Russia holds over 25 Ukrainian journalists in captivity

The information you provided highlights a concerning situation regarding the detention of Ukrainian journalists in Russian captivity. The Ukrainian Parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech, led by Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, is actively working to address this issue and protect the rights of journalists.

According to Yurchyshyn, the release of the captured journalists is a top priority. He emphasizes the need to involve the international community in these efforts, aiming to garner support for the freedom of the detained journalists. Additionally, he suggests exploring legal avenues to hold those responsible accountable, potentially by involving the International Criminal Court for crimes against freedom of speech and journalists.

Yurchyshyn also acknowledges that challenges to journalistic freedom are not limited to Russia alone. There has been a significant drop in investigations into crimes against journalists in 2022 compared to the previous year. He attributes some of this decline to the ongoing war but stresses the importance of upholding freedom of speech values, especially as Ukraine seeks to align itself with European principles.

To address the decrease in investigations, Yurchyshyn plans to collaborate with Ukrainian law enforcement agencies and hold hearings in the committee to investigate cases hindering journalistic activities. The committee is actively monitoring the situation and is awaiting 2023 data to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges journalists face.

Overall, this information underscores the complexities and challenges faced by journalists in Ukraine and the importance of international cooperation in addressing these issues and upholding press freedom.

White House supports seizing Russian assets in favour of Ukraine

President Joe Biden's administration has supported a bill that would allow it to seize some of the US$300 billion in frozen Russian assets to provide it to Ukraine.

Bloomberg noted that Biden's support for this step has appeared against the backdrop of Republicans in Congress blocking the allocation of over US$60 billion to Ukraine, partly due to fears that Washington is carrying too much of a financial burden.

The article says the White House is trying to balance this with concerns that such a move could damage the US financial system's reputation and trigger a flight from the dollar.

The authors note that the president's administration also wants to coordinate this step with G7 allies, especially in Europe, where about US$200 billion of Russian frozen assets are stored, and support for their seizure, particularly unilaterally, is less.

An unnamed senior White House official stated that the National Security Council supports such a measure as part of a range of tools the US is considering to force Russia to pay for damages caused by the war. The World Bank estimates that Ukraine's reconstruction may cost about US$411 billion.

The source, requesting anonymity, told Bloomberg that the topic is expected to be raised at a meeting of G7 leaders on the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine next month.

Bloomberg indicated that congressional officials see the possibility that this decision could be adopted as part of an additional package of support for Ukraine, although the committees and leaders of both chambers will need to sign off on its inclusion.

The idea of using Russia's own funds to finance Ukraine's reconstruction is seen as a way to strengthen support for Kyiv, as some Republicans oppose continued funding, the article says. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson supported the idea in an interview with the New York Post, calling it "an eminently responsible thing for us to do".

Republican Sen. Jim Risch, one of the two authors of the bill, noted that there is broad bipartisan agreement on the issue in the Senate.

"After a year of negotiations, it’s past time for the committee to consider this legislation," he said.

Democrats and Republicans on the committee are at odds over the bill's two essential parts, which require Biden to coordinate with G7 nations on asset seizures but do not require their approval, which some say could give the US the ability to act unilaterally.

It also includes language designed to prevent Russia from challenging the arrest in US courts, which could be potentially constitutionally vulnerable.

According to memos seen by Bloomberg, the White House was initially ambivalent about including the G7 approval requirement but later emphasised the need to cooperate with allies.

Such a requirement "would make it more likely that Europe (where the vast majority of assets are located) will be willing to take this step, given their concerns that taking this action in the Russia context could increase the likelihood that we seize assets in other cases where the legal and policy justification is less strong," one of the points in the National Security Council's memo stated.

"It also reduces the risk that this step undermines faith in the United States as a destination for foreign investment," the document pointed out.

US Republicans set out their vision for US role in defeating Russia

The US Foreign Affairs Committee, House Armed Services Committee, and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, all of which are chaired by Republicans, have issued a joint document in which they criticize President Joe Biden’s administration for its lack of assistance to Ukraine and demand decisive actions in this regard.

 The document, the "Proposed Plan for Victory in Ukraine", was signed by Chairman Michael McCaul of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Chairman Mike Rogers of the House Armed Services Committee, and Chairman Mike Turner of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. It was drafted in late 2023 but has only started to stir discussions among relevant stakeholders.

The plan’s cover shows a photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin standing alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping, Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and the self-proclaimed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The plan is intended to address critical issues about the US and its allies’ support for Ukraine and to set out a victory plan in which Ukraine wins and Russia loses.

The plan contains five sections: The Threat, Proposed Plan for Victory,  Oversight, Burden Sharing, and Timeline of Biden’s Deadly Delays in Sending Weapons to Ukraine.

The Foreign Affairs Committee press release stated that Russia and an alliance consisting of China, Iran, Iran’s proxies (like Hamas and Hezbollah), and North Korea are "working together to undermine American interests around the world". "Their goal is to diminish the US economy, fracture key alliances, and establish a new world order of totalitarianism. The United States has not faced a more dangerous array of adversaries since World War II," the press release said.

The authors of the report said in the press release that the US Congress has a "responsibility to defend freedom from the likes of Russia, China, and Iran. Many of you have questioned why we should support Ukraine, and this report will not only address your questions. Still, it will provide you with the information to inform others, especially our constituencies, why our support is needed."

"Biden’s mantra of supporting Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’ is a losing strategy," the report says.

"Instead, House Republicans believe President Biden should present a credible plan for victory and arm Ukraine with the weapons it needs to win as soon as possible," the report continues.

"Since the first day of the war, Biden’s debilitating hesitation to provide critical weapons to Ukraine has delayed a Ukrainian victory," the report also says. Ukraine needs the longest-range variant of ATACMS (300 km, not the 160 km Ukraine was given), F-16 fighters, and sufficient quantities of cluster munitions, artillery, air defenses, and armor "to make a difference on the battlefield." "This delay is costing Ukrainian lives and the American taxpayer," the report stresses.

The authors of the report believe that Ukraine’s path to victory requires "(1) providing critical weapons to Ukraine at the speed of relevance, (2) tightening sanctions on the Putin regime, and (3) transferring frozen Russian sovereign assets to Ukraine."

The report stresses the importance of oversight over the US aid, though it admits that the countless checks conducted to date have not detected any significant violations.

"Defeating Putin in Ukraine now will prevent a Russian invasion of a NATO ally, which would be immeasurably more costly in terms of American blood and treasure," the report says.

"As a percentage of GDP, the US ranks just 30th in total assistance to Ukraine, with Poland, the Baltic states, the UK, Norway, and others contributing more in this metric. In terms of security assistance by GDP, the US ranks 14th," the report notes.

Support for Ukraine is not "charity," the press release added.

"After President Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, supporting Ukraine to defeat Putin’s invading forces is critical to restoring American deterrence in Europe, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific," the press release said.

The Proposed Plan for Victory in Ukraine "will ensure that Ukraine can make the needed advances on the battlefield to force Putin to the negotiating table," the press release promised.