has called for an end to the war and expressed solidarity with the Ukrainians.

Zelenskiy was expected in Germany starting Saturday evening. Italian media, citing unnamed sources, reported Thursday that Zelenskiy might be in Rome earlier that day to meet with Premier Giorgia Meloni and the pope.

A meeting with the pontiff “is a possibility” the Vatican official told the AP on the condition of anonymity.

Russia Says Grain Deal to End If No Guarantees by May 18: Tass (4:20 p.m.)

The Black Sea initiative that’s allowed Ukraine to export millions of tons of grain and other foodstuffs will end unless Russia receives guarantees by May 18 that its demands will be met, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin said after the talks in Istanbul, according to Tass.

Russia is against constant extensions of the Black Sea grain deal and insists that agreements with the Russian side, which center on Moscow’s own grain and fertilizer shipments, haven’t been fulfilled.

No decision has been made on a new meeting about the deal at the deputy minister level after this week’s discussions.

US Ambassador Says Russia Got Arms From South Africa: Website (3:47 p.m.)

The US is convinced South Africa supplied weapons and ammunition to Russia, despite Pretoria having taken a neutral stance on its invasion of Ukraine, News24 reported, citing Washington’s ambassador to South Africa.

The armaments were allegedly collected by a Russian cargo ship that docked at the Simon’s Town naval base in Cape Town in December, the news website reported. South Africa’s president said he’s looking into the allegations.

The South African rand slid more than 2% on the report while the nation’s stock index tumbled and government bond yields soared.

Read more: US Ambassador Says Russia Got Arms in South Africa: News24

Russia Hands Arctic Council Chair to Norway (3:16 p.m.)

Russia joined the other members of the Arctic Council in a pledge to safeguard and strengthen the inter-governmental body as it handed over its chairmanship to Norway. Meetings of the council, an eight-country group that includes the US, have been put on hold since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s handover of the rotating chairmanship took place on Thursday in a low-profile event held in Salekhard on the Arctic Circle and online.

Turkey Cites Progress at Black Sea Grain Talks (2:04 p.m.)

Talks in Istanbul to extend the Black Sea grain initiative that’s allowed Ukraine to export millions of tons of grain since last summer made “positive and constructive progress” over two days, Turkey’s Ministry of Defense said in a tweet.

Officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN will continue work to ensure the initiative continues, the ministry said.

UK Provides Storm Shadow Missiles to Push Back Russians, Wallace Says (2 p.m.)

The UK is sending Storm Shadow cruise missiles for Ukraine to counter Russian offensives, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said. Wallace told the House of Commons on Thursday that the new weapons — the longest-range missiles yet provided by a western ally — will give Ukraine its “best chance to defend themselves against Russian continuing brutality” and “will allow to push back Russian forces.”

He said Russia’s failure to halt attacks on Ukrainian civilians had prompted the UK’s decision. “We simply will not stand by while Russia kills civilians,” Wallace said. “This is a calibrated and proportionate response to Russia’s escalations.”

Wallace noted that it isn’t clear yet whether this new weapon will make difference, since putting a 4th generation weapons system on second generation aircraft isn’t easy, It may take weeks or a month to see if this works, he said.

Russia Budget Gap Hits $45 Billion (1:05 p.m.)

Russia’s budget gap surged in the first four months of the year, exceeding the full-year target as spending surged amid the war in Ukraine and energy revenues plunged under pressure from sanctions and other restrictions.

The federal deficit hit 3.42 trillion rubles ($45.4 billion) in the period, beyond full-year plan of 2.9 trillion, the Finance Ministry said. Spending jumped 26% while revenues were down 22%, dragged lower as income from oil and gas fell by more than half from the year before.

UK Provides Long-Range Missiles (12:45 p.m.)

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has provided Ukraine with multiple Storm Shadow cruise missiles to use in a counteroffensive against Kremlin troops, a person familiar with the matter said.

The person declined to say how many of the missiles had been supplied. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence in London declined to comment.

The weapons, with a firing range in excess of 250 kilometers (155 miles) are the longest-range missiles yet provided by Western allies to Ukraine.

Read more: UK Provides Ukraine Cruise Missiles for Counter-Offensive

EU Has Frozen €24 Billion in Russian Private Assets (12:39 p.m.)

The EU has frozen €24.1 billion in Russian private assets since the invasion of Ukraine over 14 months ago, European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand told journalists at a regular briefing, adding that the EU is “working on making Russia pay for the crimes committed against Ukraine.”

The EU has sanctioned almost 1,500 individuals, restricted exports on hundreds of goods and technologies, and targeted many of Moscow’s key revenue sources but has been struggling to find and freeze the assets of sanctioned Russian billionaires, he said.

Read more: EU Hunt for Sanctioned Russian Billionaires’ Assets Stalls

EU’s Borrell Urges More Aid for Ukraine (11 a.m.)

The European Union has already provided Ukraine with more than 1,000 missiles since February, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said, as he urged states to provide more arms for Zelenskiy’s counteroffensive.

“I know that’s not enough,” Josep Borrell said of the delivered missiles, speaking to Bloomberg TV at a defense conference. “Zelenskiy has said he’s going to delay the counteroffensive — certainly they need more preparation, they need more arms, they need to have more capacity and it is us that has to provide it,” Borrell said.

The EU agreed earlier this year to various measures to boost ammunition support to Ukraine by delivering shells and missiles from existing stocks and increasing production.

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