UK passes law to ban Russian-linked ships from its ports

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky applied to join the European Union. • Ukraine will soon be linked up to the EU power grid • Nord Stream 2 terminates contracts following sanctions

  The Russian Navy's rescue tug EPRON sails in Istanbul's Bosphorus (photo credit: REUTERS/YORUK ISIK)
The Russian Navy's rescue tug EPRON sails in Istanbul's Bosphorus
(photo credit: REUTERS/YORUK ISIK)

Britain said on Tuesday it had passed a law that would ban all ships that have any connection to Russia from entering its ports.

Britain had said on Monday that it wanted all ports to refuse entry to ships that were Russian flagged, registered or controlled while it drew up new legislation.

"We've just become the first nation to pass a law involving a total ban of all ships with any Russian connection whatsoever from entering British ports," Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Twitter.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on Tuesday for more international sanctions against Russia after what he said was a "barbaric" attack on the city of Kharkiv.

"Barbaric Russian missile strikes on the central Freedom Square and residential districts of Kharkiv. (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is unable to break Ukraine down. He commits more war crimes out of fury, murders innocent civilians," Kuleba said on social media.

"The world can and must do more. INCREASE PRESSURE, ISOLATE RUSSIA FULLY," he wrote.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky officially applied on Monday to join the European Union, with the application being on its way to Brussels for processing, Ukrainian President's Office deputy head Andrij Sybiha wrote on Facebook.

In response, the heads of state for eight different EU member states – Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic – pushed for vastly expediting Ukraine's admission into the bloc. 

"We call on EU member states to consolidate highest political support to Ukraine and enable the EU institutions to conduct steps to immediately grant Ukraine an EU candidate country status and open the process of negotiations," the leaders wrote, as noted on the official website of the Lithuanian president.

This follows Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger telling Politico that Ukraine should have a "special track" towards EU membership.

“They fight for themselves, they fight for us — they fight for freedom,” Heger said told Politico. “We have to realize that they are protecting our system, our values and we have to be together with them. So there is no time to hesitate on this.”

Josep Borrell speaks at a news conference on the Russian military operation against Ukraine, at EU headquarters in Brussels on Sunday (credit: STEPHANIE LECOCQ/REUTERS)Josep Borrell speaks at a news conference on the Russian military operation against Ukraine, at EU headquarters in Brussels on Sunday (credit: STEPHANIE LECOCQ/REUTERS)

Overall, support for Ukraine is strong in the EU, as noted in a recent op-ed in The Jerusalem Post by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

"This is a matter of life and death," Borrell noted. "I am preparing an emergency package to support the Ukrainian armed forces in their fight."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leye told Euronews Sunday that Ukraine is "one of us and we want them in the European Union."

Several European nations have already sent considerable funds and munitions towards Ukraine, as well as levying sanctions against Moscow, as have their allies abroad such as the US.

As the war enters its sixth day, around 350,000 people have entered Poland from Ukraine since Russia invaded the country, a Polish deputy interior minister said on Tuesday.

"Over the last 24 hours 100,000 people crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border," Maciej Wasik told public broadcaster Polskie Radio 1. "In total, since Thursday, there have already been 350,000 refugees."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday morning that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had offered his country more support in the form of sanctions and weapons.

"In our call, Secretary Blinken affirmed that the US support for Ukraine remains unfaltering," Kuleba said on Twitter. "I underscored that Ukraine craves for peace, but as long as we are under Russia's assault we need more sanctions and weapons. [The US] secretary [of state] assured me of both. We coordinated further steps."

The prospects of a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine crisis are slim at the moment, Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said on Tuesday.

Asked on LBC Radio whether Russian billionaire businessman Roman Abramovich, who has accepted a Ukrainian request to help negotiate an end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, could be key to the solution, Raab responded: "Who knows?"

Nord Stream 2

"I would say this ... I think the prospects for diplomacy at the moment are slim, but we must always make sure that we keep the door to a diplomatic resolution open without, I think, instilling too many hopes in it," he added.

 The operator of the Russia-led gas pipeline project Nord Stream 2 said on Tuesday it had to terminate contracts with employees because of US sanctions.

The United States imposed sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG last week after Russia recognized two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine prior to its invasion of the country. A wave of economic sanctions by the West has followed. Read full story

"Following the recent geopolitical developments leading to the imposition of U.S. sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, the company had to terminate contracts with employees. We very much regret this development," it said in an emailed statement.

Power grid

Another way the EU is helping Ukraine is through energy.

On Monday, energy ministers from EU countries agreed to urgently link a European power system to Ukraine's grid, a move that would increase its independence from Russia following Moscow's invasion of the country.

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Europe's top gas supplier, has sharpened concerns of disruption to energy supplies and increased scrutiny of European Union countries' reliance on imported fossil fuels.

It has also raised concerns about Ukraine's own energy system, with EU ministers on Monday backing a long-planned link of Ukraine's electricity grid with that of Europe.

"There was a broad agreement around the table," EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson said after the meeting. "Based on this, we will move forward... to connect Ukraine's electricity system as quickly as possible." 

Kiev disconnected its grid from a Russian system last week and has asked for emergency synchronization with a European system. That would mean Russia would no longer control technical aspects of Ukraine’s network such as grid frequency. EU officials said the link could be completed within weeks.

More than 660,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries in the last six days since Russia invaded, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.

Shabia Mantoo, a spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a briefing in Geneva there were reports of people waiting for up to two and a half days to enter Poland, while queues at the Romanian border are up to 20 km. long.

Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the European Union on Tuesday to prove that it sided with Ukraine in its war with Russia, one day after signing an official request to join the bloc.

"We are fighting to be equal members of Europe," Zelenskiy told an emergency session of the European Parliament via video link.

"Do prove that you are with us. Do prove that you will not let us go. Do prove that you are indeed Europeans and then life will win over death and light will win over darkness," he said in Ukrainian in a speech translated to English by an interpreter talking through tears, as emotion gripped the parliament.

EU lawmakers, many wearing #standwithUkraine T-shirts bearing the Ukrainian flag, others with blue-and-yellow scarves or ribbons, gave Zelenskiy a standing ovation.

"The EU will be much stronger with us. Without you, Ukraine will be lonesome," Zelenskiy said, with Kyiv likely well aware that Ukraine's membership bid will be long and difficult. Read full story

EU lawmakers are expected to call Russia a "rogue state" and urge the 27-nation bloc to agree even tougher sanctions, according to a draft text they will vote on later on Tuesday.

The European Union has taken unprecedented steps, including financing weapons deliveries to Ukraine, after Russia's President Vladimir Putin launched a war on its neighbor last week.

According to a draft resolution and amendments backed by the assembly's main parties, lawmakers will call for the scope of sanctions to be broadened and "aimed at strategically weakening the Russian economy and industrial base, in particular the military-industrial complex."

Russia's invasion of Ukraine "effectively makes Russia a rogue state," the lawmakers are set to say.

While Putin "recalls the most dreadful statements of 20th-century dictators," Zelenskiy is being "heroic," the draft of the non-binding resolution said.

The European Parliament will also urge EU leaders to be tougher on oligarchs and officials close to the Russian leadership, restrict oil and gas imports from Russia, ban Russia and its ally Belarus entirely from the SWIFT bank messaging system, and close all EU ports to Russian ships or ships headed to or from Russia.

"The message from Europe is clear. We will stand up, we will not look away when those fighting in the street for our values stand down Putin's war machine," EU Parliament President Roberta Metsola said, speaking in front of the EU and Ukrainian flags.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special operation."

This is a developing story.