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UKRAINE

Germany working on limiting Russia access to Swift

Germany said Saturday it was working on excluding Russia from the Swift interbank system in a "targeted and functional" way that would limit any collateral damage.

Protester in a crowd holding a placard reading 'No Swift for Russia
A protester holds a placard reading "No Swift for Russia" during a rally against Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 26th, 2022, in Frankfurt. (Photo by Yann Schreiber / AFP)

“We are working at the same time urgently on limiting the collateral damage from an exclusion from Swift so that (the measure) hits the right people,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a joint statement.

“What we need is a targeted and functional limitation of Swift,” they added.

More EU nations – including France and Italy – have been moving to exclude Russia from using the Swift banking network, but Germany has been more cautious.

Russian gas makes up a higher share of energy supplies in Germany and other parts of Europe than in France, which backs the move. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday again asked European nations to sever Russia from the banking system.

Swift’s messaging system allows banks to communicate rapidly and securely about transactions, and cutting Russia off would cripple its trade with most of the world.

“There is already almost full support from the EU countries to disconnect Russia from Swift. I hope that Germany and Hungary will have the courage to support this decision,” Zelensky said earlier in a video address posted online.

The Hungarian government has angrily denied suggestions it had blocked moves to exclude Russia from Swift.

‘Unyielding egoism’
Ahead of a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki criticised the “unyielding egoism that we see in certain Western countries, including here in Germany”.

Olaf Scholz in a face mask in front of armed guards

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz waits for the Polish Prime Minister and the Lithuanian President on February 26th, 2022 at the Chancellery in Berlin, as they meet for talks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

He urged Berlin to “finally decide on sanctions that are actually crushing”, including the exclusion from Swift.

Earlier this week, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said he was “open” to including Swift in the EU’s sanctions response package.

But he added that it “would mean that there is a high risk that Germany will no longer receive gas, raw material supplies from Russia”.

Iran has been disconnected from the Swift system in the past over its nuclear programme.

Russia meanwhile has been developing domestic financial infrastructure to counter such a threat, including the SPFS system for bank transfers and the Mir card payments system.

Cutting off Russia could complicate remaining trade with Europe.

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UKRAINE

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
 
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
 
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
 
 
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant
“Sentimentai”.

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.

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