NATO says new Russian offensive has started

Russia delays launch of relief ship to keep investigating space station leak

Russia is delaying the launch of a ship to bring two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut back from the International Space Station (ISS) while it investigates a pressure loss in another module, according to its space agency.

Roscosmos and the US space agency NASA had said that a Soyuz MS-23 ship would be launched on February 20 to bring back Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitry Petelin and Frank Rubio.

But in a video statement, Roscosmos head Yury Borisov said a decision had been taken to push back the launch until no later than March 10 while a team investigates the cause of a pressure loss in the cooling system of the Progress MS-21 cargo ship, which is due to undock from the ISS on February 18.

Russia says gas exports sank in 2022 but oil up

Russia has its natural gas exports plummeted by 25 percent in 2022 after the Ukraine conflict brought turmoil to Moscow’s ties with key buyers in Europe.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak announced the figures and attributed the fall in gas exports to “the refusal of European countries to buy Russian gas”.

“Gas production in 2022 totalled 673.8 bcm. Exports decreased by 25.1 percent to 184.4 bcm,” Novak said.

He also said that Russian oil exports had increased 7.6 percent over 2022 compared to a year earlier.

German foreign minister calls for swift Finland, Sweden accession to NATO

Germany’s foreign minister has said she expects all NATO member states to ratify Finland and Sweden’s bids to join the alliance “without further delay.”

An accession of the two Nordic countries would strengthen the alliance as a whole, Baerbock said at a news conference in Helsinki with her Finnish counterpart, Pekka Haavisto.

Sweden and Finland sought NATO membership shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year and have said they want to join “hand in hand”.

In order for a new country to join the alliance, the unanimous approval of all of its 30 existing members is required. Turkey and Hungary have yet to back Sweden and Finland’s accession.

Norway says Russia poses main security threat to Europe

Norway’s intelligence agencies see Russia as posing the main security threat to the country and to the remainder of Europe, the Nordic nation’s defence minister has said.

“Russia today poses the biggest threat to Norwegian and European security, and the confrontation with the West will be long-lasting,” Bjorn Arild Gram said.

Gram’s remark came after Norway’s government received annual threat assessments from the country’s three security services: the domestic and the foreign intelligence agencies and the Norwegian National Security Authority, or NSM.

The deputy head of the foreign Norwegian Intelligence Service Lars Nordrum said that Norway’s oil and gas installations could be targeted by Russian sabotage. NSM head Sofie Nystrøm warned that “all of Europe will suffer” if Norwegian gas and oil installations were hit.

Russia says sanctions are a barrier to Black Sea grain deal renewal

Russia has said it would be “inappropriate” to extend the Black Sea grain deal unless sanctions affecting its agricultural exports are lifted and other issues are resolved.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, signed by Russia and Ukraine last July, created a safe corridor to allow grain to be exported from Ukrainian ports blockaded by the war.

The agreement, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, was extended by a further 120 days in November and is up for renewal again next month, but Russia has signalled that it is unhappy with some aspects of the deal and asked for sanctions affecting its agricultural exports to be lifted.

“Without tangible results on the implementation of the Russia-UN Memorandum, above all on the real removal of sanctions restrictions on Russian agricultural exports… the extension of the Ukrainian document is inappropriate,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said in an interview with the RTVI broadcaster.

Russia’s agricultural exports have not been explicitly targeted by Western sanctions, but Moscow says blocks on its payments, logistics and insurance industries are a “barrier” to it being able to export its own grains and fertilisers.

France ‘strongly’ advises its nationals against travelling to Belarus

France’s foreign affairs ministry has “strongly” advised French nationals against going to Belarus given the “new offensive launched by Russia in Ukraine”.

Earlier on Monday, the United States told its citizens to leave Russia immediately due to the war in Ukraine and what it said was the risk of arbitrary arrest and harassment by Russian law enforcement agencies.

Ukraine accuses Italy’s Berlusconi of ‘spreading Russian propaganda’

Ukraine has accused former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of spreading Russian propaganda after he said all Zelenskyy had to do to prevent the war in Ukraine was to “stop attacking” territory held by Russia-backed separatists in the east.

In comments on Sunday, Berlusconi said he judged the Ukrainian president’s behaviour “very, very negatively” and said that if he were still head of Italy’s government, he would not seek a meeting with Zelenskyy.

“Berlusconi’s ridiculous accusations against the Ukrainian president are an attempt to kiss Putin’s hands, which are covered in blood up to the elbows,” Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, wrote on Facebook.

“At the same time, the Italian politician should understand that by spreading Russian propaganda, he encourages Russia to continue its crimes against Ukraine, and therefore, bears political and moral responsibility,” he added.

Nikolenko also welcomed a statement by the office of the current Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, reiterating the government’s “firm and convinced” support for Ukraine.

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