Ukraine Latest: US Weighs Terrorism Label for the Wagner Group

(Bloomberg) -- The Biden administration is weighing whether to label Russia’s Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization, two people familiar with the matter said, as part of efforts to handicap the privately owned military company that has played a role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Ukraine should be free to strike military sites inside Russia as it fends off attacks on its critical infrastructure, Latvia’s foreign minister said.

Ukraine urged NATO to speed up decision-making on issues including producing and supplying weapons and called for more air-defense systems to help defend against Russia’s invasion. Justice ministers from the Group of Seven nations also gathered in Berlin Tuesday to discuss how to better coordinate efforts to secure evidence of war crimes in Ukraine and prosecute the alleged perpetrators.

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Key Developments

  • Senior House Republican Vows to Keep Money Flowing to Ukraine

  • US Weighs Terrorism Label for Russia’s Wagner Group Mercenaries

  • Ukraine Should Be Free to Hit Targets in Russia, Latvia Says

  • Ukraine Mulls Push for Bigger Ships to Bolster Crop Exports

  • How Putin’s Spooking Japan Further Away From Pacifism: QuickTake

On the Ground

Russian forces targeted the southern city of Dnipro with missiles overnight, damaging a private enterprise, local authorities said on Telegram. Parts of the Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions were shelled over the past day, while Ukrainian troops repelled attacks near 10 settlements in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Ukraine’s General Staff said. Russian forces made incremental gains south of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, but the advances are unlikely to trigger an imminent encirclement of the city, according to the latest report from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

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GOP’s McCaul Says Money Will Keep Flowing to Ukraine (12:05 a.m.)

Representative Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who will soon become chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he expects the US will keep money and weapons flowing to Ukraine after the GOP takes control of the House of Representatives in January, playing down concerns that lawmakers in his own party who advocate a halt in funding will succeed.

“There is a strong majority of support in the center of gravity” to keep up funding for Ukraine, McCaul said in an interview Tuesday. “It would be a wrong signal from the United States not to continue our support.” McCaul, said he expects the Biden administration’s request for almost $40 billion in Ukraine funding will pass both chambers.

US Weighs Terrorism Label for Russia’s Wagner Group Mercenaries (7:35 p.m.)

The Biden administration is weighing whether to label Russia’s Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization, two people familiar with the matter said.

The administration has made no final decision on the designation, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations. Labeling Wagner a foreign terrorist organization would allow the US to pursue criminal prosecution against the group and its members, as well as go after its assets around the globe. The White House and State Department had no immediate comment. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov didn’t return a message seeking comment. Russia’s government has denied any official connection to Wagner in the past.

Moving against Wagner would mark a new US effort to counter a group that has gained in prominence and power around the globe, especially since Russia invaded Ukraine, where its mercenaries have played a major role in the fighting. The Wagner Group also has a growing presence in Africa.

NATO Promises More Fuel and Generators for Ukraine, Stoltenberg Says (6:37 p.m.)

NATO allies made additional pledges to the alliance’s non-lethal support for Ukraine, including fuel and generators, in response to Russia’s assault on the nation’s infrastructure, Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary general, told reporters.

On the first day of a two-day meeting in Bucharest, the NATO foreign ministers also reaffirmed a 2008 decision by leaders that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance, Stoltenberg said, but still didn’t provide a concrete road map to eventual membership.

Short of membership, allies are discussing how to strengthen NATO’s political partnership with Ukraine, the NATO chief said, including with more regular meetings and substantive discussions to help the country move toward membership.

Latvia Says Ukraine Should Be Free to Hit Russia (5:45 p.m.)

Ukraine should be allowed to target air fields and missile sights from which strikes are launched that hit Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said.

Allies “should not fear” escalation, he said in an interview on the sidelines of the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Bucharest.

While the US hasn’t imposed restrictions on how Ukraine uses weapons, it has so far declined to send weapons with sufficient range to strike inside Russia. Rinkevics said several other member states also believed Ukraine generally shouldn’t have constraints on how it uses weapons.

Ukraine Urges NATO to Take Decisions Faster (5:03 p.m.)

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said “a lot has been done” by NATO in helping to equip his country with weapons, but urged the alliance to make decisions faster.

“We appreciate what has been done, but the war goes on,” Kuleba said at a joint press briefing in Bucharest, Romania with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “But decisions on weapons, decision on launching new production lines of weapons in western countries, they have to be made faster and deliveries of weapons have to be done faster,” he said, adding that he discussed the issue with NATO.

Kuleba also asked for generators, transformers and other equipment to help this country to survive winter amid Russian attacks on energy infrastructure. He also called for more air-defense weapons.

US Sending Ukraine $53 Million to Help Repair Grid (4:15 p.m.)

The US is giving Ukraine more than $53 million to help repair electrical infrastructure damaged by Russian attacks in recent weeks, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Tuesday.

The package will help Ukraine buy transformers, circuit-breakers, vehicles and other equipment, Blinken announced Tuesday on the margins of a NATO foreign ministers’ gathering in Bucharest. The US wants to get the equipment to Ukraine quickly to restore power as winter sets in.

Estonia, Lithuania Push for Lower Price on Russian Oil Cap (2:42 p.m.)

Estonia’s foreign minister called for the price of any cap on Russian oil to be set as low as possible, while his Lithuanian counterpart brushed off any urgency to agree to any price as the Baltic nations remained holdouts in contentious talks at the European Union.

EU states have debated whether to set a price cap as low as $62 a barrel on exports of Russian crude oil after several countries demanded a level that could put more pressure on Moscow, but the talks remain stuck, diplomats said. Poland and the Baltic nations said the price level was still too high, according to the diplomats.

Russia Says Nuclear Talks With US Unlikely Before Next Year (1:43 p.m.)

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the decision to pull out of a new round of talks under the New START treaty this week was “political” and a signal to the US, according to Interfax and Tass.

Russia will propose new dates for the consultations after some time, and it’s unlikely that they will take place this year, he added. While the US insisted on a resumption of nuclear weapons inspections, Russia has other priorities, Ryabkov said.

The talks would have been the first such discussions since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February and would have marked a step toward the resumption of broader arms control negotiations.

Ukraine Considers Using Bigger Grain Ships (1:20 p.m.)

Ukraine is considering a push for bigger ships to use its crop-export corridor, in an effort to bolster volumes as inspection lags slow trade. Ships transiting the country’s ports have often been delayed near Istanbul, where cargoes must be checked by teams from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations -- the parties involved in the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Given the bottlenecks, Ukrainian officials recently held talks with agriculture industry representatives about prioritizing bigger ships, according to Roman Slaston, head of the Ukrainian Agribusiness Council.

Nordic NATO Bids Need More Work, Turkey Says (12:40 p.m.)

Sweden and Finland have made progress toward winning Ankara’s approval for their applications to join NATO but they still need to do more, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

“There are still some issues, they made some progress and some steps were taken but at this moment it’s not sufficient enough,” Cavusoglu told Bloomberg before meeting his Swedish and Finnish counterparts on the sidelines of the NATO meeting. Turkey and Hungary are the only two of 30 NATO allies not to have ratified the Nordic nations’ bids.

Slovakia Supplies 30 Fighting Vehicles (11:30 a.m.)

Slovakia has donated 30 infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine as part of a swap agreement with Germany, according to Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad.

Under the terms of the deal, Germany will deliver 15 Leopard 2 battle tanks to Slovakia from armaments industry stocks in a package that includes ammunition, training and logistics, the defense ministry in Berlin said in a tweet.

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