Ukraine Latest: Mystery Powder Sent to Finland’s Moscow Embassy

(Bloomberg) -- The US government is struggling to explain how a 21-year-old man in a junior post was in a position to allegedly access and leak a massive trove of classified documents related to the Ukraine conflict and other matters. Jack Teixeira, a cyber specialist for the US Air Force National Guard, made his initial court appearance Friday in Boston federal court.

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Some of Ukraine’s European allies are skeptical its military will be able to make a decisive breakthrough this year. The worries come at a time Hungary’s Viktor Orban said EU support for Kyiv can’t go on “indefinitely,” comments that brought praise from Moscow and a sharp rebuke from Ukraine’s foreign ministry.

Russia raised its official forecast for economic growth this year and next, which Economy Minister Maxim Reshetnikov said would be driven by consumer demand, according to the state news agency Tass. At least five people were killed and 15 injured in a Russian missile strike on Slovyansk in the Donetsk region.

Key Developments

  • Ukraine’s Allies Fear Breakthrough May Not Come in 2023

  • US Humiliated Over 21-Year-Old’s Alleged Tie to Secrets Leak

  • China Sends Defense Minister to Russia for First Time Since War

  • What We Know About the Leak of US Military Documents: Q&A

  • Radar Maker Sees Order Jump on Clearing Ukraine’s Skies

(All times CET)

Finnish Embassy in Moscow Gets Envelopes With Powder (8:41 p.m.)

The Russian foreign ministry said Finland’s embassy in Moscow received an envelope containing white powder and two other identical envelopes that it left sealed.

The envelopes, addressed to the embassy’s military attache and aides of the diplomat, were handed over to Russian law enforcement authorities, it said.

The incident took place about 10 days after the Nordic state bordering Russia joined NATO, abandoning its traditional neutrality because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Five Killed in Donetsk Missile Strike, Governor Says (4:30 p.m.)

Russia shelled the Donetsk region town of Slovyansk on Friday afternoon, with at least five people reported killed and 15 injured so far, with rescue efforts continuing, the region’s governor said on Telegram. Three five-storey buildings were hit, with one partly destroyed. Surrounding houses were also damaged. At least seven explosions were heard around the city, according to Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukraine’s president.

Finland Starts Building Fence on Parts of NATO’s Eastern Flank (4:32 p.m.)

NATO’s newest member has kicked off a project to build a barrier to better protect its border with Russia. An initial 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) stretch of fence went up near a border crossing in the southeast, Finland’s Border Guard said on Friday.

Finland joined the military alliance this month after putting in an application triggered by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In addition to gaining NATO’s Article 5 collective security guarantees, it has also increased defense spending and procurement of weapons and ammunition.

The Finnish fence won’t span the entire 1,343-kilometer length of its frontier with Russia. Instead, the plan is to cover the riskiest spots, especially around crossing points, against targeted mass entry.

Read more: Finland Starts Building Fence on Parts of NATO’s Eastern Flank

US Charges 21-Year-Old for Taking, Leaking Classified Documents (5 p.m.)

The US charged an Air National Guardsman with unauthorized transmission and retention of classified material in connection with a massive leak that exposed a variety of intelligence secrets, including maps, intelligence updates and an assessment of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Jack Teixeira, 21, made his initial court appearance Friday in Boston federal court after being arrested for allegedly accessing and disseminating classified national defense information. He faces at least 15 years in prison if convicted of the charges. Teixeira, who was refused bail, didn’t enter a plea and was given a public defender. He’s scheduled for another hearing in Boston on Wednesday.

Read more: US Charges 21-Year-Old for Taking, Leaking Classified Documents

Leaks Show Russia’s Special Commando Unit Gutted, WaPost Reports (3 p.m.)

Russia’s “spetsnaz” forces, typically assigned to “stealthy, high-risk missions,” have been gutted during the almost 14-month war in Ukraine after being ordered into direct combat, according to leaked, classified US documents, the Washington Post reported.

According to the documents, the depletion of the elite unit “shifted the war’s dynamic from the outset, severely limiting Moscow’s ability to employ clandestine tactics,” the Post reported. Both Russia and Ukraine are known to have incurred heavily casualties, although official totals are unknown.

Zelenskiy, UK’s Sunak Discuss Ukraine’s Defense Needs (2:50 p.m.)

Ukraine’s president and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke by phone on Friday, with Volodymyr Zelenskiy saying on Twitter that the talks focused on the situation at the front, Kyiv’s defense needs and “planned international events.”

A readout from Downing Street said the pair also discussed “increasing interoperability with NATO both in the short and long term,” without offering more detail.

Russia Ups Economic Outlook on Consumer Demand (2:32 p.m.)

Russia raised its official forecast for economic growth this year and next, which Economy Minister Maxim Reshetnikov said would be driven by consumer demand, according to Tass.

The new outlook sees GDP growth of 1.2% this year and 2% in 2024, with the rate kicking on to nearly 3% by 2026, Reshetnikov said. Pressured by sanctions imposed over the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s economy contracted 2.1% last year, according to government figures.

The latest forecasts are more upbeat than what many independent forecasters expect. The International Monetary Fund this week raised its outlook for this year to 0.7%. The median forecast among economists surveyed by Bloomberg in March is for a contraction of 1.7%.

Russian Envoy Urges Cut to Number of US Journalists in Moscow (2:15 p.m.)

Russia’s ambassador to the US suggested cutting the number of US journalists allowed to work in his country as he defended the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on spying charges.

The envoy, Anatoly Antonov, said the US had threatened Russia with retaliation if it didn’t release Gershkovich in the near future. “The Americans have a very good word, reciprocity, which they insist on,” he said on state television. “Perhaps it is the time for us to show reciprocity and cut the number of American journalists who work in Moscow and in Russia as a whole to the number [of Russian reporters] who work in Washington and New York.”

Since the March 29 arrest of Gershkovich, a 31-year-old US citizen, many US media organizations have moved to reduce their presence in Russia, which was already cut after last year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Germany Radar Maker Sees Rising Defense Orders (1:09 p.m.)

Germany’s Hensoldt AG expects rising orders for its medium-range air defense radar as the system helps Ukraine intercept more than 90% of Russian aircraft over its skies.

The defense contractor, which generated €1.7 billion ($1.9 billion) in revenue last year, expects a three-digit-million euro volume of orders for the TRML-4D, Chief Executive Officer Thomas Mueller said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

The company has delivered four truck-mounted radars to Ukraine, which uses them as part of the IRIS-T air defense missile system produced by Bavarian-based Diehl Defence. Hensoldt will deliver another two radars later this year.

Allies Fear Ukraine’s Breakthrough May Not Come This Year (1:04 p.m.)

Some of Ukraine’s European allies are increasingly skeptical its military will be able to make a decisive breakthrough this year because Russia’s defenses have had time to dig in ahead of Kyiv’s looming offensive — one that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy foreshadowed again on Thursday night.

The mood among Western officials marks a sharp departure from late last year, when Kyiv surprised its allies - as well as Russia - with a pair of successful counteroffensives that recaptured large swathes of occupied land.

Some European officials see Ukraine’s most capable artillery as being able to drive back Russia by about 20 miles and create conditions for a deeper push in 2024.

Read more: Ukraine’s Allies Fear Breakthrough May Not Come Before Next Year

Ukraine Calls Orban Comments on Support ‘Cynical’ (12:20 p.m.)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that the European Union’s financial commitment to Ukraine is damaging the bloc’s economy and “obviously it cannot go on indefinitely.”

“The question is whether we will maintain Ukraine,” Orban said on state radio. “The moment the Americans and Europe say no to that question, the war is over.” The comments drew plaudits from Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chair of Russia’s Security Council, as “brave and precise.”

Oleg Nikolenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, called the comments “cynical” given that “Hungary itself is receiving a lot of money from the European Union to support its economic stability.” By supporting Ukraine, “Europe is investing primarily in its own security,” he said.

Ukraine’s Energoatom Sues Russia for Occupation of Nuclear Plant (12 p.m.)

Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom initiated international arbitration proceedings against Russia for damages caused by its military action that it estimates topped $3 billion, according to a statement on the company’s website. This includes the occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and other Ukrainian assets temporarily controlled by Russia.

The case follows another action, launched in 2021, connected to expropriation of Energoatom’s assets in Crimea, the company said.

China Criticizes Polish Premier Over Taiwan, Ukraine Comments (11:45 a.m.)

China has expressed “strong dissatisfaction and vehement opposition” to comments from a Polish government official it didn’t name that drew comparisons between the situations of Taiwan and Ukraine.

The embassy urged the official to “exercise caution” regarding the Taiwan issue and “avoid disrupting Chinese-Polish relations.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said during an event hosted by the Atlantic Council on Thursday that “if Ukraine gets conquered, the next day China may attack, can attack Taiwan.”

Russia Holds Snap Drills of Pacific Fleet North of Japan (11 a.m.)

Russia is holding unplanned military drills in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan, using ships and long-range bombers to repel a simulated attack on Sakhalin and the disputed islands near it, Tass reported.

The country’s Pacific Fleet was put on high alert as part of the snap exercises, Interfax said. The maneuvers will practice “actions to prevent the enemy from marshaling forces in an operatively important area of the Pacific Ocean — the south of the Sea of Okhotsk — and repelling landings on the southern Kuril Islands and Sakhalin,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told officials, according to Tass.

Japan claims four islands in the Kuril chain as its own but Russia has occupied them since the end of World War II. In recent years, Moscow has built up military installations there.

IAEA Inspecting Effort to Connect Zaporizhzhia to Russian Grid (9 a.m.)

Efforts by the Kremlin-controlled Rosatom Corp. to connect the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to the electricity grid in Russian-controlled territory will be inspected next week, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. While re-connecting cables to more back-up power would reduce the risk of an accident, doing so via territories held by Moscow would further diminish Ukraine’s control over the site.

“We are living on borrowed time when it comes to nuclear safety and security at the Zaporizhzhya,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement late Thursday. “Unless we take action to protect the plant, our luck will sooner or later run out, with potentially severe consequences for human health and the environment.”

Warmer weather is prompting Rosatom operators to cool a fifth Zaporizhzhia reactor, leaving just a single unit in so-called hot shutdown to provide hot water and steam to the site, the IAEA reported.

Fiercest Fighting Seen In Ukraine’s Bakhmut (7:50 a.m.)

Russia continues to focus its main efforts on offensive operations in Bakhmut and Maryinka, in the besieged Donetsk region, with Ukraine’s troops repelled 49 attacks in past 24 hours, according to Ukraine’s military authorities.

The UK defense ministry said Russian troops have “re-energized” their assault on Bakhmut, with better cooperation apparent between ministry of defense and Wagner Group forces who’ve been at odds.

Ukraine’s troops still hold the western districts of the town but have been subjected to particularly intense Russian artillery fire over the previous 48 hours, the UK said in a Twitter thread. “Ukrainian forces face significant resupply issues but have made orderly withdrawals from the positions they have been forced to concede.”

Suspect Arrested in Document Leak was Cyber Specialist (10:58 p.m.)

The FBI arrested Teixeira in connection with the leak of highly classified documents including maps, intelligence updates and the assessment of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The cyber specialist for the US Air Force National Guard will be charged with “unauthorized removal, retention and transmission of classified national defense information,” Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters at a Washington press conference.

The leaked trove of classified US documents on Ukraine is a mixture of true, false and outdated information, the country’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said separately. The leak would clearly appear to benefit Russia and its supporters, he said.

Ukraine Secured $42 Billion in Support This Year, Central Banker Says (10:02 p.m.)

Ukraine has secured $42 billion in international support this year, including $4.6 billion from the International Monetary Fund, deputy central bank governor Sergiy Nikolaychuk said.

“International partners promised to provide us during the next four years an amount of $150 billion,” Nikolaychuk said in an interview on Bloomberg TV, a figure that includes a $15.6 billion program from the IMF.

Ukraine received $32 billion in 2022, which “was not enough to cover all budget needs,” he said. In 2023, the economy will start to recover from the 29% contraction in gross domestic product last year.

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