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EU court takes Russian billionaires off sanctions list

The European Union Court of Justice has ruled to remove Russian billionaires Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven from a list of individuals facing European Union sanctions after Russia’s attack on Ukraine in 2022.

“The General Court considers that none of the reasons set out in the initial acts is sufficiently substantiated and that the inclusion of Mr Aven and Mr Fridman on the lists at issue was therefore not justified,” the Luxembourg-based court said in a statement.

The funds and economic resources of both men were frozen after the European Council imposed restrictions following the Russian invasion.

Both are major shareholders of conglomerate Alfa Group, which includes Russia’s top private bank Alfa Bank and its biggest food retailer X5 Retail Group.

The court ruled the billionaires should not have been included on the list between February 2022 and March 2023.

An EU decision in March 2023 reimposed the restrictive measures on the two men, who have lodged a separate appeal against that action.

The court said the Council may have grounds to establish that Fridman and Aven have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but it does not demonstrate the men have supported actions or policies against Ukraine, or that they have supported Russian decision-makers financially.

Russia targets Ukrainian energy sites in overnight strikes

Russia has hit two energy sites in aerial strikes on southern Ukraine overnight, officials said, the latest in Moscow’s targeting of the country’s power network.

“The enemy attacked energy facilities in the south of the country,” Ukraine’s energy ministry said in a statement.

It said a substation in Mykolaiv was targeted as well as generation and production facilities in the Odesa region.

The attack caused two power lines to be cut off, resulting in temporary outages for some energy users in the Mykolaiv and Kherson regions.

People stand near destroyed residential buildings after a Russian missile attack yesterday in Poltava, Ukraine

Ukraine’s air force said Russia fired 17 drones and three missiles at its territory overnight.

Moscow has heavily targeted Ukraine’s energy facilities over recent months, launching some of its biggest aerial strikes of the two-year war.

It has called them “retaliation” for Ukrainian drone attacks on Russian border regions and oil refineries.

Kyiv says its strikes are legitimate, seeking to disrupt the supply of fuel used by Russia’s military.

China rebuffs ‘criticism or pressure’ over ties with Russia

Meanwhile, China has vowed it would not accept “criticism or pressure” over its ties with Russia, after Washington warned that it will hold Beijing responsible if Moscow makes gains in Ukraine.

Yesterday, Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said that Washington would “not sit by and say everything is fine” after Beijing renewed pledges of cooperation with Moscow during a visit by Russia’s top diplomat.

In response, foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning insisted that “China and Russia have the right to engage in normal economic and trade cooperation”.

“This kind of cooperation should not be interfered with or limited, and China also does not accept criticism or pressure,” she added.

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The two countries have in recent years ramped up contacts, and their strategic partnership has only grown closer since Moscow’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.

Analysts say China holds the upper hand in the relationship with Russia, with its sway growing as Moscow’s international isolation deepens as its war drags on.

The two said they would strengthen strategic cooperation as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks with President Xi Jinping and top diplomat Wang Yi.

President Xi told Mr Lavrov that China attached “great importance” to relations with Moscow and “stands ready, with Russia, to strengthen bilateral communication, (and) strengthen multilateral strategic coordination”, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

Mr Xi and Vladimir Putin have agreed to maintain “close exchanges” to ensure the steady development of their ties, the readout said.

While China says it is a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, it has been criticised for refusing to condemn Moscow for its offensive and for indirect support for the war effort by continuing to trade with Russia.

US officials have recently stepped up warnings to Beijing against providing indirect aid to the Russian war effort.

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