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Ukraine says it damaged Russian ship, seeks evacuation of wounded Mariupol fighters

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© Reuters. A satellite image shows a closer view of a barge, a Serna-class landing craft and a sunken Serna craft in Snake Island, Ukraine May 12, 2022. Satellite image 2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

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By Jonathan Landay

KHARKIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine said it had damaged a Russian navy logistics ship near Snake Island, a small but strategic outpost in the Black Sea, while relatives of Ukrainian soldiers holed up in Mariupol’s besieged steelworks pleaded for them to be saved.

Renewed fighting around Snake Island in recent days may become a battle for control of the western Black Sea coast, according to some defence officials, as Russian forces struggle to make headway in Ukraine’s north and east.

“Thanks to the actions of our naval seamen, the support vessel Vsevolod Bobrov caught fire – it is one of the newest in the Russian fleet,” said Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odesa regional military administration.

Reuters could not independently verify the details. Russia’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Satellite imagery provided by Maxar, a private U.S.-based company, showed the aftermath of what it said were probable missile attacks on a Russian Serna-class landing craft near the island, close to Ukraine’s sea border with Romania.

Images also showed recent damage to buildings on the island, which became famous for the foul-mouthed defiance of its Ukrainian defenders early in the invasion.

Russia faced further setbacks on the battlefield as Ukraine drove its troops out of the region around the second largest city Kharkiv, the fastest advance since forcing the Kremlin’s forces from Kyiv and the northeast over a month ago.

Reuters journalists have confirmed Ukraine is now in control of territory stretching to the banks of the Siverskiy Donets River, around 40 km (25 miles) east of Kharkiv.

Regional authorities reported ongoing missile strikes around Poltava and shelling at Dergach, near Kharkiv, which killed two people.

In the capital Kyiv, wives and relatives of Ukrainian fighters holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in the southern port of Mariupol marched and chanted for their rescue. Russian forces have been bombarding the steelworks, the last bastion of Ukrainian defenders in a city almost completely controlled by Russia after a siege of more than two months.

“I want all the defenders who are there to return home so that they can live a normal life with their children and relatives,” said Maria Zimareva, whose brother is inside the steelworks. “They have earned it. Why the others can walk in the streets with their loved ones and they cannot? Why nobody helps them?”

Kyiv said it was working on a rescue of the servicemen, many badly injured.

“We have started a new round of negotiations around a road map for an (evacuation) operation. And we will start with those who are badly wounded,” Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told 1+1 television.

NATO EXPANSION

As fighting continued around the country, wider diplomatic moves dialled up pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Finland’s plan to apply for NATO membership, announced on Thursday, and the expectation that Sweden will follow, would bring about the expansion of the Western military alliance that Putin aimed to prevent.

Abandoning the neutrality they maintained throughout the Cold War would be one of the biggest shifts in European security in decades.

Moscow called Finland’s announcement hostile and threatened retaliation, including unspecified “military-technical” measures.

“Helsinki must be aware of the responsibility and consequences of such a move,” said the foreign ministry.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the Finns would be “warmly welcomed” and promised a “smooth and swift” accession process.

The White House backed such a move.

“We would support a NATO application by Finland and-or Sweden should they apply,” said press secretary Jen Psaki.

Finland’s 1,300-km (800-mile) border will more than double the length of the frontier between the U.S.-led alliance and Russia, putting NATO guards a few hours’ drive from the northern outskirts of St Petersburg.

Putin cited NATO’s potential expansion as one of the main reasons he launched what he called a “special military operation” in Ukraine in February.

Thursday also saw an intensification of disputes over Russian supplies of energy to Europe – still Moscow’s biggest source of funds and Europe’s biggest source of heat and power.

Moscow said it would halt gas flows to Germany through the main pipeline over Poland, while Kyiv said it would not reopen a pipeline route it shut this week unless it regains control of areas from pro-Russian fighters. Prices for gas in Europe surged.

Commodities

Oil falls 2% on Powell comments, hopes for Venezuela supply

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Oil pump jacks are seen at the Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas deposit in the Patagonian province of Neuquen, Argentina, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

By Stephanie Kelly

NEW YORK (Reuters) -After hitting seven-week highs, oil prices slumped 2% on Tuesday as Reuters reported that the United States could ease some restrictions on Venezuela’s government, raising hopes that the market could see some additional supplies.

Prices also fell after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned the economy could be hurt by attempts to reduce inflation.

For the first time since May 2020, the Brent international benchmark settled below U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude. Refiners worldwide have scrambled to find alternative energy supplies after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. U.S. reserves are falling and that has raised the price for U.S.-based crudes, said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston.

Brent crude fell $2.31, or 2%, to settle at $111.93 a barrel, and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell $1.8, or 1.6%, to settle at $112.40 a barrel.

Powell suggested there could be some economic pain involved in bringing inflation down. The U.S. central bank will “keep pushing” to tighten U.S. monetary policy until it is clear that inflation is declining, he said.

“Some of those comments tempered buying enthusiasm on the oil side,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration will authorize U.S. oil company Chevron Corp (NYSE:CVX) to negotiate with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government as soon as Tuesday, Reuters reported, citing sources. There is no final U.S. decision yet on renewing Chevron’s current limited license to operate in Venezuela, the source said.

Oil prices have generally been rising as Russian supply is squeezed by bans from several countries and an economic downturn due to broad sanctions on Moscow imposed by the United States and allies.

Russia’s production dropped by 9% in April, and the country, part of the OPEC+ group, produced far below levels required under a deal to gradually ease record output cuts made during the worst of the pandemic in 2020.

This month, non-Russian deliveries into the Polish port of Gdansk hit the highest in at least seven years, as refiners in eastern Germany and Poland switched.

“Ultimately, this is a supply-side story,” said Fawad Razaqzada, analyst at City Index. “Unless OPEC and its allies ramp up production and fast, it is difficult to see how prices can go down meaningfully.”

EU foreign ministers failed on Monday in their effort to pressure Hungary to lift its veto on the proposed oil embargo. But some diplomats now point to a May 30-31 summit as the moment for agreement on a phased ban on Russian oil.

U.S. crude and gasoline stocks fell last week, according to market sources citing American Petroleum Institute figures on Tuesday. U.S. government data is due on Wednesday. [API/S] [EIA/S]

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Commodities

Venezuela’s Maduro, opposition expected to talk; U.S. eases some sanctions -sources

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores dance during the May Day celebrations in Caracas, Venezuela May 1, 2022. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria

By Vivian Sequera, Matt Spetalnick and Marianna Parraga

CARACAS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the country’s opposition were expected to announce a resumption of talks as Washington eases some sanctions to help smooth the way for the negotiations, according to U.S. officials and others familiar with the matter.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration authorized U.S. oil company Chevron Corp (NYSE:CVX) to open talks with Maduro’s government, temporarily lifting a U.S. ban on such discussions, senior administration officials said on Tuesday.

Washington has not made a final decision on renewing Chevron’s current limited license to operate in Venezuela, several sources told Reuters. Chevron is the last U.S. oil producer to maintain a presence in Venezuela, home to the world’s largest crude reserves.

The United States was also poised to remove Erick Malpica, a former official of state oil company PDVSA and the nephew of Venezuela’s first lady, Cilia Flores, from a sanctions list, one U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The moves, which U.S. officials said were decided in consultation with Venezuela’s opposition, follow a visit to Caracas in March by the highest-ranking U.S. delegation in years, leading to the release of two U.S. detainees.

It was widely seen as a goodwill gesture by Maduro, who is under heavy U.S. sanctions along with his inner circle.

Maduro requested the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Malpica in the Caracas talks, two sources familiar with the matter said. The Venezuelan opposition said it did not ask for the delisting of any sanctioned officials. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Socialist leader also expressed a willingness to return to negotiations in Mexico with the opposition, which he abandoned in October, and sources said the two sides were expected as soon as Tuesday to set a date for resuming talks.

The talks are aimed at resolving Venezuela’s long-running political crisis, and Washington insists that any major lifting of sanctions will depend on progress at the table. The United States has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as legitimate president, condemning Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham. But Maduro remains in power.

Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said in a post on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) that her government hopes the U.S. decision to ease some sanctions would pave the way for a total lifting of “the illegal sanctions that affect our people.”

‘GUARDRAILS’

The decision to allow contacts between Chevron and PDVSA – the centerpiece of Venezuela’s U.S.-sanctioned oil sector – has “guardrails” to prevent going beyond the narrow authorization to discuss “potential future activities” in the country, one of the officials said.

The latest U.S. moves, including the Chevron decision, were intended to help encourage renewed Mexico talks, and the steps are contingent on Maduro acting “constructively” in negotiations, officials said.

“It does not allow (Chevron) entry into any agreement with PDVSA or any other activity involving PDVSA,” a senior administration official told reporters. “So fundamentally what they’re doing is just allowed to talk.”

Despite that, Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Biden’s fellow Democrat, said in statement: “The Biden administration must refrain from lifting any additional sanctions until Maduro makes concrete concessions at the negotiating table.”

The senior administration official said sanctions relief would be calibrated in line with “ambitious, concrete and irreversible outcomes” in negotiations and warned that U.S. steps could be reversed if there was any backsliding by Maduro.

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Commodities

Oil Inventories Unexpectedly Drop by 2.4M Barrels Last Week: API

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© Reuters.

By Yasin Ebrahim

Investing.com — U.S. crude oil inventories unexpectedly dropped last week, the API reported Tuesday, following a day of wild swings in oil prices on easing supply fears as President Biden could reportedly lift a ban on U.S. oil major Chevron (NYSE:CVX) doing business in Venezuela

West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, traded at $110.52 per barrel following the report after settling down 1.6% at $112.40 per barrel.

U.S. crude inventories fell by 2.4 million barrels for the week ended May. 12. That compared with a build of 1.6 million barrels reported by the API for the previous week. Economists were expecting an increase of about 1.5 million barrels. 

The API data also showed that gasoline inventories fell by 5.1 million barrels last week, while distillate stocks increased by about 1.1 million barrels.

The official government inventory report due Wednesday is expected to show weekly U.S. crude supplies rose by about 1.4 million barrels last week.

 
 

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