Ukraine Latest: Blinken Condemns Russia’s Detention of Reporter

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Russia for detaining Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg on suspicion of espionage. “We are deeply concerned over Russia’s widely reported detention of a U.S. citizen journalist,” Blinken said in a statement.

(Bloomberg) — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Russia for detaining Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg on suspicion of espionage. “We are deeply concerned over Russia’s widely reported detention of a U.S. citizen journalist,” Blinken said in a statement.

Gershkovich “is suspected of espionage in the interests of the American government,” the FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service, said in Moscow. The reporter “collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex,” according to the statement. The WSJ confirmed Gershkovich was detained and denied the charges.

Turkey removed the final obstacle to Finland’s membership in NATO. 

Key Developments

  • Finland Clears Last Obstacle to NATO Entry With Turkish Nod (1)
  • Russia Detains US Journalist From WSJ in ‘Dark Turn’ for Ties
  • Putin Orders Conscription of 147,000 by July 15, Kremlin Says
  • Raiffeisen Eyes Russia Unit Sale or Spin-off Amid Pressure 

(All times CET)

Finland Clears Last Obstacle to NATO Entry (3:50 a.m.) 

Turkey’s Parliament voted to approve Finland’s membership in NATO, removing the final obstacle to the accession of Russia’s Nordic neighbor into the defense alliance as its 31st member.

Lawmakers in Ankara unanimously voted on Thursday to ratify Finland’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the last of current members to approve the expansion after the Hungarian parliament on Monday also backed the move. 

The vote seals a major change in the European security architecture after militarily non-aligned Finland and Sweden sought NATO membership in a U-turn following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

Putin Orders Draft of 147,000 Conscripts by July 15 (7:19 p.m.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree for to draft 147,000 conscripts ages 18 to 27 for the army this spring, according to a Kremlin website. 

These draftees aren’t supposed to be sent to the war in Ukraine, according to previous statements by authorities. Currently, Russia is seeking to recruit 400,000 professional soldiers, who are more likely to be used in combat. Russia’s defense ministry offers draftees professional contracts at the end of their conscription service, which is currently a year.

EU Capitals Support Extending Tariff-Free Trade With Ukraine (7:16 p.m.)

European Union member states gave preliminary backing to extend a trade liberalization regime with Ukraine for an additional year, according to people familiar with the matter.

The EU temporarily removed all remaining tariffs and quota requirements on Ukrainian exports last year in an effort to bolster the war-torn nation’s economy, including on steel, industrial goods and agricultural products not covered by the bloc’s existing trade arrangements with Kyiv. The current accord expires in June.

US Says Russia ‘Actively Seeking’ More Munitions From North Korea (6:55 p.m.)

“We remain concerned that North Korea will provide further support for Russia’s military operations against Ukraine,” John Kirby, spokesman for the US National Security Council, told reporters. “And we have new information that Russia is actively seeking to acquire additional munitions from North Korea.”

He commented after the US Treasury Department said it sanctioned Ashot Mkrtychev, a Slovakian national, for attempting to facilitate arms deals between Russia and North Korea.

Treasury said in a statement that Mkrtychev worked with North Korean officials to obtain more than two dozen kinds of weapons and munitions for Russia in exchange for materials ranging from commercial aircraft, raw materials and commodities to be sent to North Korea.

Blinken Blasts Russia for Detention of WSJ Reporter (6:23 p.m.)

“We are in contact with the Wall Street Journal on this situation,” Blinken said in his statement. “Whenever a U.S. citizen is detained abroad, we immediately seek consular access, and seek to provide all appropriate support.”

“In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices,” the top US diplomat said.

French Court Refuses to Extradite Zhevago to Ukraine (5:30  p.m.) 

A French court ruled against the request from Ukrainian authorities to extradite billionaire Kostyantin Zhevago, according to his lawyer Francois Zimeray. The court said a person cannot be extradited to a country at war.

Zhevago, owner of iron ore producer Ferrexpo Plc, was arrested in France on suspicion of money laundering and embezzlement in December and later released on bail. 

Zelenskiy Meets Rheinmetal CEO in Kyiv (4:30 p.m.)

Volodymyr Zelenskiy held a meeting in Kyiv with Rheinmetal AG CEO Armin Papperger, according to a statement on the Ukrainian president’s website. They discussed current cooperation, Ukraine’s frontline needs, and future partnerships.

Zelenskiy thanked Germany’s leading defense company, as well as the entire country, for “comprehensive help and support of Ukraine in the fight against the ongoing Russian aggression.”  

Olympic Chief Hits ‘Deplorable’ Double Standard on Russian Athletes (3 p.m.)

European governments show a “deplorable” double standard in opposing a move to allow some Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in the 2024 Paris Games, said International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. 

“We have not seen a single comment from them about their attitude about the participation of athletes whose countries are involved in the other 70 wars and armed conflicts in the world,” Bach said on Thursday, according to the Associated Press. 

Several countries have criticized an IOC move to allow some individual athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete as neutral athletes in Paris. Ukrainian officials have pushed for a ban on Russian participation. 

WSJ Journalist Pleads Not Guilty at Closed-Press Hearing, Tass Reports (2:41 p.m.)

Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich pleaded not guilty at a “top secret” hearing in his espionage case, Tass reported, citing law enforcement officials. Tass added that the US citizen’s hearing was closed to the press. 

“The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter,” the newspaper said earlier in a statement. “We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family.”  

King Charles Condemns Russia in Speech to German Lawmakers (1:51 p.m.)

King Charles III waded into European politics on Thursday, praising Germany’s decision to reverse decades of defense policy by supplying Ukraine with arms.

“Germany’s decision to send such significant military support to Ukraine is remarkably courageous, important and appreciated,” Charles said in a speech to the lower house of parliament in Berlin. As head of state, the British monarch traditionally remains above politics.

Speaking to Bundestag lawmakers in German during his first state visit as monarch, he said Russia’s “unprovoked” attack had “inflicted the most unimaginable suffering on many innocent people.”

Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank Eyes Russia Unit Sale or Spin-off (1:15 p.m.)

Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank plans to sell or spin off its Russian subsidiary, a unit that’s faced criticism for making record profits since the start of the war in Ukraine. 

“The RBI Group will continue to progress potential transactions which would result in the sale or spin-off of Raiffeisenbank Russia and deconsolidation,” the bank’s CEO told a shareholder meeting in Vienna. 

A sale would need approval from Russia’s government and would likely come at a discount of at least 55% to the unit’s fair value. 

Putin Confidant’s Bankers Convicted of Negligence (12:56 p.m.)

Four bankers — including the former boss of Gazprombank’s Swiss unit — were convicted for failing in their due diligence requirements to properly flag financial transactions made by a cello-playing confidant of Vladimir Putin. 

The men were handed suspended sentences subject to two years of probation, a Zurich district court said. The ex-head of Gazprombank Schweiz AG was fined 540,000 Swiss francs ($590,000), while two senior executives and a client relationship manager were ordered to pay lesser amounts. 

Former UK Spy Chief Expects Ukraine to Start Offensive in Coming Months (12:25 p.m.)

“The Ukrainians are very good, as it were, misleading the media, saying it’s not going to happen now. But I think one should anticipate something dramatic should happen in the next few months in the conflict,” Richard Dearlove, former head of British foreign intelligence, told Bloomberg Television.

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