Russia has torpedoed a western-backed proposal to discuss whether its diamonds are funding war ahead of an international conflict diamond meeting in Botswana, letters seen by Reuters show.
The rift in the Kimberley Process (KP), which certifies rough diamond exports, risks paralysing the body which makes decisions by consensus.
The letters, which have not been previously reported, show a dispute over a proposal by Ukraine, the European Union, Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and whether to broaden the KP’s definition of conflict diamonds to include state actors at its June 20-24 meeting in Botswana.
The United States and Britain have already placed sanctions on Russia’s Alrosa, the world’s largest producer of rough diamonds, which accounted for around 30% of global output last year, and is partly state-owned.
A draft agenda dated May 20 included an hour-long slot to discuss the issue, but the item was removed after objections from Russia, Belarus, Central African Republic (CAR) and Kyrgyzstan.
“We find ourselves at an impasse,” Botswana’s KP chair Jacob Thamage told participants – who include 85 nations, industry representatives, and civil society organisations – in a June 9 letter urging them to find common ground.
The KP defines conflict diamonds as gems used to fund rebel movements seeking to undermine legitimate governments.
Officially labelling Russian diamonds “conflict diamonds” would require widening the definition. The KP Civil Society Coalition has been calling for such a change for years, along with some KP member countries.
Two American volunteers in Ukraine have gone missing and are feared to have been taken prisoner by Russia, officials and family members said on Wednesday.
Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, are both US military veterans who had been living in Alabama and went to Ukraine to assist with war efforts. Relatives have been in contact with Senate and House offices seeking information on the men’s whereabouts.
The pair haven’t been heard from in days, members of the state’s congressional delegation have said.
If confirmed, they would be the first Americans fighting for Ukraine known to have been captured since the war began in February.
US President Joe Biden earlier announced a new $1bn arms packages for Ukraine , following appeals by Kyiv for help on the eastern and southern fronts.
The support package, confirmed on Wednesday, includes 18 additional howitzers with tactical vehicles to tow them, 36,000 rounds of 155mm ammunition for the howitzers and two Harpoon coastal defence systems, the defence department said.
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was “extremely focused on stepping up support” for Ukraine.
While Ukraine has welcomed the new pledges, it says deliveries are not coming fast enough.
Recent deliveries of M777 howitzers from the United States have been too few and that Ukraine remains numerically outgunned, officials said.
German chancellor Olaf Scholz, the French president Emmanuel Macron and the Italian prime minister Mario Draghi are on their way to Ukraine this morning.
The group reportedly took an overnight train from Poland and were pictured in one of the train’s compartments.
The leaders of the European Union’s three biggest countries, Germany, France and Italy, are expected in Kyiv on Thursday to show their backing for Ukraine as it struggles to withstand a relentless Russian assault.
The visit by the German chancellor Olaf Scholz, the French president Emmanuel Macron and the Italian prime minister Mario Draghi has taken weeks to organise with the three men looking to overcome criticism within Ukraine over their response to the war.
The expected trip, which has not been announced for security reasons, comes a day before the European Commission is due to make a recommendation on Ukraine’s status as an EU candidate, something the biggest European nations have been lukewarm about.
Speaking in Romania on Wednesday, Macron said it was time for Europe to reassure Ukraine over its EU ambitions.
“We are at a point when we need to send clear political signals, us Europeans, towards Ukraine and its people when it is resisting heroically,” he said, without giving details.
Russia and the United States must discuss the extension of the START nuclear arms reduction treaty, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the RIA news agency in an interview on Thursday.
The matter was important for global security and Russia’s military operation in Ukraine was no reason to avoid its discussion, Peskov added.
When asked about the possibility of a nuclear war, Peskov said: “I believe that today the media should be professional enough not to ask such questions, and those who are being interviewed should be wise enough not to answer such questions.”
The leaders of the European Union’s three biggest countries, Germany, France and Italy, are expected in Kyiv today to show their backing for Ukraine as it struggles to withstand a relentless Russian assault.
- Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said allies would continue to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons and long-range systems, with an agreement on a new package of assistance to Kyiv expected at the summit in Madrid later this month. The agreement will help Ukraine move from old Soviet-era weaponry to “more modern Nato standard” gear, he said. Stoltenberg was speaking before a meeting in Brussels of defence ministers from Nato and other countries to discuss and coordinate help for Ukraine.
- At the meeting in Brussels, the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said Ukraine was facing a “pivotal moment on the battlefield” in Sievierodonetsk, with Russian forces using long-range weapons to try to overwhelm Ukrainian positions. Austin urged America and its allies not to “let up and lose steam” and to “intensify our shared commitment to Ukraine’s self-defence”.
- China’s Xi Jinping has assured Vladimir Putin of China’s support on Russian “sovereignty and security” prompting Washington to warn Beijing it risked ending up “on the wrong side of history”. China is “willing to continue to offer mutual support [to Russia] on issues concerning core interests and major concerns such as sovereignty and security,” state broadcaster CCTV reported Xi as saying during a call with Putin. US State Department spokesperson responded: “China claims to be neutral, but its behaviour makes clear that it is still investing in close ties to Russia.”
- Turkey has said it is ready to host a four-way meeting with the United Nations, Russia and Ukraine to organise the export of grain through the Black Sea, saying safe routes could be formed without needing to clear mines around Ukrainian ports. Foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said it would “take some time” to de-mine Ukraine’s ports and that a safe sea corridor could meanwhile be established in areas without mines. “Since the location of the mines is known, certain safe lines would be established at three ports,” he said. “Ships, with the guidance of Ukraine’s research and rescue vessels as envisaged in the plan, could thus come and go safely to ports without a need to clear the mines.”
- Two US veterans from Alabama who were in Ukraine assisting in the war against Russia haven’t been heard from in days and are missing, members of the state’s congressional delegation said. John Kirby, a national security spokesman at the White House, said that the administration wasn’t able to confirm the reports about missing Americans. “We’ll do the best we can to monitor this and see what we can learn about it,” he said.
- Europe’s unity over the war in Ukraine is at risk as public attention increasingly shifts from the battlefield to cost of living concerns, polling across 10 European countries suggests. The survey found support for Ukraine remained high, but that preoccupations have shifted to the conflict’s wider impacts, with the divide deepening between voters who want a swift end to the conflict and those who want Russia punished.
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